Mic Phelps’s Breathtaking River Street Anthology Performance
By Matt Jones
Image: Misty Lyn Bergeron
Having scheduled the most eclectic set of artists to date, we set up shop at Detroit’s Assemble Sound for a few hours, recording everything from rappers and solo folk artists, to electro-based synth pop, to heavy, pummeling Detroit-style rock bands, and instrumental electric guitar pieces. As each artist set up in front of the mic, I was sure to take notes in order to remember just what happened during the session. As the afternoon got underway, Passalacqua’s Brent Smith pulled up with Mic Phelps, still decked out in his best wedding gear after racing back from a ceremony in Ann Arbor. In the case of many of the hip hop acts on the River Street Anthology, I am given a hard drive or some similar device with the instrumental track that the artist then raps over. Phelps had no backing track to speak of, so he sat down at the piano while the RSA team anxiously waited to see what he had in store. He introduced the song, “Sunny,” and we rolled the digital tape.
I wasn’t a total stranger to Phelps’ talent. I had rummaged around online, perusing his Bandcamp, and repeatedly watching film from his virtual ton of rap battle footage. What he pulled out at the piano was something altogether different. I caught my breath at the line “We’re becoming more like the animals we eat,” and I didn’t breathe again until the last chord faded out. I realized while sitting there, witness to this beautiful performance, how misguided it was to think of myself as “ready for anything.”
I haven’t seen everything, I haven’t heard everything, I haven’t met everyone, I haven’t appreciated everything, and I haven’t made an effort to understand everything—no matter what I’d like to be able to claim. The RSA is about preservation—about creating and solidifying a legacy, which is all well and good, and the songs, photos, and films will be available for generations to come. But what has endlessly surprised me since the beginning of this, was that the message, and the meaning of the RSA is created by the artists themselves—not me. Mic Phelps expanded on the meaning of the Anthology in a way no one else could, and I can’t thank him enough for that.
Enjoy this film, beautifully shot and edited by Charlie Steen at Assemble Sound.