“Most Rap is Funny To Me”: An Interview with Michael Christmas

Will Hagle talks with Michael Christmas about his album with Prefuse 73, great movies, and early success.
By    August 18, 2016

Prefuse 73 established himself during the late ’90s with his experimental strain of electronic music. He distinguished himself from his peers with a propensity for incorporating elements of hip-hop, and by working with rappers like MF Doom and Aesop Rock. Until now, however, he’d never produced an entire album for a single MC. When his label proposed he work with one other artist on a collaborative LP, he chose Michael Christmas.

That selection could be seen as unexpected, but ultimately makes sense. Christmas can consistently rhyme steady over conventional beats, but boasts the dexterity and versatility to handle Prefuse’s jagged and glitch-heavy production. On Fudge, the album the two ultimately created after a few recording sessions at Nick Hook’s Green Point, Brooklyn studio last summer, Christmas is put to, and ultimately passes every test.

The beats on the album definitely stray from Christmas’s wheelhouse (he calls them “the weirdest beats ever”), yet he finds his lane. As does D.R.A.M., the album’s lone credited feature, on “All Points South.” By broadening his range of musicality, Christmas proves at 22 that he’s as capable of evolving as any of his peers. If at 32 Freddie Gibbs could find an audience he might’ve never known existed by annihilating a handful of Madlib beats, Christmas should feel good about getting older.

The future for Christmas, though, might not be limited to rapping. He got famous as a teenager with a song called “Michael Cera,” but his passion for movies and aspirations for career growth could lead him to becoming a comedic writer or actor.

Christmas’s pop culture knowledge is deep, bolstered by years of an indoor life fueled by movies and microwaveables. He acknowledges the darker aspects of not leaving the house throughout much of his work. But he always punctuates the isolation and anxieties of his upbringing with a punchline. His albums could all be called I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, But I Still Have Fun.

Whether or not Christmas goes on to star in Apatow films, or voice act on an Adult Swim show, or whatever, at least he’s got the music thing down. And apparently he’s good at multitasking. “I was playing Madden the whole time I was talking to you,” he said at the end of our phone interview, which is printed below. —Will Hagle

How’d the collaboration with Prefuse 73 come about?

Michael Christmas: Basically what happened—and this is to my knowledge, it was a little while ago—how they described it to me originally was like the Ghostface and BadBadNotGood collaboration. They were talking to Prefuse and they asked him, “Who do you want to do this shit with?” and he ended up picking me. And so when he picked me they were like, “You can just go hard on this. Do whatever you want with it. I’m gonna give you these really fucking weird beats, and you just take them shits and do whatever.”

So we recorded the whole shit in New York. It was basically me just taking music—I’ve never even heard no type of shit like this before—and turning it into Michael Christmas songs. We just took the weirdest beats ever. Like a lot of this shit I was like, ‘How am I supposed to rap on this?’ But it was in a good way.

It was a challenge. I rarely have challenges like that. I kind of always know what I want to do. I came into this recording the whole shit in Brooklyn, with a different engineer than I’m used to, different producer than I’m used to, different sound than I’m used to, and it came together on some shit like, ‘I’m just going to rap hard on all of this.’

Did you ever listen to Prefuse 73 growing up at all?

Michael Christmas: No. I didn’t really know about him at all. What happened was, when they hit us up about it, [Boston producer/Christmas collaborator] Goodwin was like, “Bro, he’s like a really major producer. He’s been doing it for a long time.” And they told me he’s done shit with a lot of OGs, like he knows DOOM and shit. And that was one of the things where I was like, “Alright, we can go then.” Because DOOM’s arguably the best rapper ever to me. So if I could work with somebody who’s on that level, I’m absolutely down. I’m a fan of music first.

Did you guys work together in the studio on the album? Did he give you the beats and let you do whatever you wanted, or did he give you some direction?

Michael Christmas: It was a little bit of both. We did the first session and I didn’t really know what I was doing yet. He was there, and he was just playing me beats. He was playing a bunch that he made for this project specifically. And so what I would do was listen to them over and over and over, and then when I liked one, I would just say, “Alright, loop that.” I would just sit and write a whole song right there off of that beat, then go and record it. I did that, I think, the first three days of the recording. We recorded eight songs. A few of those ended up being on there, so it was fast.

We did the whole thing in Brooklyn in a few sessions and they just let me go crazy. I would go to the fucking corner store, get a bacon, egg, & cheese, and a 40. Deadass, we were staying in Brooklyn. I’d get a 40, get a bacon, egg, & cheese, and take that shit back to the studio and just sit and write raps. Whenever I’d get stuck I’d go on the roof, because they had this crazy rooftop view and you could see Brooklyn and shit. So that’s what I was doing. We recorded the whole thing last summer, so it was hot out. It was nice out and shit. It was cool. It was a fucking adventure. The whole project was a fucking adventure.

