HOR: I am here with Michael from the group 112. For those who do not know you, can you give us an elevator pitch of who you are and where you are from?
Michael: Absolutely. I am Michael Keith and I am ½ member of the Grammy award winning R&B group, 112. I was born and raised in Atlanta and I am just happy to be here.
HOR: Thank you so much for being here with us Michael. I do understand that you have a busy schedule. We are going to get into what is going on this Friday, which is very interesting and exciting. What has been your inspiration in starting your own brand/business and getting into the field that you are in?
Michael: Honestly, there was nothing else going on in my life at that point. Coming up here in Atlanta, you had few choices. You either played ball or you sold drugs…to “get out” so to speak. We had the gift of song and we took a chance, it was like screw it, why not…take a chance and see what happens. We knew that we had the requisite skills to really do something in the music industry if we got with the right people and we felt like we did, and we felt like we accomplished some of those goals. I am better off for it because I did not want to go and do something that I did not want to do, I am not from the streets or anything and I damn sure did not play ball (laughter) and so I wanted to do what came naturally and that was music.
HOR: You know I was not born here in Atlanta, but I was raised here. I was born in Texas. I have seen all different spectrums of Atlanta, it is prevalent in any state but that is definitely how it is here in Atlanta, that you either play ball or you make a way; you find a way. Music is an outlet, it is a very interesting outlet where people get to use their mind, get to use their talent. When you have the talent and you push that talent, that gets you far, especially here in Atlanta. Atlanta is the mecca of music; a lot of people do not understand but Atlanta is the mecca of music and if you have a talent for music and you go and push it, here in Atlanta is where it’s at.
Michael: Absolutely. Atlanta is the mecca for a lot of things but in particular, music. We came up in the early 90’s where there was a music scene, but we were not respected as a New York or California and so to see where it has come from to where it is now is just really refreshing to see and I am glad that I am a part of it.
HOR: I know that’s right. It is a movement it is a part of history; and to piggyback off what you said, back in the day it was not as respected as it is now. Back in the day, you and many other artists had to really hustle to get your music poppin’ and to push it and then it got to the point where ya’ll started poppin’, people started hittin’ the wave but they were not there when you were pushing your hustle. It is a beautiful thing to see you now and where you are at and it is commendable.
Michael: Thank you so much. Yes, we came from a time where there was no real music scene, you know what I mean…how we became popular is that we used to catch the 55 (that’s the MARTA bus) (laughs) and we actually have an acronym…Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta, so that’s what it means (they both laugh). We used to catch that 55 downtown to Underground and we would just sit there all day just singing, hoping that we knew somebody that knew somebody that knew somebody in the music industry. That is how we got on it was not like it is today with social media where you can pretty much connect with anybody, anywhere. We just went out there and we just sang, hoping that somebody knew somebody. It is cool where it is now where kids have the opportunity to express themselves fully through social media and things of that nature. It has really come a long way and I am happy for it.
HOR: I am happy for it too but just the fact that you had to experience that journey just like many other artists back in the day, it’s like with the opportunity that we have now right at our fingertips (social media) it becomes a lot easier to become a major artist or whatever avenue it is that you take in life, than the artists from back in the day who put in all that work. They did not know if they were going to make it…if they were going to pop! So, they had to go ahead and take that chance and they had to make it a daily hustle.
Michael: Slim and I, we laugh about it all the time, but we hear these stories about how these kids are just getting on and I am not saying that they are not putting in work because I do believe that they are putting in work, however, the amount of work that we put in to get to where we are is night and day. You hear things like…man I am tired, I have been in the studio for four hours and I’m like, four hours? We were just getting warmed up in four hours back in the day. We would spend 18 hours in the studio…but yeah it is just evolution…technology and it is the way of the world. You cannot really be mad at it, it’s just evolution.
HOR: You really cannot, you have to adapt to life’s changes because change is inevitable, but it is an honor to be talking to you. So, let me ask you, who have been some of your inspirations on your journey, any mentors, or people that you look up to?
Michael: I drew inspiration from a lot of things and the funny thing is that some of them are not even music related. I drew inspiration from my mother’s strength and her presence in my life. My grandmother was definitely an inspiration to me as well but musically, we are talking about a lot of gospel artists; “Commissioned”, “Take 6” those are the artists who influenced our sound. Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Kurt Cobain…I love me some Nirvana, Soundgarden. One of the homies that used to be in the group introduced me to rock and from that point on, my whole world expanded. I love the freedom that rock portrays (we know that there are all kinds of things that go on behind the scenes). As far as music, sonically, the freedom that rock artist have versus R&B where you are just in a box and because I am Black, I automatically say R&B music, but my heart has always been in rock music. So, it is funny, a Black dude that likes rock music…it is the craziest thing, but I am full of contradictions.
