Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Lost Holocron



The Lost Holocron; a first of its kind, all-original Star Wars Hip Hop album.


That is the tagline I’ve been using to briefly summarize my album, The Lost Holocron. Two of my biggest passions in life are Hip Hop and Star Wars. Thus, it only seemed natural that I embarked on developing a project like this. The album blends rhymes and beats with Star Wars stories, topics, characters, and the music of legendary composer, John Williams, to create a truly unique journey through the Star Wars universe. Throughout the years, various artists have released; re-makes of popular songs using Star Wars-based lyrics or themes, Star Wars parody songs, Star Wars-themed “gangsta rap” songs/parodies, original compositions with loose Star Wars themes, and countless songs with Star Wars lines or references. And there are even cover bands with Star Wars-themed names and image. By no means am I downplaying any of those artists, songs or projects (I am a fan of a lot of it), when I say that The Lost Holocron is none of those things. There are no gimmicks or parodying with The Lost Holocron. It is one hundred percent Star Wars, non-canon of course, delivered in pure Hip Hop form. And just like the Star Wars movies, TV shows and novels, the songs on The Lost Holocron consist of action, drama, love, excitement, and that little splash of comedy. Coupled with my writing style, and my knowledge and passion for the franchise (pre-Disney of course), The Lost Holocron carves its own hyperspace lane through our favorite galaxy far, far away.

The idea for this album came to me, with the force of a Wookiee’s punch, in the summer of 2008. While I was dumbfounded the notion hadn’t struck me sooner, I was instantly inspired. Within days I had the concept outlined, the album title, a plan for the format, a long list of song ideas and titles, and had even started writing. The album title, The Lost Holocron, holds a ton of significance. My full-time performing and touring days were essentially over, thus not regularly performing in front of new crowds, or famous in any regard, was going to severely limit the audience of the album. And generally speaking, many die-hard Star Wars fans tend not to be hard core Hip Hop fans (oddly, many Hip Hoppers are Star Wars fans, just not necessarily in the “die-hard” realm). So right from the beginning I felt of the album as this sort of undiscovered “lost” gem and resource. Something that people didn’t know existed, but once they learned of its existence, would yearn to unlock the secrets inside. Also, this album was going to be my personal contribution to the Star Wars universe. Yes, I have my years of work in, with and for the 501st Legion, and that means a lot to me. But there I am playing my part on a large team for a greater purpose. And while I do take great pride in that, it does not fulfill me need for an individual legacy within Star Wars. I’ll never be in a movie, probably won’t ever voice a character, I may still make a post-Disney attempt at getting a book published, and given my stance on what Disney did to Star Wars, will almost certainly never work for Lucasfilm (sadly). Thus, this album, The Lost Holocron, is my time capsule for Star Wars fans present and future, my addition to the ongoing saga.

Despite my initial inspiration and excitement, nothing other than some writing happened for two years. In August of 2010 I was down in Orlando for Star Wars Celebration V. I had been asked to do an interview for a Star Wars documentary. While talking to the director and crew, it came up that I rapped, so they asked if I would do a little something for the film. So I spit a verse I had written for The Lost Holocron and then threw in a little freestyle about Celebration. I never did hear what became of the film…? Coincidentally, that same month my group, Manifesters, had a little resurgence and began putting out new music again. The combination of those two events then began the process of getting The Lost Holocron off the ground.

The format of The Lost Holocron is extremely unique compared to my other Versifier and Manifesters’ projects. All songs are written and performed by me, and are produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by my long-time producer, friend and collaborator, Big Jess. The production of each song is done using one song off the Star Wars soundtrack from the original trilogy, prequel trilogy, and The Clone Wars movie (so technically not all John Williams due to The Clone Wars). So the ratio is always one to one. I take a track from one of the seven soundtracks and highlight certain parts for Jess. Jess then takes the soundtrack track and my notes, works his brilliant magic, and produces a Star Wars re-imagined Hip Hop beat. All songs are then written once the beat is complete, however for many of them, the concept and title are already in place first. Audio clips and sound effects from the movies are then added to heighten the experience. Instead of releasing The Lost Holocron as a one-time complete album, it is released in waves of three songs per wave, similar to how Hasbro Toys releases Star Wars action figures in waves. This allows for the album to be an on-going and continuously growing body of work, just as the saga and stories of Star Wars has continued to grow and expand over the past forty years.

