By Karolina Powalka
Besides being a rapper, Benjamin Miles has another gig. He's an attorney at a prestigious firm in Detroit.
One of seven members of the band "Of Mice and Musicians," Miles is stepping out on his own with his first solo project, an album called the "Wishing Tree."
I recently sat down with him to discuss the new project and his music.
1. What was this album experience like compared to the Of Mice and Musicians’ experience? And why did you choose to do a solo album?
Miles: Solo projects are always easier to make. I have more control over the process, the product and the timing. However, the payoff is less substantial when it goes well. In the band, when something great happens, you get to celebrate and get excited about it with the other guys. Solo it's just you, and you can never talk about your music with fans or friends the way you can with collaborators.
That said, I chose to do a solo album because I had a lot of extra or left over material that didn't make it on other projects and I didn't want it to go to waste. I also wanted an opportunity to make some tunes with my friends outside of the band. Putting this out allowed me to check both those boxes.
2. Why did you choose to feature so many artists on your album?
Miles: The Wishing Tree was built material that was written over the past couple years. A lot of that material was just verses, not full songs. I thought it would be very unpleasant to force myself to finish songs that I started years ago when the ideas were fresh. It was fun to let some of my pals put their stamp on the ideas, I had previously done. And, I am very proud of my musician peer group. I respect and enjoy the company of all those folks. This album was a good way to capture us all in our element at this time. It's like a group photo with music.
3. How did you get your start in rapping?
Miles: I started writing raps when I was a junior in high school. School was easy for me and I was always bored. That was a very difficult time in my life family wise as well, and like most 17 year olds, I was pissed off and needed an outlet. I had always listened to hip hop, but that summer I started to feel like I didn't just have to watch but instead, could participate.
When Eminem’s first album dropped that summer along with Kid Rock’s, it motivated me to at least try to start writing.
4. In all the songs that I've heard you on, your rhymes are significantly deeper than the typical lyrics we hear in today's top 40 rap. What's your overall message and goal with your music?
Miles: I don't have a message. I write my raps for me. To the extent that they are deep, maybe it’s just because I think harder or am more honest with myself than some other rappers. I do write rapper bars from time to time, like in Silk Tie Gladiator, just to show I can and because it's those were all for me and were an effort to conceptualize and make peace with feelings I had or things I was going through at the time. As I believe Brother Ali once said, “Whatever comes up comes out.” If no one knew me, liked me, or worked with me and I never recorded a single song, I would still write raps privately. I think I always will.
5. You’re often associated with the CoOwnaz. Talk a little bit about what CoOwnaz is.
Miles: CoOwnaz? Well, it's whatever people want it to be. It’s a group of friends. It's a cultural identifier in the Detroit area and for some it's a lifestyle choice. Anyone can say they are a part of it, but if they don't contribute in some way they won't really feel like they are. It’s a consistently free flowing ideal that you have to both nurture and try to keep up with or it will pass you by. More simply, it's a crap ton of talented musicians, promoters, videographers, painters and overall interesting people who hang out and make up fun shit to say to each other. CoOwnaz was CoOwnaz before it was CoOwnaz, the name just stuck because it's freaking awesome.
Ben will be performing a free show Friday, May 30 at the Loving Touch in Ferndale. For more information check out the Facebook event page.