I had a teacher (Rest in peace), she is gone now and here is the funny thing, her name was Mildred Falsette, so you knew that she was meant to be a music teacher and she stayed on me like I was her son. That was during a time when you could get on a child and be hard on them and show them that a little hard work can go a long way. She introduced me to operatic singing. She was a professional operatic singer and she taught me for four years, up until the 12th grade. I used to know how to sing in Italian…she was very inspirational for me because she actually gave a damn. When everybody else was allowing me to do whatever I wanted, she said no, you can do better. Of course there was some hesitation and reluctance at first but once we got passed that, she was one of the best things that ever happened to me musically.
HOR: I know that’s right. Sometimes it is like that, you have your family and not always is it the case that people have their families supporting them with what they have going on but most times when you are poppin’ and you are out there taking the time to make this your job because this is your love, your life…this is what is going to bring the money home, and you love music and your family is supporting you, more than likely, you are going to succeed. But when you have that support from your family, when they have your back, it takes certain individuals that are like mothers or fathers that are not your parents that are there mentoring you and those are the inspirations that actually shift who you are in your journey.
For example, your music teacher, you said that she came into your life at the right time and she coached you and taught you a lot of things and I can see greatness in you and everything that you have been doing and that is reflected in the good mentorships and inspirations that you have experienced. A lot of young folk take for granted the people that they have around them whether there is a 15-20-year age difference, these mentors, are going to go ahead and guide you in the right direction, it may not be how you want to be guided but that guidance is going to take you a long way; you have to be able to accept that as gems.
Michael: I agree 100%. At first, I bucked on it, but she convinced me that what she had to teach me was better for me. She was looking for a protégé somebody to instill this wisdom that she had into somebody else and she deemed me to be that person and I am honored to have been chosen.
HOR: It is those very few special people that have that talent, that actually want to pour that knowledge into someone and when you are chosen, you cannot fight it because that’s God, you cannot fight that…you just can’t.
Michael: You are absolutely right. As a teenager, I was rebellious and once I realized that this woman was really trying to help me, then she couldn’t get rid of me at that point. We loved each other; she was like my schoolhouse mama. She will always have a special place in my heart.
HOR: What has the journey been like getting to where you are? We spoke about that earlier when you told us what you had to do getting on the bus…walk us though a day getting to the Underground, which is nothing like it was before, that shit was poppin’, so what was your journey like?
Michael: Initially, the journey was about finding like-minded individuals, that understood and loved music as much as I did and who wanted to expand and evoke their musical vocabulary. So, once I found that, it was a matter of…ok, how do we get people to notice us. So, there was no social media, this was around 1991, 92…I was 14 at the time and we were really just trying to figure out, how in the hell we could get people to notice us. So, what we starting doing was practicing, practicing…practicing and we practiced for about a year before we started “gigging” and it was just finding these songs and to understand what it was going to take to get someone to listen to us. After about a year of practicing, we started doing talent shows and I do not know if you remember, this might be a little before your time, there was something called a Sharing Showcase (HOR is not familiar), ok well the Sharing Showcase was when all of the artists in Atlanta came when it was time to do a performance or a showcase, so everybody knew that that was the place to go, if you wanted to be seen by anybody and then the industry started to take notice because around that time, that is when LaFace was formed and Rowdy Records was formed and so a lot of A&R, for a lot of people, started scouting and searching for talent and things of that nature.
So, everybody knew that that was the place that you wanted to be in order to be seen by some executives from a label. At this point before we did the Sharing Showcase performance, we had done a year’s worth of talent shows all round Atlanta, anywhere that was doing a talent show, we would were either be the overall winners or we won in the male category. We never came in second place. That is how that got started. We went to one talent show at Westlake High and we met our future managers and they introduced us to Dallas Austin and from there we met Puff (Diddy) we were actually in Dallas Austin’s camp.