The initial plan was to have each wave of The Lost Holocron include three songs and one music video, and to release three waves per year. This proved to be a very non-realistic schedule. First and foremost, both Big Jess and I have multiple facets to our lives, respectively, both in and outside of music. So time was definitely a factor. Secondly, unlike all the other music I create, I cannot sell, or make any money in any form from, the music on The Lost Holocron. The Lost Holocron is essentially non-licensed Star Wars fan fiction. The soundtrack samples, movie clips, sound effects, and images are all trademarks and copy written material of Lucasfilm. Thus, to avoid breaking the law and a Lucasfilm lawsuit, and out of respect, all songs and videos from The Lost Holocron are entirely free to stream, download and watch. I sell nothing and collect nothing. On the flip side however, I do have to personally fund the project. Beats, studio time, mixing and mastering, directors, and music videos all have a price tag. So funding for this project always has to be in balance with funding for other projects I am working on. On a side note; I did inform Lucasfilm of The Lost Holocron, and they were supportive of the project and the parameters. Unfortunately, because it is un-licensed, they cannot endorse, promote or use the album in any capacity.

The Lost Holocron has the potential to appeal to Star Wars fans, Hip Hop fans, and music lovers across the globe. Like the Star Wars movies, I keep everything in the PG to PG-13 range. While none of the songs have curse words or anything blatantly offensive, a few songs do contain some adult content. The album is definitely geared towards adults, but is generally family friendly. The music is free and easily accessible. My hope, above all else, is simply that people enjoy it and share it with others who may enjoy it as well. I have had, and will continue to have, fun making the songs. So if nothing comes of it, I won’t be disappointed. Obviously though, if opportunities arise because of it, I will welcome them. I may have started “Star Wars Hip Hop”, but the torch will always be there, burning brightly, if/when another emcee decides to pick it up and run with it.

The Lost Holocron – Wave 1
Released: April 22, 2014
1.1 Move Along: Move Along is an up-beat track that puts a fun, spirited feel and twist on the events in Mos Eisely on Tatooine in Star Wars Episode IV. The song features guest vocals by Denver-based singer/song writer Fatima Lily. Thus far, this track has clearly been the fan favorite. I was even asked to perform this song live at the second annual Central Garrison (of the 501st Legion) Banquet in Des Moines, IA in August of 2014. The music video for Move Along was scheduled to shoot this past October. However, due to military obligations of the director, we were forced to cancel last minute. The hope is to re-schedule once this Minnesota winter ends. This video has a cast of almost thirty, so coordination is tricky…

1.2 Alone: Alone explores the emotional and social isolation of the Jedi and the Sith from the rest of the galaxy. Their respective use of The Force, their power, and their influence on galactic events sets them apart and above the ordinary being. However, it’s also what denies them the common joys and acceptance of life. Alone features a guest appearance from Twin Cities Hip Hop emcee, Ernie Rhodes. In the song, Ernie Rhodes plays the role of the Jedi, and I play the role of the Sith.

1.3 Ahsoka: Ahsoka is my ode to Ahsoka Tano from The Clone Wars. The music video for Ahsoka is a compilation of Ahsoka images, which follows her existence from her debut in The Clone Wars movie to her leaving the Jedi Order at the end of Season 5 of The Clone Wars.



The Lost Holocron – Wave 2
Released: March 13, 2017
2.1 Duel of the Fates: Duel of the Fates is an aggressive track about the heat of battle, the balance of power, and the inevitable outcome of victory or defeat. As the title suggests, it uses the Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon vs. Darth Maul scene at the end of Episode I as a major theme component. It has a battle rap feel to it and is very pro-Sith.

2.2 Lack of Faith: Lack of Faith is a light-spirited look at the galaxy divided up by Force-users and those who don’t believe. Lack of Faith features a guest appearance from Twin Cities Hip Hop emcee and pioneer, Dispute One.  

2.3 Whip Your Lekku: Fictionally speaking, I refer to Whip Your Lekku as a “Coruscant club banger and Nal Hutta favorite”. It’s a sexually charged track about Twi’lek and Togruta dancers and escorts using their lekku for a little extra entertainment while dancing or in the bedroom. There may be a music video for this song somewhere down the line.


