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Mio Kaunn Thomas

Use to Be: Song Background

in Lyric Breakdown & Background by


In 2009 I was a business partner in the ‘1440 Collective Studios.’ The ‘1440 Collective Studios’ was a creative space located at 1440 Gratiot Detroit MI 48207 in Downtown Detroit. Conceptually the ‘1440’ could be compared to the maker space initiatives launched throughout Detroit today. The ‘1440’ mixed the creativity of public relations, music recording, music production, DJing, live band (music) rehearsals, and video production. It was innovative. The collective was founded by Nadir Omowale, Habiba Adams, Eric Campbell, DJ Major, DJ Man Power, and myself, in 2008. By 2009, Joey Spina and Davey G partnered. A host of artists, people, and tastemakers visited, supported, and conducted business at the ‘1440.’ In 2011 the ‘1440 Collective’ closed. Today it’s remembered for the parties, (musician) jam sessions, and music recordings.

the 1440 Collective, Joey Spina
the 1440 Collective, Joey Spina

In the Spring of 2009 ‘1440 Collective’ business partner, Joey Spina, purchased a Pro Tools recording module (Pro Tools is a music recording computer software and hardware brand). The day he bought the recording module he brought it to the ‘1440.’ Spina told me how excited he was about the purchase (I’ve always called Joey Spina ‘Spina’). I told him emphatically, “I’m going to be the first person to record on it!” We laughed about it. He agreed in one week we do a recording session.

Before that conversation with Spina, I had yet to record (music) in months. I spent the close of 2008, and start of 2009 performing, and promoting my first album ‘Preaching to the Choir.’ In that process I lost the drive to write, and record music. In a week of preparation I gathered my notebooks, and began writing.

Generally I write rap songs in three styles: premise, story, or slick. Premise is a style in which I brainstorm ideas to write the song. The brainstorming process is as important as the content.

In example: If I were to brainstorm the topic of Detroit Pistons, Isiah Thomas immediately comes to mind. Bringing more color to a reference, I would recall Terry Duerod. ‘In Detroit we on guard/ like the one that came town that kicked out Terry Duerod’ – example lyric unused. So for Piston fans (especially at my barbershop, Hawk’s off Schoolcraft and Southfield, what up Mike D!) it’s special. Isiah Thomas took Terry Duerod’s place on the Pistons. That fact makes the lyric clever. Duerod is one of the best U of D Titan basketball players ever. Mentioning him is symbolic to Detroit.

The story style engages the listener in a conversation as though we know one another. Finally the slick style is a culmination of lines that I wind together in rhyme schemes, patterns, consonant placement, and alliteration to give a rap character.

‘Use to Be,’ blends the style of premise and story. The recording session also featured two vocalists; Fee Graffiti, and Polka Dot. Fee Graffiti is a singer I knew for years. We met through her boyfriend Doug Greenwood who produced music for me. She graduated from MSU with a degree in communications. She was looking for vocal and studio experience. Polka Dot is a business partner to my friend Kaunn. We met upon Kaunn insisting that we should record together. When the opportunity opened up to record music, I called.

Fee Graffiti, Kaunn, Polka Dot
Fee Graffiti, Kaunn, Polka Dot

Recording was fun. Spina had the studio set up with three open microphones. The only headphones for the sessions were used by Joey Spina. I rapped short segments of songs. Spina played along finding chords to match. When we agreed upon matching chords, I’d arrange a hook with Fee Graffiti, or Polka Dot. In two hours we recorded seven songs. The most notable songs of the seven were ‘Teddy Bears Tied Up to Trees,” and “Use to Be.”

After the session was wrapped up we shared shots of Bourbon (Spina always drank Bourbon). Two weeks later Spina gave me the sessions. I placed the ‘Use to Be’ on my ‘Notes of an Artist and Activist I’ album.

The recording is very special to me. ‘Use to Be,’ has a blues feel and I LOVE BLUES. The characters, personal relationships, and essence of Keb Mo, John Lee Hooker, and a host of others capture my imagination. I’ve always felt the hip-hop experience is as interpersonal to me as Blues. I also appreciate the manner and style it changes dependent upon the mood of the artist. “I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it ain’t music, it’s close-order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music,” Billie Holiday. That’s one of my favorite quotes from one of the most powerful voices to be recorded. RIP Lady Day.