We were supposed to sign a record deal with Rowdy Records; along with Monica and another group called Illegal, and there was a host of other artists that he had as well. But Puff came in and said look, what are you doing with those four boys over there? Dallas said that they have been working here and I planned on signing them next year and Puff was like he wants to sign ya’ll next year, I want to sign ya’ll right now…what’s happening? We were like, bet…we gone, we are going with you to New York. He could not even get the sentence out before we said yes! It was hard too though because we loved Dallas, we felt loyal to him because we had been in his studio, we had been utilizing his equipment, we had conversations with him, and we knew him versus Puff. At the time, we thought that Puff was a model for Karl Kani (laughter), we did not really know what Bad Boy was, or anything like that but we felt his energy and he was in Atlanta directing, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” for Outkast, yeah a lot of people do not realize that he actually directed that.
So, when he came down, he was just in the Atlanta scene and thought that there was way too much talent down here for me not to bring something back to New York…he saw us and we actually performed in front of 112 for him and that was where we got the name as well, so it was a crazy ride but once we got to New York it was a whole different story, a whole new journey too. We have to learn how-to live-in New York…we had to catch the Marta down here, but we had to catch that N and that R (subway) up top.
You know that hustle mentality, but it was great for us because it gave us the work ethic to always work hard because New York, they don’t play around, they don’t sleep, they don’t play around. If you are sitting down somewhere, somebody else is standing up walking past your ass…while you’re walking, they’re running and that was the mentality that we had to take with everything…you know what I am going to include Puff as a mentor (laughs), he was hard in certain areas, but overall, we learned valuable lessons by just around him and seeing that this man does not sleep…he works hard, does not sleep and he deserves everything that he got. That pretty much was the journey. That was the bulk of it.
HOR: That’s beautiful and not to talk bad about anybody but when you see an opportunity, you take it and if somebody is sleeping on you regardless if you are cool or not you are going to go with the best option that is not sleeping on you and that is just how life is. People do not seem to understand that, you are loyal to something and then you miss out on an opportunity…it is cool to look out for others but you cannot look out for others if you do not look out for yourself. You have to do what is right for you and other people will have to go with the flow or deal.
Michael: We spoke to Dallas a couple of years after we left and he understood where we were coming from because we wanted to work right there and then, we couldn’t pass up someone who was willing to work with us and things of this nature, it was kind of weird around that time but like I said a couple of years after the fact we sat down and had a conversation with him and he was cool, he understood.
HOR: Those are the types of relationships that go a long way. You have to make sure that you do not burn your bridges. The fact that you all were big enough to have that talk, man to man, to sit down and talk about what happened, a lot of people do not even get that far. That is commendable.
Michael: Thank you because I believe in “man talk”, I believe in grown man business, even at a young age, there is something to be said about having the cajones to stand up to somebody and say, look…but no it was cool. Dallas is still one of my favorite people and he is an incredible artist and producer and businessman. He was cool, he just had so much going on at the time; TLC, Madonna…he had so much going on and we understood that…it was like, you got yours and now we are about to go and get ours.
HOR: What are some of the pros and cons that you have experienced in your business?
Michael: Some of the pros are that I get to travel, get to meet different people, I get to do what I love to do, I get to make money off of it and it has afforded me other opportunities to become a better business man. I have learned so much by being in the music industry, I have learned how to be a businessman, how to be a better person, how to be more communicative, how to speak properly and how to adapt and adjust to any and all scenarios. People tell me all the time that I have never met a stranger (laughter) because I am able to adapt. You can be from Afghanistan and I will know enough about it, where you’ll be like, oh ok. That is one of the things that I pride myself on is my ability to adapt and I take the time out to learn, when we go to different countries, I learn how to say hello, goodbye…just doing my best to learn the language and of course they know that I do not know the language but they appreciate the effort. It is all about respect that is one of the main pros that I learned.
There are not too many cons, other than the fact that it is a shady business, and if you are not careful, then you can get exploited from said people who are well versed in shitting on people. Personally speaking, a con is that I have missed out on a lot as far as my family goes. I have missed birthdays, funerals…a lot of personal things that I have missed, my kids…with my older kids, I missed a lot of their development and their growing up and so as they got older, we were able to have more of a man to man kind of relationship, it is still father…son but it is more like I talk to my son like a man; he is in the navy now. He just got sent off last week, so I was a little Carl Thomas, I was a little emotional…that’s my baby, I have pictures of me holding him and now he is a man (laughter) it is just amazing and life is so fleeting, you have to take everything in and just live life and be appreciative of the fact that you can see your children grow up and they have children. So, those are pretty much the cons that I have faced. I do not look at long nights in the studio as a con or not coming home…I actually get weirded out when I am in Atlanta because I am used to be on the road all the time. I really do not have a lot of cons.
