Christmas is coming early this year. Feb. 19 will mark the release of Is This Art?, the highly anticipated free album from Boston-bred, rapidly rising hip-hopper Michael Christmas. People of all religions may rejoice, and no disheveled evergreen conifer is required to partake in the celebration. Your present will exist, instead, below numerous headlines on the Internet. Don’t bother leaving cookies and milk — just click download.
Christmas, who performed for the first time at BU Central as an opener for Killer Mike in 2012, is positioned to enjoy a lucrative 2014: Last year’s final months saw his team successfully release several audio singles and music videos. Collectively, they have garnered more than 100,000 views and plays via YouTube and SoundCloud, and they have cemented Michael as the artist to watch from Beantown.
At only 19 years old, Christmas possesses a strong sense of self. His visuals focus unabashedly on his eccentric quirks and average-Joe humor, which together form a concrete foundation built on with bricks of personable honesty.
He creatively details a typical day in his life with Hot Pocket sauce smeared across his face in the music video for “Daily” and dances in water fountains as he emulates his favorite actor in “Michael Cera.”
It’s not all fun and games, though. Christmas wants to challenge the way we all perceive art, a desire seen in the title of his upcoming project. Boundaries that surround art inherently allow for artistic discrimination — something hip-hop has endured for decades. Photography, visual art and the vague categorization of modern art suffer, too, from a noticeable effort to try and widely determinate what constitutes “real” art and what constitutes something lesser.
“Art is whatever you think it is,” Christmas said while chuckling in a phone interview. “Art is whatever I think it is. I am art.”
When asked if he’d go as far as labeling a piece of worm-infested trash picked from a dumpster “art,” he enthusiastically answered, “Hell yeah!”
It was the aforementioned video for “Daily” that set his rise in motion, but Christmas had yet to consciously begin work for Is This Art? at the time of its recording last August.
“Recording Is This Art? was really weird,” he said. “We just jumped into it. The whole thing came about one day when I was like, ‘Yo, the name of my tape one day is gonna be Is This Art?’ This was way back, even before ‘Daily‘ came out. ‘Daily‘ wasn’t meant for Is This Art?, I just wanted to do that.”
Simply wanting to do something has benefitted Christmas thus far. Spontaneity laces his entire music catalog and adds a sense of realness so crucial to the success of rap artists today. (Though, admittedly, the definition of “real” has changed greatly across hip-hop’s landscape. In the early 2000s, real equated to street credibility à la 50 Cent. Today, Drake’s soft honesty defines realness.)
Christmas explained that this mentality of spontaneity stuck during the developing stages of Art?. Sometimes, he would pick a beat from his email and make something.
“I don’t really have a process, and I think that’s the coolest part about making this project,” he said. “There wasn’t a process. There were days when I sat down and wrote a song while babysitting my sister, and then I’ll get a producer to help me make it.”
Nonchalant and easygoing, he is quick to draw a smile from those in his presence. Though he looks older than his true age, Christmas possesses an innate, undeniable charm. When he visited BU before winter break late last year, he complimented passersby with a goofy undertone as he wandered through the George Sherman Union. Each phrase was matched in return by a pleasantly surprised smile.
While rap game’s Michael Cera oozes with positivity and genuine laughter, don’t get it twisted: The Roxbury native can rap circles around many of his peers. His lightheartedness can cause the listener to mistakenly overlook his expansive abilities as an emcee.
When he has a story to tell, he gives that story justice. Christmas underwent a rather negative period in his life when his dad was incarcerated in early 2012, an unfortunate circumstance that affected his music.
However, with his dad now out of jail and back in his life, Christmas said he tends to maintain a more optimistic outlook. He’s joyful, as he should be.
“There were things I wanted to actually make a song about, to take time and write about that,” he said. “Otherwise, I really just had fun.”
Fitting, for an artist so fun to watch.
Is This Art? drops Feb. 19, available online everywhere.