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Detroit emcee Mic Write on race, gentrification, and making you dance

Sep 28, 2015

Mic Write, real name Chace Morris, is a triple threat: emcee, slam poet, and teacher.
Credit Jeremy Peters

You don't hear a lot of hot, danceable tracks about gentrification.

But Detroit emcee/slam poet/teacher Mic Write writes ear worms about the city’s evolution, his pride in its unsung neighborhoods, and how good it feels to disprove anyone who didn’t expect much of a kid from the D.

 Here's a few you’ll put on repeat.  

H.O.M.E.S: The track that put him on the map

If you know Mic Write already (real name Chace Morris), it’s probably because of this song, featuring Doss the Artist.  

The video’s a love letter to what growing up in Detroit felt like for Morris, recalling all those years as a kid walking around rapping while wearing headphones.

Sure, there’s rage and abandonment and a lot of burned-out houses, but it’s also a son’s love for the tree-lined, brick home neighborhoods of familiar people going about familiar lives.

Credit Carjack

“Ain’t no big bad wolf, no hungry breath gonna  

Blow my heart down, give me home or give me death, uh.

Thinking we built this thing from straw and sticks?

Nah. Third-pig law: only build your love with bricks.”

H.O.M.E.S wasn’t a massive hit. It didn’t make Morris famous.

But it got him noticed, nationally, as one to watch.

“Wait/Weight” gets even more personal  

Morris used the platform from H.O.M.E.S to keep developing his own voice: a brilliant, politicized, self-assured artist who’s also willing to wade into his own weariness and vulnerability.

“And I never lack for imperfections, serial procrastinator,

Battle with depression. Slight insomniac, hypochondriac,

Anxiety attacks are taxing, asking if I’m dying, trying to relax.

Not to mention the retention of the average ni**er’s attention

Just from living, steady testing the sobriety of blacks.”  

Morris says his newer sound is a little more polished, a little more experienced.

“Yeah, and just tapping into what I really want to say, instead of what I think people want to hear.”

He wrote a lot of poetry in high school, but Morris says he was too shy to actually rap anywhere other than his friends’ car – until he got to college.

There, he and a bunch of guys in the same hall at Wayne State University put together a massive, “Wu Tang-like clan,” Morris says.

The group's first show was a frat party at Wayne State. "It was not great," Morris laughs, shaking his head. "No, it was not great."

For their very first song, they sampled the strings solo from Hall and Oates’ “Sara Smile.”

“It’s that part at the end, and it’s like the strings, they get real high and epic?” Morris laughs. “We looped it, we rapped over it, and we thought it was the coldest song of all time in the history of hip hop!”

So they did a fraternity show. Whole big group of guys, just one mic between them.

“It was not great,” Morris smiles, shaking his head. “No, it was not great.”

But it was a start.

Morris says he went into Wayne State studying optometry and planning to take over his godmother’s practice someday – a steady, dependable future that made it hard to tell his family about his real hopes of becoming a poet and rapper.

So he didn’t.

And it wasn’t until they started reading about his shows in the paper that they figured it out. But by then, there were signs he might actually be able to make it.

He started winning regional slam poetry titles. Metro Times named him one of Detroit’s best poets.

In 2013, Kresge named him to one of their prestigious, selective Artist Fellowships.

Morris is also a slam poet
Credit Doug Coombe

Now he’s teaching creative writing in Detroit high schools through the InsideOut Literary Arts Project.

Which is full circle, because in “Wait/Weight,” Morris writes about some of the frustrations he faced as a kid in those schools.

“High school English teacher labeled me a plagiarist,

 Black boy that write too well, look how good his paper is.”

Morris says some of the students he has now, they’ve internalized that perception about themselves, that they’re just not great students, not good writers.

“Like, we might have had class maybe two months, and they’ve maybe written one thing down the entire time,” Morris says. “But then in month four, out of nowhere, they’ll just slide something to me and walk out of class. And it’ll be something, absolutely amazing.  And it’ll be like, wait, where did this come from! It’s like, what? What is this?”

“Celibate” goes back to gentrification…but somehow in a fun way?

One of his newest tracks, “Celibate” is a throwback to his dancey stuff, the stuff that makes you roll the windows down. 

And like H.O.M.E.S, it’s about the changes longtime Detroiters are witnessing.  

“Moved the tenants out the door, whitewashed overnight.

Then they built them stores, too expensive to afford.

Then they bought my block, then they changed that name.

New identity apart from the place we come…”

Morris says his fascination started when Cass Corridor was morphing into Midtown.

“When I was first down there, I started seeing these coffee shops popping up, these new boutiques, I was like whooo this is NICE!” Morris says. “It’s like, I’m gonna just spend money on this, I love this! This new life coming in, more and more people in that area walking around. It’s like yeah, that’s good!”

Then, he says, his neighbors couldn’t afford their rent.

"I don't mind new things coming to neighborhood or the city, that's great. It's just not having the consideration for what was already there."

And he says coffee shops started telling him, “Oh sorry, you can’t sit there right now, this area has been reserved…"

“And then I realized, like, you know when I saw Shinola popping up – oh this isn’t for us. This is weird. This is like, $1,000 bikes and $500 notebooks. That’s a market now," says Morris.  

"So it’s that type of erasure, where, I don’t mind new things coming to the neighborhood or the city, that’s great. It’s just not having the consideration for what was already there.”  

And Morris can write about that, that confusion and complexity, and somehow make it funny and angry and memorable. 

But mostly, he just makes you want to hit replay.