It only took a few seconds of “Bare Knuckle” from McKinley Dixon for me to realize I had found a favorite. Backed by a band (horns, strings, all of it) Mckinley raps about real life – his observations and his concerns about real substantive issues. I’ve heard and read comparisons of his sound to the jazz based/more musical hip-hop of the 90s – specifically to groups like A Tribe Called Quest. I originally agreed with that, but as much as I love ATCQ, McKinley’s sound is truly all his own- in a very very great way! While there is definitely something about the sound that will appeal to lovers of the great 90s hip-hop – that’s not necessarily where he draws most of his inspiration. You can read more about his inspiration and sound in his own words below.
One of my favorite things about well written lyrics is the ability to hit with a great insult, and not even realize it at first. On my second listen through “Bare Knuckle” I caught a gem of a line that I think is intended as a great one – “cuz you play the tambourine in church…bitch” And with that – hooked.
In June 2018, McKinley released The Importance of Self Belief, a mix tap inspired by his community in Richmond, Virginia – and on which he collaborates with 30 musicians. I obviously can’t write this and say that I know what it is like to be anything other than what I am – a white woman with certain privileges (not earned and based on nothing more than being born) that many people don’t have. So with that said, I appreciate and think it is important to have music like this – that discusses real societal issues: police brutality, the impact of crime and poverty, and gender and racial inequality. When McKinley says “every cop light is for me until it pass” he’s telling all of us something that we should think about, especially in the America we are living in today.
He also recently released an acoustic EP, The Importance Of – working with his guitarist to craft acoustic versions of some songs from his first two mix tapes.
I reached out to McKinley on Twitter in the name of research (aka to tell him how much I enjoyed the music) and that we would like to feature him in our first artist spotlight article. He graciously agreed to answer a few questions despite being in the midst of a very busy tour schedule. I did my best to come up with some good ones on the spot. I think one of the coolest things, as a fan, is when you enjoy an artist’s music and then they turn out to be a cool nice person as well – so many thanks to McKinley.
You have a really unique sound, reminding me in some ways of the solid hip hop artists from the 90s I grew up listening to. Who inspires you and how did your sound develop?
I don’t really draw a lot of inspiration from 90’s rappers in a musical sense. I really admire their creativity and imagination though. It was a great time for moments inside and outside of hip hop. I do draw inspiration from rappers who draw a lot of stylistic rap elements from 90’s rappers, namely Blu, Black Milk, and Oddisee.
I met a lot of the people I played with my first year of college about 6 or so years back and we all we at different levels and didn’t really have a developed sound. We slowly made sure we worked on ourselves and then when we knew who we were a tiny bit more, we got back together to make music. The goes for my immediate band and a lot of artist I work with at home.
Did you grow up in Richmond and how did that impact your style and the subject of your music?
Nah I didn’t grow up in Richmond. Richmond the place itself doesn’t really inspire my music but the people I’ve met here really inspire and impact me. I’ve learned so much from all of them, all the time.
What is unique about playing a show at a festival, as opposed to a standalone concert?
A spot in a festival is different because then I get to talk to more people that also are in bands. I like talking process so meeting so many people at once who openly share their process through there work to an audience is really great energy to be around.
McKinley Dixon is playing at El Rocko Lounge 11:00 p.m. on Friday March 8th. If you can’t make it out to Savannah Stopover, you can also check him out on Part 1 of his spring tour. More info below or check him out on Spotify or Twitter @McKinleyDixon