Chicago rapper St. Millie isn't shy about revealing his innermost thoughts to both friends and journalists alike.
"This is my first big interview, by the way," he admitted in a recent phone interview, "So I'm a little nervous."
Born Milton McKinney III 21 years ago, the rapper is similarly unguarded on his debut mixtape, "No Religion but Up," a soulful effort packed with songs that touch on everything from Chicago gun violence ("Hello") to his mother's struggles with drug addiction ("Dear Moms").
"As an artist, I'd like to say I'm human," said the Oak Park native. "A lot of times artists are afraid to be emotional...but I embrace it."
Now in the midst of wrapping up work on his sophomore effort "Glory" ("It's a very human-looking, fleshy skeleton right now," he said), St. Millie opened up about his troubled upbringing, his lack of basketball skills and how hip-hop could help stem the tide of gun violence in the city.
On "Something Good" you start off by asking, "Who is St. Millie?" Do you have a different answer to that question now than when you recorded the track?
I would definitely say St. Millie now is a lot more mature than he was then. Otherwise I'd still say pretty much the same thing. We're still on this journey of progression, and I'm still finding things out about myself.
On "Dear Moms," you really delve into your mother's struggles with drug addiction. How important was it for you to include that track?
It was very important because "No Religion but Up" was my introduction to the world, and I wanted people to understand...the things that made me who I am. My relationship with my parents, in general, has been a really ongoing thing. I grew up bouncing from house to house, which was tough, but I pulled through.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are a handful of mentions of Michael Jordan and ballin' on the album. How's your game?
I played in grammar school for awhile, but I am not a good basketball player [Laughs]. Jordan is still my favorite player to this day. I was into Jordan, not just as a player, but in how he dealt with what was going on in his personal life with his father passing and things like that. I learned that, yeah, you can be the greatest at something, but that doesn't mean you're immune to what goes on in life.
You titled your debut mixtape "No Religion but Up," and you've dubbed your style "church music." Where does that interest in religion stem from?
My dad was a deacon at North Lawndale Christian Reform Church right there on Roosevelt and Pulaski, and that was the church I grew up in. My grandmother was very spiritual as well, and she always told me, "You're going to be a pastor." She kind of called it. Making music is the same thing as being a pastor in some sense because you're giving people your thoughts. People listen to songs like "Lighters Up" and "Will You Cry?" because they're going through something, and these songs can help them get through it.
What are the first three commandments of church music?
Oh, man. The first three commandments of church music are to create, to progress and then I would say, "Though shall stay on your fresh game." [Laughs]
On "Hello," you drop the line, "All this violence got me fed up." Is Chicago's gun violence something that's touched your life?
For about a year after I graduated from Oak Park I worked there as a student mentor. So I was mentoring kids, and there was this kid Ulysses Gissendanner, people called him Chris, and he was recently killed, which was crazy to hear because it was someone I knew. I've seen a lot of friends hurt from gun violence. It's definitely a plague in the city. [Ed. note: Gissendanner was rapper Chief Keef's stepbrother.]
Do you feel the hip-hop community can be a positive force for change?
Definitely. There are a lot of artists who get attention from [the media], and they have the power to change a lot of things in terms of the way these younger kids are thinking. With these young kids, the value of life has changed so much. If more artists chose to reach out and speak about how sad it is kids are killing kids I think we could start to see a change.
So if St. Millie were an actual saint what would he be the patron saint of?
He would be the patron saint of unifying Chicago.
St. Millie, 8 p.m. April 22 at Schubas, $5
St. Millie personality test
What's the last album you bought? "The last album I bought was Kendrick Lamar's 'good kid, m.A.A.d. city.'"
Song you never want to hear again? "[Laughs]'Thrift Shop' by Macklemore. Please, no more."
Best concert you've seen in the last year? "Man, honestly I'm going to say Chance the Rapper's 'Acid Rap' concert at Metro."
New band you don't know personally that deserves to be big? "I'm going to lie and say I don't know this artist, and say ShowYouSuck. That's my man, and he's super dope."
Favorite movie ever? "Juice"
Chicago's best music venue? "My personal favorite is Reggie's. I love that place."