HOR: Thank you for that. The way that you were able to express that traveling is not a bad thing whereas there are people who wonder how they are going to function, how am I going to adjust, and you let us know that we will. Adapting is a part of life and having the opportunity to travel here and there expands your mind, your beliefs as well as your niche, whatever that may be and right now we are talking about music. It totally expands your music and culture. The cons, which may not be cons but in a slight sense, that comes with it, when you are an entrepreneur, a businessperson, you have to understand, your family will then understand that you have to take time away so that you can make this pop. If I need this time, you will have to respect that and yeah I am going to miss out on this but you are going to thank me later and like you said it is not a con being in the studio day and night making sure that something sounds appropriate, making sure that everything is legit that needs to be ready for radio, you do not want “chopped” up stuff getting on the radio. You want to make sure that you dedicate that time…so it is not really a con, you put in that time and that is just the flip side of it.
Michael: The alternative is that you will be sitting your ass down at home not doing anything…in your mama’s basement trying to figure what your next move is. So if I had to choose between the 2, I am always going to side with working hard.
HOR: A lot of up and coming artists do not have even have the luxury of being in the studio, so the fact that you were even in the studio was a big plus. What advice would you give to those who are aspiring to do what you do to get into the industry that you are in?
Michael: Great question. I would say like I always say, to all the up and coming artists, have a bend and don’t break mentality when it comes to negotiating with said label or whomever it is that you are working with in order to get to where you got to go. What I mean by that is, be firm in your foundation, be firm in what you stand for, however the music business…you can have all talent in the world but if you do not have the ability to work with a label then you are gonna get got. The label and the industry are designed for people to come in and get the short end of the stick, it is once you “ proven yourself” and made noise and sold records that you can actually go back in and negotiate, which is what I have tried to explain to the young people coming in and of course this generation is about instant gratification…I need it now and the world does not work like that. It is negotiating, it is who you know and who they know…it is about relationships, its actually more about relationships and who you know more than your actual talent.
We can find talent all day long but are you willing to work with us, are you willing to take less money in the beginning so that you can re-up and then we can put more money into you…into your project and then you re-up later on somewhere down the line. If you are not willing to do that and you are just stoic on your beliefs and you got your arms folded and thinking, no… I want it like this and if I do not have like this then I do not want to do it. You are going to be sitting at home. I would say to the young people, do not just bend over and take everything but that is why you put your team in place that you trust who understand the nuances of being in the music business and know what the hell they are doing, and trust that they have your best interests at heart, but still even with your people taking care of things on your behalf, you still need to be checking them and making sure that they are doing everything that they are supposed to do.
It is a never-ending process, overall you have to have a team of people that you know and trust who have your back. Initially that may be the move but sometimes people are in your life for a season; this person is not working out like they used to, it is time to get rid of them and put someone else in. It is about you evolving and you moving forward and if those people around you are not moving forward and are not evolving, you have to get rid of them. Definitely have a bend but don’t break mentality. Do not sell your entire soul for this thing. Just be able to negotiate and work with these people that you are working with because the eventuality of it is, you have 2 choices; you can either work with these people and work your way through your contract situation and get to a point where you can re-negotiate with these people, or you do not do it and you sit at home and not live out your dream. You got the “red” and the “blue” pill.
HOR: Growth is important, and you cannot do that without a team. Having the right team next to you is detrimental to your success. As a young entrepreneur, I understand that you have to be able to think outside the box and realize that the way that you were raised is not the only way of life, you are trying to hit other levels, you have to be comfortable with doing certain things differently that is going to get you there but do not completely change who you are, still be true to yourself but make sure that you are open minded to take it to the next level.
Where can people follow you Michael, give us all of your social media handles and let us know if you have a website.
Michael: You can follow us @official112 on IG, 112 Rebirth TV on YouTube, you guys will help us out tremendously if you like or subscribe to the 112 Rebirth TV on YouTube, that is another source of income for a lot of people. So, the more that people subscribe to the page, the more helpful it is to us. That is where you get all of our videos that are coming out and currently out, you will get the webisodes, the documentary’s…etc., just a load of things that if you wanted to know about 112, that is where you would go. Also, there is 112forever.com and that is where we sell our merchandise (he shows a mask that is available for sale), there is a filter available in the masks…it is not just a mask, it actually has functionality. We have t-shirts there, we have the neck gaiters, so yeah that’s 112forver.com where you can purchase those items. My personal page is@ michaelkeithof112 on IG, so those are the places that you can find me.
