Filled with references to dirty politicians and nostalgia from the late eighties and early nineties, “Joy, Void, Destroy EP” is a seven-track rollercoaster ride worth taking. Christopher Michael Jensen starts his latest EP with “Microphone Check,” a track that feels, just as the title suggest, like a stream of consciousness stretch and flex warm-up before diving into the rest of the EP. Next up is “Again And Again,” a self-hyping rap with bits of humor referencing Family Guy and the best season of The Simpsons. Infinity ~ Suite provides a fantastic beat that wouldn’t feel out of place in a temple from the original Legend of Zelda for “Cold Day in Hell,” the third track and my personal favorite. On this track CMJ turns away from the light-heartedness of the previous two tracks and veers towards the political, calling out as many problems with today’s society as you can possibly fit into four minutes and fourteen seconds. While the verses are packed with pointed lyrics like “How the gun lobbyists profit and help their bottom line / They don't care about Stoneman Douglas or Columbine / Demonize the poor but ignore white collar crime / And leave everybody fucked like concubines” the chorus “So look alive, look alive / There's a war goin' on outside, who will survive?” is a call to action. Like a hangover, the following two tracks “A Purpose To Find” and “To Dream Or Be Aimless” are steeped in weariness and exhaustion from struggling for success and adulting in the Millennial generation. By this point, the lighter lyrics on the dance tune “Give Me Somethin’” feels like welcomed escapism. The EP concludes with “Borrowed Time,” and as the name implies, the song is about making your mark on the world with the little time we’ve been given, and it also has some pretty dark references to celebrity suicide and things people do to cope and just get by. “Joy, Void, Destroy EP” is a wild ride that should be taken by everyone. Hear the album live at the release show this Friday, June 28th, at Day Block Brewing and streaming everywhere the same day.
(Melodic Noise) How's your day going?
(Christopher Michael Jensen) My day is going good! Just been busy running around lately getting various things ready for some stuff coming up, namely my release party for the upcoming EP I'm about to drop on June 28th.
(MN) What name do you perform under?
(CMJ) I perform under my real name, which is Christopher Michael Jensen, or C.M.J. for short.
(CMJ) Hip hop.
(MN) Other members and your preferred pronouns?
(CMJ) Just me, though I have worked with various different producers when it comes to music over the years. My latest project is entirely produced by a dude who goes by the name Infinity ~ Suite. He is an amazing producer from Minnesota. I write and perform all of the lyrics in my songs, though, and I definitely like to be involved with the song production when I can be and have a hand in the mixing process, as well. (preferred pronouns - he/him)
(MN) What’s your origin story?
(CMJ) I started rapping and making hip hop when I was just 13-years-old, which was back in the year 2000. My brother got me into it. He raps a little, as well. I fell deeply in love with hip hop and just stuck with it. I used to do talent shows and little school events when I was starting out in my teenage years and made beats and songs on home recording software that was just starting to hit the market when I began. After I graduated from college in 2009, I threw myself into music as much as I could and 2010 was when I really, really started networking a lot around the cities and performing on a consistent basis, putting real albums out online and in stores, and learning the ins and outs of throwing shows and events.
(MN) Do you work with a label?
(CMJ) I've never been on a label. Everything I have done up to this point is self-released and self-managed, independently.
(MN) What is the story behind the album name?
(CMJ) The new project is called Joy, Void, Destroy EP. The title reflects different emotions that are expressed throughout the collection of songs. There's the joy and highs of life, there's the void and the low points and depressing frustrations, and then to "destroy" is maybe the response we have from that to either reclaim ourselves from the void to get back to the joy, or possibly us being destroyed if we let the void consume us.
(MN) Lyrically what stands out on the album?
(CMJ) I always feel like I'm getting better as a writer as the years go by, so hopefully I was able to be on point as far as the bars, the rhyme schemes and wordplay, the punchlines, the poetry, the stories and observations...you know, all of the things that are hallmarks of classic lyricism when it comes to rap and hip hop. I tried to express my inner feelings over the past couple years since the last album came out and also just experiment with different ideas and ways of writing.
