An Interview with Myke Bogan

Justin Carroll-Allan speaks with Myke Bogan about the Portland rap scene, his new LP, 'Joe Fontana,' and balancing music with sports.
By    June 26, 2018

Photo by Devin Tolman

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With his commanding, nasally timbre, Portland’s Myke Bogan raps about his insatiable appetite for fun times and good weed with the intoxicating swagger of ’07 Wiz Khalifa, but balances his party lust with self-awareness and self-effacing wit. He raps about riding in Aston Martins and overdrafting his account, having a record deal but still having to drive for Uber. His music is laced with jazz piano licks and enshrouded with bright layers of synth and production. Along with The Last Artful, Dodgr, Eyrst Music’s resident genius Neill Von Tally, and pop-rap juggernaut Aminé, Bogan is one of the artists in this new wave of Rip City rappers defining the future sound of Portland hip-hop.

Bogan’s new record is both a slight departure from the anxiety of Pool Party and a partial return to the fun-loving tunes that filled Casino Carpet. On Joe Fontana, Bogan is able to marry the two faces of his song-writing: waxing poetic about the spaced-out daze of good times, and perfectly distilling the fear of staying stagnant forever.

The process of making Pool Party nearly broke Bogan. It took 18 months, and by the end of it, he was just happy to have survived the gauntlet. But the pain he put into the record bore fruit; the record received good reviews, added to the growing brigade of Bogan acolytes, and led to a fruitful friendship with producer Carson Weekly, one-third of the production outfit 2thirty5 that solely produced Joe Fontana. The new album took half the time of the previous project, and felt new, exhilarating, and fun to make. If Pool Party displayed Bogan’s ability to stretch out of his comfort zone in his writing, then Joe Fontana is the mature product of a young rapper fresh on the other side of a creative crisis—stronger, different, better. —Justin Carroll-Allan

Where are you right now?

Myke Bogan: I’m in L.A, right now. I’ll be back in Portland next week.

You’re splitting time between L.A. and Portland, right?

Myke Bogan: Yeah. That started about three years ago when the mother of my kid, she graduated from University of South Dakota where I went, so that I could be more involved [as a parent] and have some help from my parents.

Are you from L.A. originally?

Myke Bogan: I’m from Lancaster, CA.

I know you spent some time in South Dakota. That feels like a strange trajectory from Lancaster. How’d you find yourself there?

Myke Bogan: Actually, I was originally supposed to go to Hawaii out of high school to play football. They ended up calling me a month before signing day and basically said, ‘We’re not going with you anymore. Found someone better. We wish you the best of luck.’ Thank god the coaches in South Dakota loved me, man. They really wanted me to be there, and I found a home there. So I spent the next five years there.

I somehow didn’t realize you’re a former jock.

Myke Bogan: Yeah, man. Division I athlete.

What position did you play?

Myke Bogan: I played cornerback. That’s how the whole rap thing happened.

Tell me about that—how’d we go from cornerback to rap?

Myke Bogan: It was funny because I redshirted my freshman year. And I was always a music lover, throughout high school and everything like that. I was always the kid that bought the CDs—my Christmas list was always a bunch of CDs. One year it was The Blueprint, Clipse. I was always into music, but I never tried writing because I was just so focused on athletics. But you know [college is] when you’re just coming into your own. So after my redshirt freshman year, I was projected to start, maybe be second string, so I was stepping into an actual role in the team, and when that happens, they pull you into the office and tell you ‘Hey, you’re up for a starting position,’ you’re only allowed to go home for two weeks. But when you live in a college town and school’s out, there is nothing to do but work out, drink liquor, smoke pot, and freestyle with your friends. So in this 90-day span, I kinda got really good at freestyling.

One night, one of my friends—the kind of guy who never gave anybody any props, nothing like that—we were wasted one night, and it was about four in the morning and school was about to start, the season was about to start. [My friend] looked around and he was like, ‘Bro, have you ever thought about rapping?’ And I was like, ‘You know, it’s funny you say that. I’ve been thinking about it more and more.’ My friend was like, ‘I would normally never tell you this, but we all talk about in the locker room. When you start freestylin’, everybody shuts up.’

It all started with a little down time in between the gym and practice.

Myke Bogan: Yeah, man. I would just sit there and listen to 9th Wonder instrumentals and write rhymes.

You split time between L.A. and Portland now, and you spent five years in South Dakota—of the three different locations, which one feels the most like home to you?

Myke Bogan: Oh, Portland for sure. I feel like my soul’s always been in Portland. You know, the energy, the artistry, the creatives around the city that I’ve met—I just love the city in general, man. It’s amazing. I tell people PDX is my favorite place to fly into. It feels like home. It feels so good.

A good majority of the features on your album Joe Fontana are from Portland artists. What’s it been like to find, and subsequently become a part of, the music community of Portland?

