One half of the group Grumpy Old Men, Mike Schpitz, has put emceeing on hold to focus on producing and engineering. Now going by his birth name, Mike Jones, the Chicago-based beat maker has also put on his CEO hat as the owner of the Fantastic Sound record label.
To showcase his label Jones put together a compilation album titled “FANTASTIC: Season 1.” The 11-track album is produced entirely by Mike Jones and features appearances by Pete Sayke, Roy Kinsey, Demetruest, Jurdan Bryant, JusSol, Brittney Carter, Mother Nature, Stik Figa, Brail, J. Solaye, and Add-2.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Mike Jones about his musical growth, the Fantastic Sound collective, and their new album, FANTASTIC: Season 1.
TRHH: What is Fantastic Sound?
Mike Jones: Fantastic Sound is basically an umbrella that I created in 2016 really to try to pull all of the work that I was doing and wanted to do under one umbrella. The original idea was basically to start out as a label and have artists. That’s kind of a portion of it. But it’s also been kind of a production collective with myself and three other producers that I work with. Essentially, there are a number of different things that I do as well as some of the other guys do. The way that I kind of look at it now is it’s project by project depending on the level of involvement, whether it’s recording, production, or executive producing, it all kind of falls under that umbrella.
The ultimate goal is definitely to be more of a label situation. Putting up money to sign artists right now, I use my time and other resources that I have as opposed to trying to sign people. Everything from deejaying, to production, to recording, to executive producing, is kind of all under this umbrella. I’ve been kind of calling it a production house lately. Ultimately, I would love it to be something along the lines of a label, more so of a TDE situation where it really is a family situation where we can really develop artists, grow, and launch artists careers.
TRHH: Why did you go from Mike Schpitz to Mike Jones?
Mike Jones: Mike Schpitz was basically my emcee name. When I started producing and moving behind the scenes I just wanted to keep those things separate. I hadn’t come up with a good producer name, so I was just putting stuff out under my own name. It’s something I’ve been thinking about because obviously it’s a very common generic name, and there is the famous rapper Mike Jones.
Mike Jones: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Something I’ve been hearing since I was like 19.
TRHH: [Laughs] I bet! My god!
Mike Jones: He actually started blowing up my freshman year in college. Anyone that I met, it was crazy. That’s really the transition. If I record a verse I’ll put it out under Mike Schpitz, but I’m trying to keep the two worlds a little bit separate. I go back and forth about it to be honest. At some point there might be a different producer name, but for now just my government name ends up working.
TRHH: There are a few instrumentals on FANTASTIC; why did you decide to let those ride and not have people rhyme on them?
Mike Jones: I love the idea of those either setting the tone for a song or almost as a palate cleanser. There’s so much being said. The artists are saying so much and it’s really heavy and hopeful. There are so many different feelings and moods and these felt like chances to really reflect on the music you just heard or the music you’re about to hear. The first instrumental “Chi Sunrise” is something I’ve been sitting on for a really long time. I had a hook to it that I was trying to place with a couple different people. It has this mood to it. I knew that was going to be the intro. I wanted to kind of split up the project in a few different sections, so to speak, and showcase the production as well. But really to set the mood, carry the mood, and make it feel like a real journey to include those instrumentals and give people a chance to really reflect on the music they heard and the music they’re about to hear.
TRHH: My favorite joint on the album is “Hey Arnold” with Add-2. How did that collab come about and is the horn on the song sampled or played?
Mike Jones: The whole album is sample-based. I’m not a musician. I’m learning to play the piano at the moment, but I have no music background. Sampling has obviously always been a big part of Hip-Hop, but a big part of my journey in Hip-Hop. That’s just naturally what I gravitated towards. For this project I really wanted to literally do everything – program absolutely everything on the album. That’s a sample. Everything on there is sampled from other songs. Add-2 I’ve known for a really long time – back when I was running around emceeing. Slot-A is my guy. He produced, recorded, and mixed a ton of songs for me. I met Add-2 through him. We collaborated a few times on a few different records as emcees.
When I started producing I started sending him beats. Early on before his last album, Jim Crow the Musical, he started sending me rough versions of songs and that was actually one of the songs. I just sat on it for a while. We have four or five that are recorded. I always had in my mind that I wanted to do this, but I didn’t know what it was going to sound like. I didn’t know how I was actually going to make it happen. When I got a little further in the process I had four or five bits and pieces of records that I felt strongly about. I reached out to him and said, “Hey, are you cool about having this on the album?” and he said, “Yeah, man. Absolutely.” All of the stuff that he sent me has been amazing. He’s a phenomenal artist. I’m really glad that I was able to get him on that record, especially given our history together.
TRHH: You mentioned that the album is sample-based, what does your production workstation consist of?
Mike Jones: I use Logic, I use Maschine. Most of these records were not cut up in Serato Sample. Now I have Serato Sample that I use in both Maschine and Logic. A lot of these was me literally cutting and pasting the parts together with the scissor and whatever tool in Logic. This was the first way that I learned how to sample within Logic. Those are the key things that I use. Lately I’ve been using Arcade by Output. It’s like a sample plugin but they have samples built into them that you can change the key, cut up, shift, it’s phenomenal. It’s not old records, it’s whatever loops they create. That’s been a tool that I’ve been using lately. Logic and Maschine are the two core pieces. I play around with Garage Band on the iPhone and iPad a little bit, but mostly Logic and Maschine.
TRHH: Your sound on this album is kind of laid back and jazzy. How would you describe the Mike Jones sound?
