Elevator 31: Michael Stork


Michael Stork is arguably one of the most sophisticated, versatile and imaginative rappers to have ever grabbed a mic and he’s been my favourite rapper for years.

I’ve been anticipating writing that sentence since I started 70elevators. Yes, he’s one of my best friends. Yes, I was in a rap group with him. Yes, I’m the godfather to his daughter. But his inclusion in 70elevators is not favouritism, but rather an inevitability.

On the night I met Michael at a hip-hop night called Substance in 1998 he played the melody of Jeru’s ‘Come Clean’ by blowing across the top of a collection of whisky bottles, which had different water levels in each. This was not your average rapper or emcee.

In his university days it was clear he had an uncontainable imagination, an untamed musicality, great stage presence, an arsenal of killer flows and an unusual level of dedication to his craft. On his 5-verse epic ‘Trophies’ [about the difference in quality of life between a lioness in the wild and in captivity], verses 1 & 4 have identical syllabic patterns. The biggest hint of this is when, in both verses, in exactly the same spot there are twinned sound effects: in the former an electric fence zapping, in the latter a lioness licking.

We released two albums together as part of the rap group Michaelis Constant labelled in a Big Issue review as ‘the UK’s most unusual hip-hop team’. Mike’s verses make up many of the highlights of those two albums, ‘Foreign Correspondence’ [1999] and ‘Gondwanaland’ [2002]. Sometimes as we wrote or recited lyrics to each other he’d give me this look which said, ‘I’m just getting started – You have no idea what I’m actually capable of.’

Indeed, I had no idea he would go on to create a large series of refined-by-fire paintings, teach himself the squeeze box, the guitar and how to sing, write a hefty sci-fi novel, become an actor and a science teacher or front an indie rock band.

I asked him to name his lyrical influences. Mike responds: ‘For me it started with Goodie Mob, Del the Funky Homosapien, the Roots then moved on to David Bowie, Nick Cave and the Decemberists.’ That mile-a-minute, acrobatic, funk-tinged rap foundation is evident even when he’s messing with dubby rock, industrial, trancey electronic music, soul, folk or spoken word.

His newest release ‘The Crux’ (which you can buy here) is the perfect storm of sounds and ideas. Michael teamed up with London-based producer/guitarist/songwriter Ebenezer (the founder of Minor Artists Records). Whether electronic and acoustic these finely balanced songs grow and mutate with every listen; what initially sounds like misty pastoral ambience might on a second listen reveal itself to be the smoke-stained morning after the apocalypse.

‘The Crux’ is blind-siding beauty. Amongst Ebenezer’s dexterous synths, palpitating electronic beats and guitar scribbles, Michael Stork’s lyrics pour out with an unmistakable brightness and gravitas. When I heard the demo version of ‘Rapman Canchop’ I thought, ‘The landscape of hip-hop lyricism has just been expanded.’

Thematically Mike is unafraid to tackle innocence and guilt, the everyman and the deviant, science and folklore, spirit and flesh, the Renaissance and the drizzle-defying British BBQ, all with a delight in language and outlaw charm. ‘The Crux’ has a narrative though and it’s wise to listen to it all the way through as an EP.

‘The Abyss’ drags us into a hungry ocean of emotional and spiritual conundrums. He says: “My concepts chop and change, but rap is hard to hide in. It shows our true colours.”

There’s an unquenchable belief in Michael Stork’s eyes. He believes that we humans, fuelled by God’s Spirit, can be a force for good in the universe, that through our lives, through our words and melodies, through joviality and wonder and through whole-hearted stubborn affection we can destroy monsters and redeem empires.

Mike concludes: “Soul-aching hope for true love within time; that would be how I sum up my art.”

And here’s that incredible ‘Trophies’ track from 1999

Listen further and buy MStork material here: http://michaelstork.bandcamp.com/album/the-crux-ep

Like him and keep up to date with his latest capers here: https://www.facebook.com/mST0RK

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