Myke Bogan: It’s been amazing. I just really think Portland has so much to offer, especially when it comes to music and art. I think we as hip-hop people in the Portland community need to do better job of building each other up. We’re very separated. I just want the community to be better, and more aware of helping each other. I love collaborating with my friends because I think that they’re talented, and I want them to get the recognition they deserve—the same recognition I get. I think Blossom and Ripley [Snell] and Kid Indigo are people I’ve been wanting to work with more and more. I finally got the chance to do it, and I’m super stoked about that.

And Danielle Sullivan from Wild Ones was an interesting one, too. That was the feature that surprised me the most.

Myke Bogan: Oh my god, yes. Danielle. To be honest with you, I don’t really listen to a lot of hip-hop—maybe it’s a morning thing, or if I’m going out—but if you’re ever in the car with me, it’s Wild Ones, Tennis, Washed Out, and old-school pop-punk like Blink 182. That’s kinda what I listen to. I was such a fanboy of Wild Ones. Me and my girlfriend went to their show in Hollywood, and I finally got to meet them all in person, and the energy was just so cool. I finally got the nerve to reach out and be like, ‘Hey, would you be down to work with me?’ And [Danielle] was super down, man. That was kinda like a bucket list thing for me. I’ve always wanted to work with Wild Ones, so I was stoked.

Portland’s been historically difficult for rappers for several reasons. Not just because we’re geographically isolated from places like New York and L.A., but because regional rappers like Cool Nutz and Illmaculate have had a very difficult time getting shows. They’ve been very vocal regarding the issue, and Noisey’s even done a feature on this very thing. Was it difficult forging a rap career in a city that’s notoriously hard on rappers?

Myke Bogan: I honestly think it’s a mindset. There are obstacles in Portland, but those hurdles are everywhere. I think it also goes on building that community. Let’s make the community strong and big enough to where they can’t refuse shows, you know? But that also includes coming together to make sure the shows go well, make sure people aren’t trippin’. It’s all about building a strong community, man. And making people aware that we’re here for the love of music.

I want people to get recognition from Portland because I feel like it does fly under the radar. Whether it’s music or sports or whatever, if you’re good enough, people will come. People will acknowledge it. I got recognition even when I lived in South Dakota. I feel like it’s just a mindset, and we’ve got to get rid of that. It’s funny—I’ve been to New Jersey, Raleigh, NC, and SXSW in Austin, everywhere in the country—and after the show, when I say, ‘Oh bro, I’m out of Portland,’ they’re like, ‘Oh my god! I heard the hip-hop community there is amazing. It’s like right there next to Seattle, and it’s just a dope-ass city.’ And that’s the thing: We just have to expose people [to Portland hip-hop]. Everybody already thinks Portland’s cool.

The work to be done is to get rid of the mindset about Portland hip-hop community, then?

Myke Bogan: I think a lot of things is mindset, man. You can’t say, ‘Oh, I can’t make it from here. I need to go down to L.A.’ No, that’s not true. Half the people that leave L.A. from Portland come right back to Portland. You know, it’s not true, man. You name some of the top rappers. Kanye West, he’s from Chicago. Big Sean, he’s from Detroit. Wiz Khalifa’s from Pittsburgh. Mac Miller’s from Pittsburgh. Nobody comes to L.A. ’til they’ve already made it. You know? We’ve just got to keep strivin’, man. That’s it.

I don’t know if you read this, but the New York Times did a big profile on Amine, a rapper we’re all too familiar with here in Portland.

Myke Bogan: Right.

One thing he said that I found very interesting was that in 2015, when he was still in the city and going to school, he thought that the scene was so dead, and he had to get out of there. That was the year after Eyrst Music was founded, and a year where you were gaining momentum as an artist. What’s your take on the health of the rap scene in the city back then?

Myke Bogan: So in 2015, it was weird because a lot of different artists were at the forefront back then. Vinnie Dewayne, iLLA, and Tope were the people that were constantly doing shows when I first came to Portland—and of course there was Cool Nutz and Illmaculate and OnlyOne. So the scene was there, but I honestly feel like it’s grown since then. They were getting it started, and a lot of those guys have left and came back and stuff like that.

[2015] was the ground stages, the foundation of resurrecting the hip-hop scene. Now it’s grown. The scene has a lot of the same people, but also now you have Stewart Villain, Last Artful, Dodgr, and Dante Thomas, you know? More and more up-and-comers are really coming up right now. Mikey Fontane—there’s a lot of really great ones. ePP’s releasing his project, and he’s amazing. Tyus. There’s a bunch of ’em, man. I think [the scene is] growing, and I think things like this just take time. It’s going well.

Your crew—Eyrst Music—is a big part of the scene.

Myke Bogan: Dude. That’s another thing—we as a crew have gotten better since we started four years ago. We’ve taken a lot of bumps and bruises, and now things are starting to pick up speed. We’ve figured out a lot of new things and new ways to curate new things, and yeah, man. It just takes time.