The Dark Side
The Dark Side single and music video are kind of like the precursor to The Lost Holocron. The song is over a non-Star Wars-themed beat produced by my brother, Online, and the content is more real life with a Star Wars theme. Thus, it didn’t fit the formula for The Lost Holocron. But I still dug the track and decided to go all out for the music video. The video is directed by Dan Delano, the director of my Whiskey Tears music video, and is the first music video in which I solely wrote the screenplay. The video features an all-star cast consisting of actress, model and TV host Meisha Johnson, newcomers Priscilla Lovas and Jenny Andrews, members of the 501st Legion Central Garrison, and members of the Rebel Legion Central Base. Cameos in the video include New York Times best-selling Star Wars authors Troy Denning and Daniel Wallace, Lucasfilm artist Grant Gould, Star Wars artist Kevin Doyle, and Twin Cities Hip Hop artists Big Jess, NiiBox and Online of Manifesters, and Hypnose and Master Wong of Cypha Squad.




Stream and download The Lost Holocron: www.manifesters.com/thelostholocron


Watch The Dark Side music video: http://versifier.manifesters.com/thedarkside

Wave 3 of The Lost Holocron is already underway. Stay tuned…!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Anakin's 7th Birthday



Today is Anakin’s seventh birthday! It will be my wife and I’s fourth birthday with him, as we adopted Anakin in March of 2013, about three weeks after his third birthday. While Anakin is undoubtedly amongst the most spoiled dogs on the planet on a daily basis, we tend to take that up a notch on his birthday. Over the past three years we’ve formed a tradition of getting Anakin this gigantic, homemade birthday bone treat (from the store attached to a local kennel north of the Twin Cities). It even has a built-in spot for a candle… Then we always do a photoshoot, either at home or out at various locations. For Anakin’s fifth birthday we drove around the Twin Cities taking photos of Anakin next to any signs, businesses, etc. with a “Five”, “5”, or “V” on them. And of course, we make sure to get in all of his favorite activities; a walk, playing catch, wrestling, belly rubs and massages, a car ride, and treats.


This past Saturday we drove up to the kennel to get his bone, only to find they did not have any made this year. So unfortunately, after an exhaustive Google search which yielded zero results, we had to settle for some new treats. Obviously Anakin could care less as they all taste delicious to him, but it was a little disappointing to my wife and I. Meh, what do you do? For the photoshoot, my wife had the idea to buy a kids’ Star Wars t-shirt for him, as we can never find dog-wear we like. Quick sidebar; for the record, other than photoshoots (or functional for extreme weather), we’re not fans of dressing up Anakin. The ironic thing is that Anakin doesn’t like wearing stuff, so he rarely looks happy in the photos. We found a shirt at Target with Darth Vader walking three AT-ATs on leashes. Absolutely perfect! It won’t happen today, but eventually I want to get a photo of me, in my Stormtrooper armor, with Anakin on a leash, wearing the shirt of Vader with AT-ATs on a leash. That’ll be dope!


My wife and I are not having children, so spoiling our dog-child is simply the natural order of life. To say Anakin is a major part of our lives would be a huge understatement. The “man’s best friend” cliché is spot on in my case. The joy we bring to each other’s existence forms a perfect symbiont circle.


To see more Anakin photos than you’d know what to do with, visit his Twitter and Instagram pages. Yes, I started and run a Twitter account and Instagram account for Anakin.
Twitter – @AnakinFessler
Instagram – anakintheblacklab
And for more Anakin photos, plus countless selfies of he and I, check out my Twitter and Instagram pages:
Twitter – @VerseManifest
Instagram – mickelpics

Happy Birthday buddy!


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ahsoka Fans Day



It appears I have a propensity for creating Ahsoka Tano related holidays and celebrations. I did not create the hashtag #TanoTuesday, but I was the first to turn Tano Tuesday into a weekly celebration. Next came my daily installment, #AhsokasDailyHoloImage, followed by the annual holiday, Ahsoka Tano Day (#AhsokaTanoDay), on January 29th. Then there’s my collection of weekly themed celebrations; #AhsokaArtWeek, #AhsokaToyWeek, #AhsokaLooksWeek, and the most recent, #AhsokasDailyHoloImage Fan’s Choice Week. And now, today (March 2nd), marks the first annual Ahsoka Fans Day (#AhsokaFansDay).

Unlike all of my previous holidays/celebrations, which mainly focus on celebrating the character of Ahsoka Tano, Ahsoka Fans Day is simply for fans of Ahsoka to celebrate their fandom. There is a seemingly endless list of way in which Ahsoka has touched people’s lives, brought them countless moments of happiness, or inspired them on a personal and/or creative level. For many a man, woman and child, Ahsoka has been a rich and important part of life over the past nine (plus) years. There is an uncanny allure and appeal to Ahsoka that is truly infectious, and the magnitude at which fans gravitate towards her utterly remarkable. Ahsoka fans have a deep, palpable passion that leaps out in so many forms. It’s amazing to watch. Thus, it is my hope that Ahsoka Fans Day will become an on-going, annual tradition of taking a day out to fully submerge in our own Ahsoka fandom, while simultaneously connecting and sharing with Ahsoka fans across the globe. 

