The Roots of Success: A Conversation with Michael da Vinci
Written by Jolade Adebekun
29-year-old Michael da Vinci, from Chattanooga, TN, was first introduced to the music industry by friends and fellow local rappers, Isaiah Rashad and YGTUT. He released his first SoundCloud single, “Fake Trill ft. Isaiah Rashad,” in 2013; the two rap about vices, family, and notoriety using distinctly Southern slang over a laid-back beat. Over the next several years, da Vinci continued to drop singles with TheHouse, a rap collective and the brainchild of himself, Rashad, and TUT.
Now, in 2021, he’s just dropped his first longer-length project, called Roses. Produced by Lege Kale, the EP, which features a variety of atypical beats, is anything but standard. Roses was inspired by a previous relationship and a desire to let go of the past, and it was recorded, from start to finish, in just a week. From 2013 to 2021, though, da Vinci says he simply had to grow up for this project to come to fruition.
To this day, da Vinci stays true to his roots, often collaborating with other Tennessee-based artists and bringing elements of the South into his music (one of the songs on Roses is even titled “Chatt Rats”). In his own words, if he didn’t live in Chattanooga, he’d probably be a “different person with a whole different message,” and he expresses that appreciation through his work.
I recently spoke with Michael da Vinci about his career so far, success and failure, and what’s next for him.
Michael da Vinci
How did you get into music and what did that journey look like?
I started music in 2010/2011 through my friends, YGTUT and Isaiah Rashad. As far as wanting to be like, okay, stepping into a microphone and wanting to actually do it, that was just being around them so much because they had already been rapping for so long. It was kind of that spark of like, “Man, I know what I’m doing!” because I’ve always been around music and I knew I was going to have something to do with music.
Just growing up, just being around my family, just going down to the South, and just being around the environment down there - growing up through the church and going to different festivals and blues concerts - that was something that I knew I was gonna do before I actually wanted to rap. That had to come from my friends, being around them, learning from how they do things, and trying to help them out.
Speaking of your influences, who are your biggest inspirations?
Honestly, not a lot of musicians, really. I definitely want to say Dr. Sebi, learning about him as I’ve gotten older. Nipsey, of course. And ironically, Martin Luther King, because I looked up to his message as far as how he was as a man. He had a very, very big influence; he had a voice, and that was the thing I wanted to learn. For artists, being able to have a voice - we have artists like J. Cole, like Nipsey - their voices carry deeper than just the music itself. And I think that’s something that I strive to work on.
You mentioned the importance of having a voice. Do you know what message you want to share?
I can definitely say that I don’t consider myself just a rapper. When I tell people what kind of music I make - I make people music, and it’s for my people because I come from the neighborhoods that a lot of these people, young artists, or youth are coming from. And that people music, it takes all forms. It’s not about you being a gangster, it’s not about trying to look cool for everyone. Just be yourself, that’s what my message is, because I never was one to fit in. Be honest with yourself. Don’t fake the funk. Stay true to your family, stay close to the people that love you. Make sure you’re not doing no fuck shit, and make sure you take care of your business.
So the name “Michael da Vinci,” where did it come from?
I just put my family name together. My dad, they always call him Michael, so they called me little Michael. My mom, her name is Vinci. A lot of people assume that I got the name from Leonardo da Vinci, but I didn’t. I actually just put my family name together and took the first syllable of my last name, put it in the middle.
You said before that you originally got into music because of your friends, who have now gone on to receive more mainstream recognition. Has that affected your own process?
We’re still great friends, we still communicate, we still do music together, but it’s definitely affected me. It’s shown me how to do music the right way. It’s shown me what’s good and what’s not good. They take this seriously, and I’ve learned to take it more seriously. Like talking to Isaiah, he would always tell me, “You only as good as your last body of work.” And that’s one of the things I carry with me. If you put out something bad, or it’s not good enough, that’s gonna be the only thing that people know you by, so you have to make sure you put your best foot forward.
As an artist, do you think you’re slept on?
I honestly don’t think I’m slept on. I consider myself a new artist. Yeah, I’ve put out songs before, yeah I have the relationships that I have, but I’m a new artist. You’re not slept on until you’re putting out a consistent body of work. I think I’m just starting out, but never will I say I’ve made it. I think that just because you put out music and you gain attention or you got a million listeners, whatever it might be, that doesn’t mean you’ve made it. Streaming platforms have changed so much over the years, and coronavirus even has artists literally scrambling to figure out what they need to do. So until you get into a position where you don’t have to worry about those things… Yeah, no one’s made it yet.
How do you envision your musical trajectory? What’s next for you?
My musical trajectory is honestly up to me. I just want to keep going and that’s the best advice I ever got: to keep going. No matter what you’re going through, just always keep fighting. I have a Martin Luther King quote on my ribs. It’s like, “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, keep moving forward.” And I stand by that to this day, because once you’ve stopped doing any of those things, you’re gonna fail. Failure is something that’s in the eye of the beholder, because you know what your failure is; you know what you was trying to aim for. And once you stop trying to aim for it, then you’ve failed.