How would you say the production process differed between Pool Party and Joe Fontana, which was solely produced by 2thirty5?

Myke Bogan: I was in the studio more with them. They live about thirty minutes from me—I’m in Hollywood and they’re in Long Beach. Being there, connecting with them once every couple of days, and just watching the creative process happen. There was no time wasted. If I wasn’t digging something we would just move forward. It was just great chemistry, man. They understand—and no offense to anyone who produced on Pool Party—but Carson and 2thirty5, they’re two of the few people I’ve ever worked with that will call me on a Friday and be like ‘Yo, come to the house. You’ve got to hear this beat we made for you last night. It’s crazy.’ And I get there and I’m just like, ‘Oh my god. This is the one. Yup, get ready.’ And I’d knock it out fast. It was just great chemistry with all of us. It was different.

There’s a distinctly different vibe on Joe Fontana than Pool Party, which was an album filled with anxiety and existential dread. Pool Party was a noted tone shift from earlier work like “6 Beers.” Could you speak to the artistic evolution from “6 Beers” to Pool Party to Joe Fontana?

Myke Bogan: Casino Carpet, which had “6 Beers” and “Pink Cocaine” and all that, was from an amazing time in my life. When I wrote “6 Beers,” I didn’t have a deal yet, I was working with my boy Lefty, and we could do whatever we wanted. We made the dopest beats and just rapped over them. It was very easy. The buzz [from Casino Carpet] was amazing and I felt like we were picking up speed, and when I signed to Eyrst, I thought it would only help. I thought, ‘Yo, I’ll have the money to make bigger and better shit, and things will move faster.’ And it was the complete opposite.

I signed a deal, and—not to take anything away from Eyrst—I went from being able to do whatever I wanted to the label saying ‘Okay, we need twelve songs, and you can’t sample anything.’ And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was so stressful. I wasn’t putting out music consistently like I usually did. I wasn’t making money. I was stressed with life shit, and I felt like I was losing momentum because I couldn’t make music that I truly loved. [Pool Party] took me so long because it didn’t have that same feeling to me, production-wise. It just wasn’t the same. Pool Party was one the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was the exact opposite of everything I wanted it to be. And so when I put out Pool Party it was exactly that because it was such a relief for me to be done with that shit.

Yeah, the frustration and depression of the artistic process certainly shined through on Pool Party in the best way possible.

Myke Bogan: With the good comes the bad, and with the bad comes the good. So then, I got one of my last beats from my friend Carson, who I met through the process of making Pool Party. He produced the song “Dashboard.” We hit it off, and we’ve been kicking it once a week ever since. He lives out here [in L.A.]. I went to him as soon as we released Pool Party and said, ‘Dude, “Dashboard” had a sample feel, and I need that for my next project.’ And he was like, ‘Say no more. I’ve got it done.’ So I immediately started working on Joe Fontana and got right into it.

From the first track “Pause” I felt like I had my swagger back a little bit, you know? I kind of A&R-ed my way through it. I thought, ‘I’m gonna write this, but I want Blossom to sing it. I’m gonna write this, but I want Kid Indigo to sing it. I’m gonna write this, but I want Danielle to sing it.’ And it just fit perfect. Everybody was comin’ through, they wanted to do it, they were excited. The album was perfect. I had nine songs, and I felt so good about everything on it. My buddy TJ called me and said, ‘Bro, I know you’re a cool cat, and you always try to play it cool. As one of your best friends, how do you really feel about music in general. I really want to know.’ And we talked about it for an hour. And “If You Wanna Know” came from that. It was the perfect track to tie the album up. It worked out.

That’s a great one. What I like about that track is this refreshing authenticity. Not a lot of posturing or peacocking. Your music tends to ring a bit truer. What inspires you to drop the mask, so to speak? Why is being honest about your present living conditions such an elemental part of your writing?

Myke Bogan: Oh, man. Because it’s the truth. When people ask me, ‘Why should I listen to your music?,’ not only is it because it’s genuine, it’s authentic, but also because I bet you there’s something in there you can relate to, I bet you there’s something in there that’ll make you laugh a little bit. I bet you there’s something in there that makes you go, ‘Damn, that’s some real shit right there.’ I’m a real person, just like you. I think that’s one thing that’s hard to keep up the longer you go on, because there are temptations of painting a façade to make you seem cooler, or make it seem like you’re doing better than you really are. It’s like, ‘You know what? No. This is the real deal. This is my situation.’

I think J. Cole does a great job with that. J. Cole could sit there and talk about how he’s a millionaire ten times over, but he doesn’t. He does the best he can to stay grounded and humble and be a real person. I just think that’s the way to go about it. I want to make music you can listen to on a good day, a bad day, if you want to party, or if you just feel like you need somebody to relate to, I want you to be able to pop in my tape, you know?

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