The significance of March 2nd lies in the two Coruscant-shattering events that took place on this date. On March 2, 2013, The Clone Wars fifth season came to an end with the airing of episode 5.20, “The Wrong Jedi”. The episode ends with Ahsoka leaving the Jedi Order and walking away from Anakin. It was also Ahsoka’s last “official” appearance on The Clone Wars [I say “official”, as she did appear in Yoda’s Force vision during the 6.12 “Destiny” episode in 2014.] The devastation, anguish and anger poured out of Ahsoka fans all over the world. A piece of our hearts had been torn away from us. Two years later, on March 2, 2015 (after a few voice and hooded hologram teasers), Ahsoka “officially” returns on the 1.13 “Fire Across The Galaxy” episode of Rebels. It wasn’t the Ahsoka (look or story), fans were expecting, but Ahsoka was back, and fans were given a second chance. The impact and emotional potency of these two events was insane. From the soul-crushing lows, to the elated tear-soaked highs, and everything in between, it was intense. Need proof? Go watch the YouTube videos people posted during those two nights and the days after each. March 2nd had become a date that had highlighted that palpable passion for Ahsoka I spoke of earlier. It was Ahsoka fandom in its purest form, just that raw, unrestrained love and inspiration. The perfect day to transform into a celebration of fans being fans. So last year (2016), on March 2nd, I Tweeted out that March 2nd will now be known as Ahsoka Fans Day, and that the first annual Ahsoka Fans Day will be in 2017, which is today.

 

Everyone is a fan for different reasons, and everyone’s fandom manifests itself in different ways. Ahsoka Fans Day is meant to recognize and honor all types, varieties and levels of Ahsoka Tano fans, their fandom, and what it means to them.

Happy first annual Ahsoka Fans Day!  


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

This Week in Manifesters History



February 27 – March 5, 2017

Manifesters 18th Anniversary
March 1st, 1999. Eighteen years. Today, my baby becomes an adult…haha!
I often marvel at all that has transpired with Manifesters over the years. That little crew an insanely headstrong nineteen year old me started, smack dab in the middle of the most exciting two years of my life, with nothing more than a drive to be a part of Hip Hop music. And the ride has been a crazy one; full of successes and failures, highs and lows, and a plethora of things in between. Above all though, it’s been a defining factor of who, and what, I am for eighteen years now.

I’ve written numerous, short “History of Manifesters” pieces in the past, and I will have an extremely comprehensive one ready for the 20th anniversary in 2019. But for anyone reading this that is not familiar with our story, please visit www.manifesters.com and click on bio for a brief rundown.

Manifesters has been many things throughout the years; from our humble beginning as two emcees and a DJ, to four members with a live band, to the wildly diverse trio of NiiBox, Online and I, and more. Essentially, we’ve had ten different rosters throughout the years, with myself as the only constant. However, all of the roster changes occurred from 2000 to the end of 2003. From the start of 2004 to now, it has remained NiiBox, Online and I. March of 1999 to September of 2006 was an absolute, non-stop whirlwind. And it was a blast! I will be eternally thankful for the opportunities we had, the things we did, the people we met and worked with, the places we went, and everything we were able to experience during that time period. We worked incredibly hard and pushed the envelope as artists and performers. We never made a career out it, but then again, we never really set out to do so. We worked full time and were full time college students in addition to being full time musicians. In hind sight, there are definitely things we could have done more strategically. And our formula in certain areas could have been shifted to better align with a different set of goals. But by the same token, the overall experience we did have will always be categorized as a positive and successful one. I know it sounds cliché, but I wouldn’t change it.