(MN) What was the inspiration behind the album?
(CMJ) I was used to making longer projects in the past, so I thought it might be cool to try something a little more succinct with an EP format and only seven songs. I also had never done a project with just one producer before, so that was cool to work alongside someone that helped shape the various sounds over the course of an entire track list. My catalog of songs over the years has tended to be full of a lot of introspection and analyzing things and kind of just letting my mind spill out kind of stream-of-conscious in a way. There's also a lot of political songs, too, and then also just me doing lyrical rap exercises, flexing skills on the mic type shit. I also wanted to do a mix of both fun and darker songs, so it kind of came out as this big mix of things in the finished product so people get a whole picture and not just one specific lane or feeling.
(MN) What do you hope people take away from the album?
(CMJ) I just hope it resonates with people and that they can appreciate the artistry. Hopefully it makes you think about life in different ways or gets you inspired. I guess it's kind of up to different people to take from it what they want to take away from it. It would just be dope for people to dig it in whatever way they do and for my music to be part of someone's day-to-day soundtrack the way so many artists' songs have been for me throughout my life.
(MN) Is there something that connects the songs together?
(CMJ) On the music side of things, definitely the imagination of Infinity ~ Suite and his incredible production from song to song. Other than a couple lines, I'm the only voice you hear on the EP, so my perspective and worldview about a bunch of different topics unites it all, too, in that you get a three dimensional person if you listen to the whole thing and how I feel about stuff.
(MN) Are you from the Twin Cities?
(CMJ) I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and have lived here locally my entire life.
(MN) What are some of your influences and Minnesota influences?
(CMJ) I'm influenced by a bunch of different things even outside of hip hop. I could run down things for hours. Definitely hugely influenced by technical and imaginative lyricists, though. Big influences coming up have been rappers like Eminem, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang Clan, OutKast, Atmosphere, Non Phixion, Army Of The Pharaohs, MF Doom, Biggie, K.Flay, and about a hundred others, for real, I can't even make a list in one setting without it getting obnoxiously long. Lol. But that's the fucking truth. My iPhone is the biggest you can get and even that is almost out of memory because I still carry the thousands of full albums around on it that I have accumulated over the years. I'm the biggest hip hop nerd. Honestly, I'm just a pretty big music nerd, in general. Outside of hip hop, artists like Daft Punk, Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service, Moby, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Björk, Autolux, Boards Of Canada, The Go! Team, The Beatles...so so many others. It actually pains me that I have to only name a handful when I wanna go on for like twenty paragraphs. Lol. As far as Minnesota, I'm just inspired by the rich history of the scene in general, honestly. Obviously labels like Rhymesayers and their artists over the years have been a huge influence and inspiration to me, but so many other people out here on a weekly basis are performing and making incredible music that makes me want to create and level up constantly.
(MN) Who are some of your favorite current Twin Cities artists?
(CMJ) We're really fortunately to have so many incredible people here locally in the scene. Just to throw a handful out, though, that are on the come up that I'm a huge fan of - people should definitely check for North Star Wisdom, Nur-D, Lizea Harper, Ice God The Macgyver, Seiler, Panash, Neon Blaque, Vinny Crook$, OKnice, Darren Sipity...man, so many people. But those are some that spring to mind immediately, for sure.
(MN) What’s your favorite venue to play and see shows in Twin Cities?
(CMJ) There's a lot of great venues in town, but the one I've performed at more than any other by far is Honey in Northeast Minneapolis. That place is very close to my heart. The best venue in town, though, is probably First Avenue, just with all of its history and the crazy shows I've seen there over the years. Though I've played at 7th Street Entry, I have yet to play in the Mainroom at First Avenue yet. Hopefully some day that will happen. That would be a dream come true, for real.
(MN) What can fans expect when they come to your show?
(CMJ) High energy and hopefully a lot of different emotions conveyed in my set. I like to take people on a journey and give a bunch of different dynamics throughout my performances. I hope that doesn't sound too pretentious. Lol.
