Miles Stewart says Detroit and his community have played pivotal roles in his artistic journey.
Miles Stewart – or as the world knows him, Microphone Phelps – started his love affair with words in elementary school. With a musician as a father and a writer for a mother, Phelps says, “I had no choice but to pick up the bug, I was shy and I’m still kinda like that.”
He began to use beautifully crafted words to express himself, starting out with school raps and poems that eventually won him a citywide contest in third grade. The prize was to see Maya Angelou perform, in the flesh. These moments created the blueprint that led him down a path to hip-hop success, countless awards and service to his community. Check out our full interview below.
You have been writing since elementary school. How did you craft your style?
I’ve had a best friend since fifth grade, John. He used to hit me up all the time and say, ‘Aye man, hit me with a rap.’ After a while, I started running out of things to rap about without a beat. I started using beat websites like Napster. From fifth grade to 11th grade, I would call him every night and do five or six verses, or whatever I had that night. He usually said they were trash. I would get mad and write more and more and more.
Then, in high school, Def Poetry Jam taught me how to take a topic and turn it into a performance piece. I would read Langston Hughes and other Black authors because I could relate to it. I would take what they did and add it in my work. I would listen to Slick Rick and Magoo. Then one day I heard Fabolous rap.
I played his CD for two years straight. The CD warped in my CD player. I started making raps and recording myself over his track. Then when Lil Wayne came out, I found someone who I could craft my sound like. I liked how he was witty. I listened to him over and over. I still listen to him and hear his metaphors, because there’s always something new I hear.
You have taken the Master P or Nipsey Hussle approach with your craft. It’s a grassroots approach to the hustle. How were you introduced to the poetry and hip-hop scene in Detroit?
I was working at a restaurant, the chef invited me to a poetry spot. I spit this piece about God. It actually wasn’t a poem – it was a rap I did slow. The chef told me I should change my name from Miles to Young Phenom. I was like nah, and he was like yeah. Next thing I knew he was announcing me on stage as Young Phenom.
After that I would go back every night until the promoter of the club started taking myself and Natasha “T” Miller to spot after spot, going to national poetry slams Toronto. Eventually I would meet the people I would get into hip-hop doing the poetry scene. We formed a group called Cold Men Young. After that, I met everyone on the Detroit underground hip-hop scene.
Before I was on Gucci Mane, OJ da Juiceman and Lil Wayne. They introduced me to J Dilla, Slum Village, Trick Trick and Hex Murda. I stopped doing poetry and did that. I took two years off to take care of my kids. When I got back into the scene in 2018, I got with my team Park House and my managers, Ron Dance and Ro Spit.
I went into overdrive, everything I was doing before. I perfected my craft. I was around and I was dedicated – I practiced. Now anytime I’m able to perform I impress people because I’ve done it so many times.
Have you ever thought about leaving Detroit and living in another state or country to push your career?
Before Detroit got gentrified, people were telling me to leave here because there’s no exposure here. But in other places I performed in I could’ve done anything and they would’ve been like, ‘Aw, that’s great.’ In Detroit, people will boo you, people will walk out, people will tell you after the show to stop doing this.
Over the years, in Detroit, I was sharpening my sword. It’s a tough crowd because it’s tough to live here. You can’t just pull anything on people here. If I go to California or New York, I don’t care what they think about me because I’m from the D. I’m naturally grown here. I know what’s going on in the city, and I represent Pontiac and Detroit and Flint everywhere I go.
What role do you and your artistry play in society? How are you leaving a legacy?
I am making the best art I can to talk about what I wanna say. I want people to be a good person. When it comes down to it, we gotta be better people. When I was teaching poetry at Mumford High School I didn’t walk in like, ‘You need to write a haiku.’ I took what they were going through and had them channel that. Someone got shot right outside the school, and the kids were hype about it. They were like this and that happened.
I said to them, ‘Y’all gotta be scared and hurt, you’re kids and I know it affects you.’ I told them to write about that, so we wrote about that for a week. We wrote about how we feel, about our experiences and our environment. After that week, the switch flipped and they were ready to work every day and learn about different things.
I wanna be someone who can play a role if I’m not too old or young. I can relate to any age group. I want to take the act of being good to people and taking care of your community and then put the art in the middle of that as a way to be entertained by your experiences.
What is your creative process like now that you have honed in on your craft?
My creative process is robotic. My writing and recording is the same. I roll up, I sit down, I get a vibe, I get the lights how I want and I go. I never write for longer than 20, 30 minutes. If I do, it’s not the song. For my latest project I got a beat and I came up with a buzzword. One of the songs is called ‘Salty.’ I heard a lot of people saying salty when I was recording it.
People can relate to the word. In rap, people wanna hear wit – they wanna smirk. I take the buzzword then put the creative around it. I’m using that word to catch your ear to bring you in for something more deep. But don’t take my music too serious.
What can we look forward to seeing and hearing from Microphone Phelps in the future?
I have a project coming out in late December called I Like This Guy produced by Royal House Recording Studio and The Royals. We did eight songs in eight days. In this project I wanted to display my ability to talk about different things, play with different styles, dance tracks and I’m singing on there. It’s a short project, but it hits every spot. I talk about social media and the negative effects of that, pros and cons of success, getting my check on Friday and more.
I will also be coming out with a joint project with Britney Stoney. A quote book, that I put on my Facebook and Instagram. Rap more than poetry. I can perform at any spot, (but) my poetry is more personal. I only do it when necessary – for a slam, a nice show. I don’t go out to open mics anymore.
Next Summer, my agenda is to go to a liquor store and demand they take care of the community they’re in. If they don’t take down (ciga)rillos and cigarettes, and put up fruit and healthy things we are going to picket them until they shut down. I want to rap and create change. I wanna be a servant to my community.
Phelps credits his success and drive to the support he has from his family and Detroit. He says, “My mom, dad, kids and my family, they push me to be better.”