HOR: Shout out to that face mask because even though it is not mandatory here in Georgia, it is still a precaution that we need to take because you do not know what you are walking into and you need to protect yourself and others.
Michael: I had to take care of myself for the last 3 weeks because I tested positive for Covid-19, so I did get over all of that and all is well but it is real and it is serious and people need to be wearing masks especially when you are around other people.
HOR: Is there anybody that you want to shout out?
Michael: My fans for hanging out with us for the last 24 years. All of those people that have just been rocking with us from the beginning. I want to thank them so very much because without them there would not be a 112. Those are the people that I would like to shout out. I want to thank you for this interview, we are IG besties (laughs)
HOR: Yes, you better know it (laughs)
Michael: I want to thank the fans because a lot of people do not realize that they are the ones that make you the celebrity that you are.
HOR: That is extremely humbling for you to recognize that, you could have shouted out your cousin, my manager, and you went and directed that love back to the people. We all love you; we all love 112, and it was cool that you actually took the time to thank your fans.
Michael: The fans keep everything moving and I am not oblivious to that. It is not a game and I do not do the Hollywood smoke and mirrors shit. I am a straight shooter. I know where my blessings come from, the Most High, and the fan-base.
HOR: When we initially started this interview which I am really excited! You have an EP coming out! Tell us when, tell us what it’s called, where can people stream it…tell us about it.
Michael: The new EP is called, “112 Forever Slim and Mike” it will be dropping on August 28th and we actually sequenced the album last night and I went on a journey, I cannot even tell you…I knew that the records were hot but to hear them all together with the interludes tying everything together. We took a different approach from other artists, when they do an EP, they just give you a throw away record, one that did not make the album. Slim and I took the approach that this is an album it might be 6 or 7 songs, but this is an album. So, we took that same mentality and I needed it especially with 2020 hating on everybody, where we cannot do anything so the only thing that was going to keep us sane was to continue doing music. So we put this EP out for you guys but at the same time it was for us and out therapy. But the EP will be out August 28th and again it is called, “112 Forever Slim and Mike” and we are excited.
HOR: I am extremely excited! Where can we stream it?
Michael: Anywhere streaming is available, the album will also be available.
HOR: We need to go ahead and tune into that, we need to mark our calendars. Are we looking into any virtual concerts? Have you thought about that?
Michael: We were in the works with this company out in California, please forgive me but I do not know the status…but there were talks of us doing a virtual concert tour and I think that it was supposed to be with Jagged Edge but again I do not know the status of that but I know that it was something that was in the works and we will definitely see about that.
HOR: I am excited and just remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat! You got the people out here waiting on the 28th so you know we are out here waiting so you might as well bring that heat.
Michael: Might as well (they both laugh)
HOR: Do not let “Rona” stop you.
Michael: Because “Corona” be acting up this year. But we are very excited about this project and we believe in this project. We know that we have some hits on that album. We are excited!
HOR: My favorite right now is “For Us” I love it! That is what we are pushing because I believe that it is like you said, very therapeutic and for you and Slim to go ahead and put that time in, because right now we are all stuck at home. What new stuff do we have to hear? What loving artists do we have that we already love are poppin’ stuff right now? It is a great way to come together virtually and make us jam out, we could use your hits to have a virtual event and you said that a virtual concert is in the works so that is a great way to strategize in the midst of Covid.
A lot of people are stuck at home and how can we bring that peace, that love, that unity…music.
Michael: That song is one of the best on the album and it definitely always gets a great reaction whenever we play it. The message behind it is incredible and my daughter is in the video…my baby girl is in the video, so I wanted to highlight my little Queen. I cannot wait for people to see that and it comes out on August 21st and that is actually a couple of days away and it will be on 112 Rebirth TV on YouTube.
HOR: 112 Rebirth TV on YouTube and that is where you can see it. So there is no excuse, we have it right here. Michael it was a pleasure, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit down and chop it up with me. So, thank you.
Michael: Thank you baby, it was awesome and like I said we are IG besties and hopefully we will become besties outside of IG. Thank you again you have been a blessing to me.