What’re your thoughts, in general, on in-person collaboration vs. just emailing verses back and forth? Does it really make a difference?

Michael Christmas: The main difference with collaborating in person is that it’s significantly faster than collaborating over email. To send somebody a song and ask them for a verse, and they’re across the country doing their own shit, it’s a lot easier to not even take into consideration how soon they need that shit. Say somebody’s working on a project and sends me some shit, and I’m also working on a project, I’m going to get done everything I need to get done first, and then do that. But, if it’s like I’m here with you right now, then we’re just working on our shit right now. And that shit’s happening. But we don’t get to do that that often.

So you guys just focused on the project all day, pretty much?

Michael Christmas: Exactly. Me and him were in the studio the whole time I was in Brooklyn. I was just working on that project. It was crazy because I was working on other shit at home in Boston and I kept thinking about that, but I was like, ‘Nope that’s not what this is for.’ That was one of the weirder things to happen to me—to put everything else I was doing kind of on the backburner. It was fun doing this because I got a lot of that shit out of my system. There were some beats on here where I was just like, ‘I’m just gonna rap so hard.’ The craziest 16s. I was just like, ‘I’m gonna have the craziest bars for this.’

I noticed compared to your other albums there aren’t really any hooks or anything, it’s basically just straight rapping, and, like you said, crazy beats.

Michael Christmas: Yeah, I mean because you’re working with someone whose whole basis is hip-hop from way back and shit. On some weird hip-hop shit globally, no American music right now shit, just overall hip-hop shit for everybody.

Do you have plans to collaborate again in the future?

Michael Christmas: As far as working with Prefuse again, I’m ready whenever he is. One thing we never actually got to do is sit and make a beat together, where I could bring my style that I’m on and he brings his. This was more of a challenge of me taking his extremely strange style of beat and figuring out how to rap on it.

Did he tell you why he picked working with you in particular, or was it all through the label?

Michael Christmas: I don’t necessarily remember. I remember him just being really excited when he met me and shit. And Tom from Lex, the label, being really excited too. They were just both excited. My thing is whenever I get in front of some people that are older than me and have been around for a long time, I like to kinda establish that I’m young and I don’t give a fuck. So I think that blend was cool. Like Prefuse has been around for so long and has seen so many things and worked with so many legends, and I’m just a dude—young, still broke, just ready to fuck shit up. And that’s my kind of approach to the whole project. And I think that shows, too.

I remember I was saying shit on these songs and I’d come out of the booth and look at everybody and they were looking at me crazy like, “What the fuck did he just say?” And I’m like, “Yeaaaaah, you know what I’m saying?” To the point like where we just did a photoshoot not too long ago, and the photographer came up to me and the first thing he said was, “I heard you’re crazy.” I’m like, “Me? Nooooo. I’m not crazy.” He got me mixed up.

How old are you?

Michael Christmas: 22.

Do you think there’s any advantages or disadvantages to finding success early on?

Michael Christmas: I wouldn’t really say advantages or disadvantages just because everybody’s shit is different. I would say that for me, I’m lucky to be able to get all the shit that I know this early because I have time now. I have time to grow. I’m 22. A lot of people get their first break in music years later after 22. So now I have time to go be great at music, and then learn how to do some other shit if I want to.

Like another job, or what do you mean?

Michael Christmas: Like I can go make movies if I want to. The other day I was just thinking about voice acting. Like I woke up, and for some reason the only thing I had on my mind was I want to be a voice actor. And I started writing some shit, on some comedy shit.

I saw on your Twitter you were talking about wanting an Adult Swim show.

Michael Christmas: Yeah, I was writing some shit on that. I don’t want to talk about it because it’s going to take a long time to actually make that happen, but I’m working on that. Because I’m young and I know I have time to learn how to do that.

Do you want to get into more comedy type stuff?

Michael Christmas: Oh, absolutely. My passion besides music is always going to be movies. I spend more time watching movies than doing anything else. I hate going outside. I like staying inside and watching TV, watching movies, laughing. And so do my friends. We always talk a lot of shit and laugh hard at shit we say that comes out of nowhere, and think about it like, ‘Damn, we need to turn this shit into something.’ Because this is just free comedy that everybody could be getting.

What do you think the role of humor is in hip-hop—in your own songs but also more generally? Basically, do you think all rap is funny because it uses wordplay and punchlines?

Michael Christmas: All rap isn’t funny. Most rap is funny to me, low key. Because even the rappers that aren’t trying to be funny are funny to me. Like, I listen 21 Savage and shit and I know that he’s deadass serious, but it’s like the level of how crazy this shit is is funny to me. Like that’s so wild that he’s living that way. That’s awesome. I’m not living that way at all.

