Rapper, producer, and second-generation musician Mike Floss writes a new Nashville story
It hasn’t quite been a year since Nashville rapper/producer Mike Floss’ debut album Tennessee Daydreams dropped, and his summer- scorcher of a single, “Local Satisfaction,” hit streaming services just a few months ago. But he’s back in the studio, working on new music. From the beginning, Floss has plotted his own journey, and kept himself moving beyond the industry-prescribed release-cycle schedule.
“The record-label formula is completely stupid to me,” Floss says via phone, on the road in Detroit. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody that was signed to a label in hip-hop that was happy with that situation.”
A longtime fixture in Nashville’s hip-hop underground — a vibrant, productive scene that’s been bubbling under Music City’s rhinestone surface since the early ’80s — former Inglewoodian Floss has been creating and releasing music for nearly a decade. His work has spanned shifting sonic trends, swirling distribution currents, and the ebb and flow of media tides.
Throughout, he’s managed to maintain a unique voice, absorbing cultural shifts without being consumed by them. From his early For the Rebels mixtapes (recorded as Open Mic) to his latest single, Floss has stayed on trend and on his own shit, while he’s watched peers disappear, consumed by the commercial music beast.
“At one point, I was kind of chasing [a label deal], just off of ignorance and just not knowing,” Floss says. “But after you’re out in these [festival and tour] situations with all these people, it’s like, ‘Oh, my career is really in no different place than most of these people, except they may have more Instagram followers.’ ... [And I] absolutely would have signed. If I wasn’t a second-generation artist, I would have signed a bad deal, and I probably would be trapped.”
Floss benefits from generational knowledge passed on from his father, trumpeter Rod McGaha — a pillar of the Music City jazz scene, who forged a career playing alongside artists as disparate as Lou Rawls, CeCe Winans, and Kenny Rogers, before releasing his own solo records. McGaha toured the world, and saw the industry from all angles.
“I grew up with the knowledge of like, ‘Yo, this money is not yours,’” Floss says. “‘This can be taken away from you. You won’t own the master. You won’t be able to control what your release schedule is. You won’t have any of the things that I’m able to do now.’
“[It] really helps, because I would be screwed right now if I had signed a deal. I really would. I’d be in such a bad spot.”
McGaha’s advice didn’t just pertain to the business side of the ledger, but to the philosophical as well.
“My dad pretty much made sure me and my sisters are creative minds,” Floss says. “He be on some, ‘If I can’t find anything different in this [music] then I’m not really interested in it.’ I think now that’s kind of the way I listen and stuff. It doesn’t really impress me as much, unless it’s done at the highest level.”
That highest-level aim came through even during Floss’ days of dorm-room tapes and half-empty shows at The End — from 2015’s Don’t Blame the Youth mixtapes and its million-streamed Spotify hit, “Movie,” to the complex and conscious arrangements of Tennessee Daydreams’ supremely Southern art-rap.
While rooted firmly in the classics — Floss’ dedication to rich, humanistic lyricism is a direct descendent of hip-hop’s golden era — he doesn’t get bogged down in nostalgic formalism. Tracks like Daydreams’ “Peach Soda” (featuring a shout-out to Nashville’s own Knockout Wings) and the new “Local Satisfaction” embrace timeless soul sounds, and the endless electronic opportunities afforded by 21st-century production techniques. His aesthetic, fittingly, feels unstuck from time and convention.
“The business is constantly changing. The personnel is constantly changing,” Floss says. “It always evolves, so I think the best thing to do is just feed your core and put out good music.”