FTO’s Mike L!VE is back with another self-produced single for your eardrums. “It’s The Beat” is hip hop head rap, that raw boom bap + raw lyricism.
L!VE’s love for paying homage and sound collaging is once again evident as he talks that shit with bar after bar of lyrically dense MC bravado rap.
“Promoters be illiterate thieves, and still book me”
“Who need a rest, you a chess pawn / Style, bed of fire, I ain’t never been slept on”
Fans can catch L!VE in Asheville, NC this summer as Free The Optimus shares stages with Big Boi (6/3) and The Pharcyde (9/21). FTO summer dates are still being finalized, but a full east coast tour is planned and will be announced soon.
North Carolina rapper C.Shreve the Professor shares his latest, with “This is Love” marking his first release since his 2017 album, Daddy Love To Rap.
The track, produced by B Squared, showcases how his support system is as loyal as they come, spitting, “At the show, they be like who up next? Man, I hope it’s him / With the pen I go within, it’s got me focusin’ / I’m just tryna break you out that box that they hold you in.”
The single is titled “My Mentality” and takes on a Brady Bunch inspired music video. While the song “My Mentality” promotes the boom bap sound that FTO is known for, the visuals flaunt multiple frames of Mike L!VE delivering bars in a very aesthetically busy music video. Take a look for yourself below.
MiKE L!VE – My Mentality Is… (FTO Official Video by QWYK)
Chris Shreve (aka C.Shreve the Professor) is a Deep Gap, North Carolina MC and founder of the award winning hip hop collective Free The Optimus (FTO). A senior lecturer at Appalachian State University by day, this veteran emcee brings unique and dynamic perspective to both the studio and the live stage. C.Shreve defines Free The Optimus as “a call to action—to set free our optimal ability & our optimistic perspective, and to transform the world around us.”
In this interview spotlight, I chat with C.Shreve about motivations, challenges, the latest project and more.
Links, music, and the full Q&A below.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
I am originally from Mouth of Wilson, Virginia but I spent time growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee and Salisbury, Maryland. I’ve spent the last 10 years living in Deep Gap, North Carolina. I am a lyricist and MC. I take great pride in my raps and tend to choose production that speaks to me. I love classic boom bap and love wavy spaced out trap as well. I try to push my own boundaries with the songs I create so that I can have a wide variety to pull from on the live stage.
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to keep going?
I’ve always felt drawn to hip hop, since I first heard Rakim and Slick Rick. Something about wordplay and rhythm, storytelling and energetic vibes just drew me in. I was a listener and pure fan for a long time. I watched and listened to 2pac, Biggie, Outkast, DMX, Wu Tang, KRS, Common and The Roots in awe prior to hearing something in Q Tip, Kanye West and Snoop that told me I could do it.
The fact that I can continue to make music, that I have an audience, and that I can continue to tour all over the country and have people come rock with me is pure motivation. The raw challenge of figuring out the messages you want to convey, and what people respond to the best is so motivating. Making and performing music is my favorite thing to do.
How is this new release different than previous ones? Were you trying to accomplish anything specific?
This release is me just doing me. I’ve done concept albums previously, and they can help you focus, but this concept was really just “I love to rap and I’m gonna pick the beats that I want to do that on, and then execute.” It’s also the partner release to an EP I put out a couple months ago titled “Mommy Love To Dance”. That one was me making a project for the people up front who love to dance, but still just slinging bars. I kind of wanted to branch out and gain some new fans (I was thinking it would be super dope to get pushed on a dance blog) but also wanted to push the limits of what my core audience was used to. I almost wanted to set them up, like “what is Shreve up to now? He needs to get back to the raw raps”. On this new album, DLTR, I’m kind of back to my bread and butter and really just expressing where I’m at in life (which is currently focussing on being a dad).
Name one or two challenges you face as an indie musician in this oversaturated, digital music age? How has technology helped you (since we know it does help)?
Just getting out there. I actually enjoy a lot of the challenges though. Things like: How do you truly connect with your social media audience? How do you not just RT the crap out of all the blogs and mentions and find a way to truly engage them? How do you get people out to shows, when you do shows all the time? How do you navigate all the hustlers and make real connections (PR, managers, etc) when everyone has a convincing profile page and most of them are full of shit?
I know I wouldn’t have been able to do this without twitter, soundcloud, facebook, bandcamp, etc. Plain and simple. I don’t live in a market at all. Boone, NC isn’t gonna break a major hip hop artist. But Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville, etc might. The ability to connect with all the different markets through social media has been a game breaker for indie musicians like myself.
Where is the best place to connect with you online and discover more music?
I’ve really tried to put everything everywhere, so if you have spotify or apple or amazon or tidal or itunes or you like soundcloud or bandcamp or just youtube. It’s there. I like bandcamp because a larger portion of it goes directly to funding what we do, but bottom line go listen wherever you listen. FTOlife.com is our main hub with all the new happenings. Search “C.Shreve the Professor” or “Free The Optimus” on an internet near you and you should be off and running.
For all your readers: Support dope artists on the come up! They need you now more than ever. For an indie artist, putting your friends on to their music or taking some friends out to see their show is everything. The social media sharing is incredible too, but really just spread the word. However y’all do that. Huge THANK YOU to y’all for doing that with this interview!
The Collins brothers graduated with a degree in engineering from N.C. Agricultural & Technical State University, but instead of doing just that, they started their own nonprofit organization.
Victor, Chantin and Daniel Collins step outside the front door of The Carrack, a re-purposed warehouse in Durham, and from there they can see their grandmother’s house from when they were kids. This neighborhood is the foundation of their childhood — the perfect location for their next C.N.O.T.E. (Create Nothing Other Than Excellence) Foundation event.