Of course, I still do what many emcees do though; look at famous cats and think, “man, I’m so much doper than that dude”. The difference is that I no longer have a longing to be a famous rapper. I’m thirty seven years old, married and have a great career. By 10:00pm on a work night, I want to be on the couch with my wife and dog, not just leaving the house to go perform. I still have a passion for writing and recording music, and thanks to some great producers who continue to supply me with beats and access to the studio (and my home studio for pre-production work), I can continue to explore that passion. Sure, without performing and touring, the Versifier/Manifesters fan base is non-existent and releasing music which no one is checking for yields extremely little in terms of streams and downloads, but who cares? I’m completely comfortable being a “hobby emcee”, in that while I’ll be Hip Hop and an emcee for life, the music aspect is not that of a career or a job, but simply a hobby. While Online will always be listed as the third current member of Manifesters, his only role (by choice), since 2009 has been webmaster for the Manifesters’ and Versifier websites. NiiBox on the other hand is, has been, and always will be, a career musician, regardless of Manifesters and/or anything Hip Hop related. NiiBox currently gigs 3-7 times a week with a collection of groups/bands in a wide spectrum of styles; ranging from rock, to funk, to R&B and soul, to traditional African ensembles, to jazz, to spoken word. He plays a plethora of different instruments, sings, dances, writes, produces, composes and arranges, conducts, choreographs, beatboxes, hots, etc., etc., etc. Oh, and he still spits some verses on songs with me.

With all that being said, Manifesters is, and will always be, a living entity of our creativity and personality, with a rich history that grows with each passing year. Just because we aren’t performing now doesn’t mean you won’t ever see Manifesters rock a stage again. And in terms of new music, let’s just say there is plenty of that left to come…! And two years from today, on our 20th Anniversary, we’ll really celebrate!

So here’s to eighteen years of Manifest Life!

Shout and thanks to my Manifesters Family:
NiiBox
Online
DJ Slow Motion
Mesia
Don’t Sleep
The Manifest Band (Garrett “Entity” Neal, Todd Brown and Jake Price)

Big Jess
Master Wong
Hypnose
Cypha Squad
Prolific Concepts
Oxcyde




16th Anniversary of Beneath The Cover
My Beneath The Cover EP, released March 1, 2001, was the first of many things; my first solo album, the first Manifesters release, the first CD of mine sold at shows and in stores, and the first installment of a music catalogue now over forty five projects strong. Back then, one could easily list off the cluster of Hip Hop artists doing things on the scene in the Twin Cities (unlike today were there appears to be hundreds).  There was essentially; open mics, cyphers, small shows, big shows and opening up for national artists. And for some reason, even to this day I’m not sure why, having an album was the unwritten criteria to move an artist from the open mics, cyphers and small shows to the bigger shows and opening slots for national acts. Whatever the reason, that was just the “rule” at the time and thus, it was a driving force for this record. In mid-2000, Manifesters was undergoing some roster changes and so the prospect of a Manifesters album was a ways out. I had become a staple at Minneapolis open mics and a regular in cyphers all around the Twin Cities. I was performing sets with C.L. and the Low Down during slots C.L. was booked for, and Manifesters (as Mesia and I, or Mesia, NiiBox and I) were rocking smaller shows, usually as the opening act. So not only did I want an album, but we kind of needed one to propel us to the next level.

I had worked and collaborated with Big Jess on two guest features I had on Gamble’s Realities of Life album that year, and had performed at shows at which the Unknown Prophets were also playing, or headlining. And so Big Jess, being the utterly awesome guy that he is, took me under his wing and produced Beneath The Cover for me. Not only did he supply some incredible beats, but because this was my very first project in the studio, he also played the role of in-studio producer. While it was evident I still needed some work developing my voice and presence in the booth, the beats were astounding, my rhymes and topics were on point, and the little extra added flavors and guest appearances rounded out what became a very solid debut album. The peer, fan, and media reviews were good. It was a project I was extremely proud of. The album served its intended purpose of providing Manifesters with new, all-original material with which we could get bigger and better gigs off of. And that we did! In fact, less than two months after the release, Manifesters opened up for Mos Def and Mystic (with Digital Underground) for a sold-out crowd at The Quest. Additionally, the project sparked a fantastic working relationship between myself and Big Jess. Its sixteen years later and Jess is still producing unbelievably dope beats for me as well as engineering, mixing and mastering all of my recordings. All in all, it was the perfect way to introduce my music to the world.

We did one pressing of Beneath The Cover (around 1,200 CDs), which have long since sold out. In November of 2010, it was re-released, digitally, for a limited time on Manifesters’ BandCamp site. Since I didn’t do anything big for the 15th anniversary last year, I’ve decided to do another digital release of the EP. So, from today, March 1st, through this coming Sunday, March 5th, Beneath The Cover will be available for download at https://versifier.bandcamp.com/album/beneath-the-cover-ep