(MN) Do you have a favorite/crazy memory of playing a show?
(CMJ) I think my favorite memory was getting to open for Raekwon since Wu-Tang Clan is my favorite hip hop group of all time. That was such an honor. Another time I got to open for Slick Rick which was another surreal moment. The Slick Rick show was definitely the biggest crowd I've ever gotten to perform in front of. Got a lot of compliments afterwards from people who saw me for the first time at that show and that's always a good feeling. Another great memory was when I helped throw a benefit show for suicide prevention back in 2012 that drew over 200 people. That was very touching to me. There were like people crying in the crowd and sharing testimonials and that was really, really special and something I'll never forget.
(MN) Who are your dream tourmates?
(CMJ) Man, again, so many artists I could name. I've been fortunate to tour around the country a few times with different people that I was friends with, so that was really nice being around good people on the road that I was close with, but if I could pick someone big, I think it would be awesome to hit the road with some of the local heavyweights that have been doing it forever to kind of see how they do it up close, like an Atmosphere or a Brother Ali.
(MN) Do you have other hobbies?
(CMJ) I follow politics a lot, and am also a professional wrestling enthusiast. In my younger days, I used to be into comics and play a lot of video games (original NES, SNES, N64, Gameboy), but not so much anymore. I try to catch dope movies when I can and watch some good shows. I've been getting my ass in the gym more lately, too, to try and get in better shape. I'm hoping to travel more in the future. I've been so laser focused on music stuff for so long that I would like to pick up more activities to pursue further to balance things out. I do photography here and there, too, so I'd like to get more savvy at that, for example.
(MN) What do you like about living in the Twin Cities?
(CMJ) This has always been my home and I have met so many people here that are like family; really strong community here. Our music scene can sometimes be overlooked, but for those that are in the know, the Twin Cities has some of the best and most creative artists anywhere. We're getting more and more attention, though, so that's really exciting and fantastic to see. I'm proud to rep Minnesota and the Twin Cities, definitely. I love living here.
(MN) Is there anything that sets the Twin Cities scene apart from places you've toured?
(CMJ) There's a very diverse range of people and sounds coming out of the Twin Cities music scene, and there's definitely an eccentric litany of styles and cross-pollination in terms of genres and different art being made. We also have a very strong DIY aesthetic and independent work ethic here and a strong embrace and championing of the underground. That's what makes the Twin Cities music and art community really special, in my opinion.
(MN) What’s your favorite places to grab food or drink in the Twin Cities?
(CMJ) All over the place. I've been going to Noodles & Company a lot lately. Lol. Not exactly unique to the Twin Cities. I wish I had a fancier answer for you.
(MN) Do you have a day job?
(CMJ) I have worked in retail over the years, and also DJ weddings when I can. I also donate plasma and do medical studies sometimes to bring in extra income, you know, just to help me get by. More and more, though, I have been fortunate to make an increasing amount of funds from my music-related endeavors, which is truly a gift. Obviously getting to the point where I can live off of music primarily would be wonderful.
(MN) What are your plans for the future?
(CMJ) I will definitely continue making new music, will be putting out more music videos in the near future, and also performing and throwing various events. I host the monthly Fifth Element Open Mic every first Wednesday of the month in Uptown Minneapolis at Rhymesayers' record store, and also co-host and curate a monthly showcase called Local Dope $#%T at Can Can Wonderland in St. Paul with another local artist named Uncle T, so I definitely encourage people to come out to those things and keep an eye out for everything else I have going on. People can stay up to date with things regarding me on my website (www.christophermichaeljensen.com) and social media sites.
Make sure to check out “Joy, Void, Destroy EP” when it’s released Friday, June 28th on Spotify and Bandcamp and catch CMJ live at the album release show also on June 28th at Day Block Brewing and later at the For The Love 5 festival at Mears Park Saturday, July 6th.
Review and Interview by: Andrew Perrizo
Edited by: G Blu
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