Song Performed by Khary WAE Frazier
Music Played, Composed, Arranged and Produced by Joey Spina
Lyrics by Khary WAE Frazier
Song featured on the Notes of an Artist/ Activist I Album 2008


5-12 AR Det Drum B


Make it Last (Forever Detroit): Lyrical Breakdown

in Lyric Breakdown & Background by

‘Make it Last (Forever Detroit)’ has been very well received over the years. I’m glad so many people appreciate the lyrics. I also enjoy hearing their interpretations of the lyrics. Here is mine.

Verse One (Click Play below to hear the Music)

Reflections of reformed wildboys running the streets

When pick em’ up mess em’ up wasn’t nuthin’ for me


As a kid growing up on Detroit’s Westside I spent hours playing outside. ‘Pick em Up Mess em Up’ was a game I played a lot. ‘Pick em Up Mess em Up’ is football, without a football, and enough players. It’s a game played on an empty field where two touchdown zones are agreed upon by the players. After the touchdown zones are established, an object that substitutes as a football is selected (In Example: an empty 2 liter soda bottle). Players take turns picking up the object. When the object is picked up by one player, every other player attempts to gang tackle whoever picked up the object.

In retrospect, this was the most dangerous game we played. I’m sure that’s why we enjoyed the game so much. In memory, the only person I’ve remember scoring a touchdown playing the game was Braylon Edwards. It was evident at a young age he had the talent to play in the NFL.

But from 7 to 11 dudes took on the streets

Playing with working 20’s not hide and go seek


7 to 11 years old was a precious age for me. I moved from my childhood neighborhood at 11. This was also when some of my neighborhood friends began losing interest in school, and began selling drugs.

A working 20 is a 5th of an ounce of cocaine or marijuana. This amount of drugs is ‘fronted’ to sale to an introductory level drug dealer. The dealer would ‘work’ off the cost of the drugs, by selling the drugs, and receiving less profit (consignment). The science of economics is not generally recognized or analyzed in low cost drug transactions. Albeit, every economic premise can be witnessed.

Science of Rap

The subliminal double entendre has always been a beloved rap technique in lyricism to me. Cam’ Ron, Jay –Z and Drake are artists I feel who have mastered the skill. One of the most recognizable and coined lyrics for this is Jay-Z’s: “I’m not a businessman/ I’m a business man,” in Kanye West’s “Diamonds are Forever (Remix).”

I used this technique mentioning ‘7 to 11.’ The brand is widely recognized for the 24 hour convenient store. I wanted listeners to envision that. Ideally, I expected listeners to believe my friends took to the streets with 24 hour long dedication.

Kids Playing in the Street, Braylon Edwards, Michael and Michaela Willingham
Kids Playing in the Street, Braylon Edwards, Michael and Michaela Willingham

We aint even understand we was falling for realities

Street life formalities, urban externalities

All we really wanted was just sumthin’ to move

Cause Pelle Pelle and some Penny’s was the things that’s cool


I believe the extrinsic value of material goods can be internalized as intrinsic benchmarks of success. Therefore, I’ve spent a life time looking to define my success through the people, projects and things I find fulfilling. It’s a challenge.

I think culturally Americans have a propensity to spend money. I believe we define ourselves with material items. Many Detroiters’ I know define themselves with goods I call ‘Street Luxuries.’

Theoretically the belief system of defining a self image with cars, clothes, jobs, social circles and residencies, is a social construct. We believe society castes these expectations upon us. This is why I make reference to the idea that we fell into a reality, where we face externalities (an externality is the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit).

‘Street Luxuries’ Detroiters often seek are residencies outside of Detroit (preferably away from other Detroiters), Alligator skin shoes, Cartier glasses frames, gaudy leather jackets and new Chevrolets. Gaudy leather jackets with designs of Tony Montana, Tutankhamen, Detroit street signs and gun arsenals are beloved. Pelle Pelle is a Detroit based leather apparel brand that releases Fall and Winter collections.

I’ve been in numerous conversations with male Detroiters who believe their success in meeting women was exclusively because they were wearing a Pelle Pelle jacket. As a teenage boy focused on girls, any item that raises the opportunity to successfully meet a girl is an essential. The fixation towards ‘Air Jordan’ sneakers (many young Black men share) I believe is for the same reason. I also reference Penny’s. Penny’s were the $185 Nike sneakers worn by Orlando Magic point guard Anfernee Hardaway. Upon their release the sneakers became the most expensive Nike’s ever. The cost and dynamic look made Penny’s a sought after ‘Street Luxury.’