I don’t know anything about that, and that’s cool to me. A lot of people look at artists like that as glorifying some type of lifestyle that they shouldn’t be glorifying. I look at it as you’re living your real life and you’re talking about it. You’re teaching us, and shit like that. So I think that shit’s funny. Like the interview when they asked them about the cross on his head and they were like, “What is it? What does it mean?” and he was like “Uh, it’s a knife.” That shit was awesome. That’s so wild.

How do you think the use of references in rap has changed since you were growing up? At least for me, I would hear a reference in a song and I might not find out about it—what the reference was even talking about—until I saw it later on. Whereas now the internet helps people figure it out right away. What do you think about how things have changed?

Michael Christmas: I think it’s cool and it’s not cool. I like that if you know, you know. But I also like the idea that people can go look it up because I’ve definitely had points where I didn’t get a line for a long time, and then somebody pointed out what it meant, and then I’m like, ‘Oh, I gotta see that whole movie.’ Like when Migos did the song “John Wick,” I’d never seen John Wick, so I didn’t get it at all. I loved the song, though. So I went and watched John Wick, and realized every bar in the song is a reference to the movie. That made the movie better, and that made the song better.

What’s your favorite movie? And what’s the best movie?

Michael Christmas: I think my favorite movie’s Pulp Fiction. I kinda also think it’s the best movie. But the problem with that is that at any given moment any other movie could also be the best movie. Like I watched Black Mass again today, and I was like, ‘damn this movie’s good as shit.’ I think Wolf of Wall Street’s good as hell. Pulp Fiction’s my favorite movie ever. Do the Right Thing is also up there.

Is Black Mass the best Boston movie?

Michael Christmas: No. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I think The Departed and potentially The Town, but definitely The Departed, and maybe The Town, are better. But absolutely The Departed.

What movie would you recommend to somebody who’s never seen a movie before?

Michael Christmas: Who’s never seen a movie at all? Oh shit. That’s tough. You almost gotta recommend a shitty movie so when they get into it they know what’s a good movie. I’d say Double Take. Everybody’s gotta watch Double Take.

I’ve never seen it.

Michael Christmas: You’ve never seen Double Take? Holy shit. Double Take is so fucking good. It’s Orlando Jones or whatever the fuck his name is, and Eddie Griffin. Orlando Jones is being framed on some crazy shit. And Eddie Griffin just plays, like, a regular street n****, but then you come to find out Eddie Griffin’s actually like an FBI—it’s wild. It’s on some crazy shit, it ends up in Mexico, big conspiracies, and it stars two of the funniest black comedians of that early 2000s period, so it’s a good ass movie. Everybody’s gotta watch Double Take.

The other thing I was going to ask about Fudge is on “These Saturdays,” where you’re singing at the beginning.

Michael Christmas: Yeah, getting my little autotune on, real player, you know what I’m saying? Getting my Yeezy on.

Is that something you’re just messing around with, or planning on doing more of in the future?

Michael Christmas: I’ve never done that shit before, and I actually remember making that song vividly. That was my favorite beat on the whole project. That’s my favorite song on the project. I remember they played the beat, and the beginning had this weird 4/3 type thing where it was fucking me all up. And so I was like, “Alright, what I’m gonna do is, I’m just gonna go in there and sing and ya’ll are gonna put the autotune on me.” And I freestyled that whole beginning part. I could hear the autotune in my headphones, so I just started singing shit I liked. So I’m just listening to it like, ‘oh this shit is fire.’

I remember I did that, had that done, and them I’m like, alright, now that I’m past this impossible ass part, now I can actually write my raps. And so I wrote my verses and shit, and then I had my homegirl, Pervana, she’s from Boston too, but she moved to New York for school or whatever. I forgot she was out there, so I hit her up and was like “Yo, come to the studio, please.” She came later in the day—like way, way later in that session—to lay down the singing part that’s the female vocals on that song.

That’s the weirdest joint on there, definitely, as far as what I can do. That beginning part was the most fun recording of the whole project. For an artist, doing something you never imagined you doing, and you can do it, is awesome. Like I have a song that’s coming out on my homie’s album—my homie Brady Watt is putting out an album with a song called “Youth in Revolt,” and it’s like a fast-paced ass rap song. Like extremely fast rap song. Fucking has guitar solos all over it. I’m singing on the hook. It’s wild. Making that song, it was the weirdest song I’ve ever made in my life. I made that shit on the edge of a cliff, in a mansion in Malibu. And I’m just a broke fucking kid from Roxbury. So those be the moments that be the best. When you can do something that you never did before.

Yeah, it sounds like you’re starting to experiment and work with different people, so that’s cool.

Michael Christmas: Yeah, I mean that’s always been my goal. A lot of people just like to follow the same formula that worked for them from the beginning, and have that carry them as far as they can go until they fade out. I don’t want to do that. I actually love making music. I want to keep making music and learn how to do other shit.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!