By Todd Houston
“Mic Check” aka King Sneakers. It doesn’t get more hip-hop than that. Influences range from Parliament, The Ramones, Michael Jackson and Bob Marley. His voice? Reminiscent of the days when individuality was a must and style-jacking a crime. Yes, Michael “Mic Check” (born Michael Cornelius Campbell) has a style all his own. Once you’ve heard that energetic, nasally flow, you’re not soon to forget it. Born and raised in Rockford, “Mic Check” found hip-hop during the crack-ravaged 80s, where he had a front row seat for the damage being spilled upon his neighborhood by the relentless drug trade. It was in that same environment of trap houses and crime that “Mic Check” and his childhood friend Dana Coppafeel first learned how to rhyme, write and throw down clever beats. Looking for more, “Mic Check” began making music full-time during the fertile years of the late 90s, a time when the underground was still a place where experimentation thrived, but also a place where only the dedicated and talented could make a record.
Today Michael Cornelius Campbell continues to record and perform as a solo artist as well as the occasional collaboration with top regional talent. We caught up with him just after his latest album release party last week for a quick chat.
Rockford Rocked Interview: Tell us about where you grew up in Rockford and when you first recall hearing hip-hop music.
Mic Check: I grew up in Fairgrounds projects here in Rockford. When I was six my mom and dad moved to the east side on the corner of 10th Ave. and Kishwaukee St. It was at that time I met my best friend/my day one, Dana Reeder. As far as music, the first time I remember hearing hip hop was on a Saturday morning. Dana came over and we was playing Nintendo and we hear my brothers spinning records. They were listening to KRS One. That day we both knew that’s what we wanted to do.
RRI: What was it about the music that drew you in?
MC: The beats and the way the words were its own beat and told a story. Also how the beats and the words became one together.
RRI: How many kids in the neighborhood your age were interested in doing the same thing?
MC: Everyone I hung with started getting into it. It was infectious but at first it was just me and my friend Dana.
RRI: Obviously you were serious about it and were willing to put in the time. (Thoughts?)
MC: In my teenage years I kind of lost my way with the hip hop then homie Dana moved to Milwaukee and I got in with a bad crowd but around the time I turned 18 he came back down. He was getting into the hip hop scene up there and it began to be both our dreams. He got me out of a bad situation and I moved up there for two years and got back in to the music.
RRI: What sort of equipment were you using when you first started out?
MC: When I officially started rapping I was with a group of friends call D.O.M. (Derelix of Madness) and really all we had was a little drum machine called a Boss – DR5.
RRI: Do you do a lot of home recording with Pro-Tools type programs?
MC: At one time I did when I was with my group Splitendz. That crew won the four RAMIs but on their RAMI website it only shows us winning three but I got the four to prove it! (laughs) But anyways, now I record in Madison and Milwaukee with an indie label called Unifi Records.
RRI: What’s your take on the whole Gangsta rap movement of the early 90s when you had folks like Schoolly D, Ice-T, and N.W.A coming up?
MC: I was a big fan of all of those and Mobb Deep. The fact that I spent my teen years doing a lot of what they were talking about in their songs, I could relate to what they were saying.
RRI: Tell us more about the RAMI awards here in Rockford. Were you involved this year?
MC: No I wasn’t in it this year. I took a seven-year hiatus but I hope to be in it to win it next year!
RRI: You also mention bands like The Chili Peppers and Faith No More as being influences. Are there any hip-hop or rock artist that stand out for you these days?
MC: On the hip-hop side I really like Childish Gambino, J.I.D., G Eazy, The Cool Kids and Pac Div is really all I listen to. On the rock side not so much industry, but locally I really like On My Six.
RRI: Is it difficult finding local clubs or venues around the Rockford area for hip-hop artists such as yourself to perform at?
MC: Yes. No bars wants to book hip-hop acts, they’re confused and worried that they might get out of hand. The Mandalay Lounge has been real good to me and a lot of other local hip-hop artists.
RRI: If someone asked you to say something kind about Rockford, what would it be?
MC: I love my city and I love the direction that it is going in lately. There is a lot of talent in this city including art, indie film and music. It’s amazing to me no one has tapped into it yet.
RRI: Where can we go to hear more music from Michael “Mic Check” Cornelius Campbell?
MC: I have my music on Spotify as Michael Mic Check and all streaming services like iTunes, Amazon, anything you can think of I got my music on it! R.
Photo By Dana Coppafeel