And girls wanted immature but they ain’t go to our school

They was tapped up on they locker but not in homeroom

And now we get it in chasing lust from all ends

With fears of commitment from heartbreak back then

Making up for adolescence life grown men

Understood Michael Jackson through my own life sins

Pelle Pelle Jacket; Cannon, Mio 'Kaunn' & Syncere Thomas and Penny Sneakers
Pelle Pelle Jacket; Cannon, Mio ‘Kaunn’ & Syncere Thomas and Penny Sneakers


Puberty has had a lasting effect on the way I interact with women I’m attracted to. My desire and lust towards girls was prominent as a teenager. Then many of my interactions with females I interpreted as rejection. My fear of rejection overtime created a cocky attitude. My attitude when to approaching a woman is to not give her an option to reject me. Conceptually, this came to fruition when I experienced more luck approaching women.

By the time I garnered more attention from females, I was less appreciative of it. When I was younger and more eager to receive female attention, I had none.

At a younger age I believed girls only idolized boys with characteristics that I didn’t possess. I make reference to girls taping up pictures of ‘Immature’ on their locker. ‘Immature,’ was a Black boy band that came to notoriety during the mid 1990’s. I remember how the girls in middle school would pick members of the band to be their boyfriend. I saw this, and felt left out.

As we getting older we got families to raise

Hanging out with boots and Dora gone make up Birthdays

As we sip a little liquor and we cut the cake

Cause what’s real is the future so the past is fake

As I bottle up our wisdom from my past mistakes

And I breathe upon the seeds to make a path create


From 2004 – 2009 many of my closest friends all fathered children. Tristin, Phil, Mio, Mike, Brandon and Kevin began their families one after another. Today, many have two or three children. At the time it was experiential to be hanging out with my homeboys and their infants. Collectively we gave the infants an insurmountable amount of attention and love.

I vividly remember the day my friend Mike Willingham’s daughter Michaela was born. Chico, Mike and I were hanging out at Fairlane Mall in Dearborn MI. We were having lunch at Starter’s Restaurant. Mike received a call from his baby sister Amber. Amber notified Mike that Keisha (Michalea’s Mother) was going into labor. Upon notice we headed to Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills MI. Along the way I stopped at CVS to buy some inexpensive cigars and ‘Huggies Swindlers.’ I had no idea what diapers new born babies use. The sales associate at CVS was helpful and informative. Today I often tell Michaela I bought her first outfit.

Though my actions contradict a lot of things I say

Cause school ain’t making money and I’m bout my bank

And I decide on what to do from all the cash at stake

While I’m forced to make decisions from the cash I waste


This stanza of the verse captures the confusion I felt towards life at the time. I felt life needed structure. I never felt comfortable conforming to it. At 25 I believed economic access, mobility and opportunity were primary life objectives. I consistently challenged this belief by looking to earn wealth from a collection of activities that lacked a clearly defined money making apparatus.


Verse Two (Click Play below to hear the Music)

I’m considered as a thinker

I engage street dreamers

With Macro Economics studied for my reasons

Justifying hoods by telling Wall Street demons

Tupac and Noam Chomsky what I’m believing

Noam Chomsky, The Undertaker and Tupac Shakur
Noam Chomsky, The Undertaker and Tupac Shakur


Throughout life I’ve often been told I’m smart. This is humbling, because I’ve always felt misunderstood. My insecurities about being misunderstood is the reason I’m a rapper. I idolized young Black men I felt spoke what, when and how they wanted to about life.

Today I realize through reminiscing, playing my music and conversation, I’m often seeking an understanding in myself as well. It’s sad that for years I resented others for doing what I’ve done to myself for just as long.

I have a wide range of interests that I’m constantly feeding with pop culture, conversation and independent study. I gather wells of information towards of my many interests. I apply my life’s journey to these concepts for better understandings.

In ExampleRecently I was reading a Wall Street Journal blog about the drop of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) stock buyers. The drop in stock took place after Wrestlemania 2014. At Wrestlemania 2014, ‘The Undertaker (wrestler)’ lost. In 20 years of wrestling ‘The Undertaker’ has never lost a match at Wrestlemania, till now. Upon reading this blog my thought process captures the following concepts: I think back to his introduction as the unknown wrestler in the 1992 Royal Rumble. I honor the respect I have for Vince McMahon in business creativity and vision. I ask myself, when in life have I diverted from an expected path to choose an alternative? Why did I choose this method? At what opportunity cost will I lose the expected benefits for the risk of the new rewards?