Graduating from one of the most famous Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the U.S., the Collins brothers couldn’t leave behind the memories and education that they received at N.C. A&T. They banded together in 2010 to start the C.N.O.T.E. Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises money for scholarships and resources for incoming HBCU students across the state.
This Friday, they’re hosting an event, The Sit-In Series, that not only honors N.C. A&T and the four students who started the first Civil Rights sit-in, but also celebrates a growing community of African-American leaders. And what better way to do that than at The Carrack on the block that they themselves grew up on?
“The whole idea behind the power of the sit-in movement is the energy behind it,” Chantin said. “The power of this movement allows us to celebrate now, but also allows us to progress the movement at the same time. It’s a crucial event, but it’s also going to be a lot of fun.”
Inside The Carrack, the contrasting white and brick-stoned walls will be covered with almost 220 pieces of art by local Triangle artists, all available to buy. Daniel, the youngest brother, will also be serving and sharing a concoction of his own — a line of his own brewed beer — for free.
“We’re putting on something that we would want to attend ourselves, so that’s really the biggest part,” Daniel said. “We’re putting on something that’s satisfying to our expectations.”
Recruiting rap, hip-hop and R&B music artists from HBCUs, the brothers not only generate a fun time for every one of their events, but they also try to emphasize the potential and personal growth of these HBCU artists.
Friday evening the event will host three artists from across the state: a rapping professor from Appalachian State University, a student rapper from Winston-Salem State University and a Durham rapper who also attended N.C. A&T.
Christopher Shreve, otherwise known by his stage name C. Shreve the Professor, has been performing for the Collins brothers’ events since their very first one in Winston-Salem. He’s excited to bring a little bit of noise and energy to this Friday’s quiet venue.
“If you’re in certain audiences who aren’t used to rap or aren’t used to catching things on the fly, they miss half of it, so I really like when people are informed of hip-hop,” Shreve said. “It’s a perfect audience for me, one that appreciates craft, appreciates message and kind of demands message.”
The Collins brothers hope the community will feel good about donating their money to this entertaining but influential cause. The brothers plan to use the money to create sustainable scholarship solutions for under-represented youths, but also strengthen HBCU endowments from alumni, local communities and current staff and students.
“It’s a struggle to get HBCU alumni to give money back to HBCUs. So that’s what we’re trying to promote — just give a little,” Chantin said. “Come have fun. This is what it supports. It supports these kinds of artists. It supports this kind of thinking — these kinds of movements.”
Back in August of 2017, North Carolina emcee and Free The Optimus founding member C.Shreve The Professor released an EP by the name of Mommy Love To Dance, a fun release that saw Shreve stepping out of his comfort zone. Just before the year was over, he comes back with a companion album that’s right in his wheelhouse, Daddy Love To Rap.
If Mommy Love To Dance is C.Shreve switching things up and trying something new, Daddy Love To Rap is C.Shreve delivering exactly what you would expect from him. That’s not a bad thing, of course, since this emcee has been holding it down on the mic both as a solo artist and as part of Free The Optimus for years – he’s a veteran performer that knows how to hold your attention and entertain you by spitting rhymes. For this project, he enlists the production of Grove$ide, Delta Sigma, Pat Junior, B Squared, FLUE, and FLLS. There’s a lot of good beats here, mostly of the solid boom bap variety, with just a little bit of weirdness here and there to keep things interesting. Really, though, this is about finding some good laid-back, midtempo beats that C.Shreve can hop on, find the pocket of the groove, and then just come at you with some solid lyricism. It’s not an album that’s big on hooks or any other sort of pop sensibilities. This is more like a cypher session where a talented, experienced emcee just wants to grab the mic and take you through some lyrical calisthenics. C.Shreve has a nice grit to his voice, and he’s got multiple flows and clever wordplay for days. This is the type of album that you’ll want to listen to over and over so you can dissect all of the little hidden gems in his bars.
Daddy Love To Rap is about as straightforward as an album can get. This is all about one emcee just stepping up to the mic and spitting raw lyricism until the album is over. You can’t go wrong with that.
WHAT: A hip-hop benefit show for Isaac Dickson Elementary School lunch debt relief
WHEN: Friday, Jan. 5, 9 p.m.
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road
WHY:Chris Shreve and his fellow members of Asheville-based hip-hop collective Free the Optimus have performed before numerous young listeners to the point that, like the Wu-Tang Clan before them, they’ve adopted the phrase “FTO is for the children.”
On Friday, Jan. 5, that statement will prove extra true in an all-ages show at The Mothlight, proceeds from which will help relieve the lunch debt at Isaac Dickson Elementary School.
“For many students, the lunch they receive at school is sometimes the major source of nutrition their body gets for the day — and since most schools realize this, rather than denying a student who doesn’t have money that day their food, the school runs up a tab,” Shreve says. “This can be a rather significant hit for a school that many times doesn’t have the budget flexibility to just write off lunch accounts that are past due.”
Disparities that are affected by social policy and activism are topics Appalachian State University professor Shreve deals with in his public health classes on a regular basis. Combine the cause with FTO’s eagerness to do benefit shows and its fondness for The Mothlight’s sound quality and overall vibe, and the event makes sense for the group — and the bill’s other performers — on multiple levels.
With FTO’s own DJ Jet offering what Shreve calls “turntablism at its finest” throughout the night, local rappers SK the Novelist, PTP and Siyah will take to the stage and debut fresh tracks alongside fan favorites. FTO closes out the evening with Shreve and Mike L!VE on the microphones.
“FTO’s set will have tons of new material mixed into some of the classics we’ve become known for,” Shreve says. “We just released a bunch of new material [Daddy Love To Rap and The Lost Files] and we’re eager to perform it. We’re also constantly recording, so we always play unreleased tracks at our shows as well.”