Mike Jones: That’s interesting. I’m definitely drawn to what I would call “moody music.” Obviously, I’m definitely grounded in what you would call traditional Hip-Hop. The era that really struck a chord with me was the Rawkus era. I’m going to date myself with this, I’m almost 40, but when I heard Black Star, when I heard Slum V, when I heard the Roots, and Common, all of these artists really struck a chord with me. It’s something about the feeling that the music gives me. I tend to be drawn toward a little darker sounding music. I don’t know why, but to me it sounds a little darker and a little moodier. I’ve been trying to push myself in different directions. I actually have a bunch of other stuff that sounds nothing like this.
I recorded and produced an album for an artist named The Vixen from Chicago who is also a drag queen and was on RuPaul’s Drag Race. The music sounds nothing like it. It’s more like pop, trap, dancy music. I try to stretch myself in different ways. I did an R&B project last year with a singer called J. Solaye. Sound wise, I don’t even know if I could put a finger on it, but I’m definitely drawn to moody music, probably trending on a little bit of the darker side. That’s what I feel like I’m being drawn to. Hopefully with the piano I’ve been playing I can learn a little bit more about how to change moods with certain scales and key signatures. I find myself sending beats to people like, “Damn, these are all dark. These are all moody.” That’s probably a signature.
TRHH: How challenging was it to do an R&B album and the other album you talked about with trap music, being a sample-based producer?
Mike Jones: The Vixen’s project was really interesting. He had a bunch of records and songs that he had written to other more popular songs. I had something to kind of start from and I just had to kind of figure out how to capture a feeling, but not make it sound like that particular song. There were songs that were really challenging because I just couldn’t capture the mood. There is a song on the album called, “It’s Happening” where it called for something more musical, more melody, or whatever. I can’t ‘play’ play music. I worked with one of the producers I mentioned named Spoken Thought. A phenomenal musician and producer. It took us like 4 or 5 times to make this song. Other times it happened pretty quickly.
Once I got some sort of a skeleton, got the drums sounding right, and some other core sounds in there, from there it was easy to build the song around it. It was definitely different. Music obviously is a challenge, but I never look at it that way because it’s so much fun. I look at it like going to play basketball. Some games you play well, but you still have fun. Some games you go out and you can’t hit shit. It’s kind of the same for me. I try not to make it a stressful experience. It comes together or it doesn’t. it definitely stretches me in new ways, challenged me, and forced me to go in areas I wasn’t comfortable. It was still fun, I wouldn’t say it was hard necessarily.
TRHH: How would you compare doing those projects to doing albums with Pete Sayke?
Mike Jones: The R&B project, definitely the one with Vixen, and I’m actually working with a soul singer right now, the process I would say is longer. With all of the different layers and melodies and all of the stuff that you’re adding, records with singers and pop artist there is just more recording. Especially once you start worrying about if you hit the right note here and all of this. That part of it is just a longer process because there is more to listen to. Pete is interesting because he’s an artist who knows his stuff pretty much front and back when he makes it to record. It’s not like fumbling with his words, it’s really about getting the right delivery. For him the longer he has to record typically the worse his takes are. With other people typically the longer they record they start feeling it the better they are. For him our process is actually pretty quick. For Roy Kinsey our process is pretty quick as well. For some of the other artists we really do lay demos, come back, revisit a song, add some things, come back, add some things, and take some things out. So, it’s usually a longer process I would say than straight rhyming.
TRHH: What’s your favorite song on FANTASTIC: Season 1?
Mike Jones: Oh, man. It’s different every time I listen to it. I love the last song, “Try.” We recorded it in the summer of 2020. There was just so much going on that summer with the pandemic, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all of the protests and everything is happening. Pete says at the beginning of the song, “It’s July 12, 2020 and the world is burning.” It felt like that, but also that song is not dark to me. It is hopeful, it’s pretty, it definitely gives you a sense of things are going to be all right. That’s definitely one of my favorite ones. Every time I hear it, I get goosebumps. The way he wrote it, the way he is talking about things always takes me back.
I love “Same Old Song.” The way it turned out with Roy’s verse, Stik’s verse, and Brail the singer who is actually from my hometown, Topeka, I hadn’t worked with him in a really long time and I just sent him the record. He sent the hook back and I was like, “Damn!” The way he delivered it was crazy and then we added J. Solaye’s vocals later. That one always strikes a chord with me.
“Skeleton Key” is another one. It’s a song we recorded right on the heels of Roy’s album in 2018. His album is called “Blackie.” It’s a song that very much would have fit that vein, but it was only two verses with no hook. Those verses are from mid-2018 and it’s just been sitting, sitting, sitting. I’m like, “This beat is crazy! Your verses are crazy!” He sent it to Demetruest last year who is a singer out of Chicago. Deme laid vocals on it and when Roy sent it to me I was blown away. Probably those three, but honestly, I really do love every single record on the album. Every time I listen I can’t believe that I got the chance to work with all of these artists on the project. It turned out where it sonically all sounds great together and feels like it was made for the purpose of being a project.
TRHH: When can we expect to hear Season 2?
Mike Jones: Oh, man. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I want to lean into more soul and R&B in this one, so almost like flip flop the way that this one is where it’s more singers, more melody, but rap verses on a feature. The first album took me four years, so hopefully it won’t be four years from first song to release. Definitely conversations I’m having, but I don’t have any records yet. I am working on a few other projects. Pete has been writing some stuff and has some good stuff for his next project. Roy Kinsey and I have been working together and recording a bunch of demos. The singer I mentioned, J. Solaye, we’re working on her next EP. There is a bunch of different stuff happening. There will probably be a few projects that I record and/or produce on before Season 2. Hopefully Season 2 will come in the next couple of years. That’s definitely the goal. Fingers crossed I can make it happen.
Purchase: Fantastic Sound: FANTASTIC: Season 1