In less than a minute my mind processes that information. Complimented by dozens of other questions, thoughts and ideas. The same imagination I had playing with toys as a child I apply towards life. I imagine being Vince McMahon, creating a new reality for the WWE.

I believe my thought process affects the way people hear my music.

This stanza also honors two people I admire; Tupac Shakur (RIP) and Noam Chomsky. Tupac Shakur used poetic techniques and interpersonal stories in his raps. His creativity drew lasting images in my mind. Tupac’s boldness to explore insecurities, misunderstandings and paranoia humble me as a rapper. Noam Chomsky is an MIT linguistics professor who wrote the acclaimed book ‘Manufacturing Consent.’ Chomsky’s work challenges American politics, economics and social design. Chomsky’s practical views on complex societal challenges amazes me. I study his work to gain an understanding of how to give new ideas mass appeal.

On a paper chase cause my crew stay eating

Cause 6 figure moves is just how I’m thinking

IRS chase deals that’ll pull in a mil

Wanna make a little less to keep em’ outta my grill


As stated earlier, at 25 years old my mind was fixated on money. I find this stanza clever, because it makes reference to making less money on paper.

My paternal Grandfather Don Scott (RIP) always said lists of top earning Black entrepreneurs (Black Enterprise) are incriminating. He believed any Black person listed as a top earning American would face fed time, tax issues or excessive law suits. My Grandfather was correct, in regards to the three Black billionaires I’ve met (LaVan Hawkins, Mel Farr and Don Barden RIP). All three faced criminal, tax or civil challenges that compromised their wealth.

As I’m plotting on tomorrow but survive for now

While advocating for a city that’s dying out

Population drop cause ain’t no jobs in town

Just the poor and their leeches that hang around

& take the town for everything that make it count

even the Mayor of Detroit don’t live in town

but on the cusp of the deals that’ll turn it around


I wrote these lyrics from the perspective of Rev. David Bullock, Brandon Jessup and Yusef Shakur. Their very close friends of mine. All three men have committed themselves to Detroit. Advocating for Detroit has been conflicting for them. They have experienced more acclaim, appreciation and opportunity outside of Detroit.

While writing this record Mayor Dave Bing held office in Detroit. Bing resided in Southfield MI before he began his mayoral campaign. I remember local newspapers quoting Mayor Bing’s wife. She claimed “the only way I’m would moving to Detroit is if my husband wins the election.”

Michaela Willingham drawn by Mike Will and the Crew at the Annual Cookout: Zae, Carl, Mike, Dawon and Khary
Michael Willingham drawn by Mike Will and the Crew at the Annual Cookout: Zae, Carl, Mike, Dawon and Khary

it’s ironic . . . and I can’t complain

it’s only wise to concern myself with things I change

So I support all my people from the day to day

and stay focused on my grind as I work the game

by staying grounded by the people that’ll keep me sane

and spending time with the people from where I came

& I came from a place that’s a home for struggle

so we all about come ups and stay on hustles

and our hustle is the rise just to make it by


I close the song by recognizing in confusion I have a strong sense of comfort in Detroit. This comfort, I believe can be seen as blight, lacks of opportunity and antiquated infrastructures. There is a fabric of truth in those arguments, but I disagree. I find friends and family in Detroit. These relationships help define me. I also am inspired by the chances I can take in Detroit. There are many homes for networks, relationships and activities centered in creativity here. I feel Detroit incubates creativity.

Science of Rap

Pacing and spacing while delivering a rap is a skill I’ve developed an appreciation for. This technique is subtle, and one of the most effective talents when executed correctly. Two of my favorite rappers and Houston TX veterans are masters of this; Pimp C of UGK (RIP) and Scarface.

Scarface’s persona throughout the ‘My Diary’ album is great. This is best captured in the song ‘I Seen a Man Die.’ The way he performs the song is conversational and impactful. I believe this led to the success of the song.

I used this technique stating “it’s ironic … but I can’t complain.” I wanted listeners to feel the hypocritical messages delivered throughout the song.

AR Det Ernie copy

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