mighty FlipSide Esq. is a Philadelphia-based hip-hop artist and videographer who, according to the Philadelphia Metro, is truly a “Philly Underground Legend”. He has been involved with the art of MCing since he was 8 years old and was one of the original artists working with the legendary Ruffhouse Records. He developed a style so diverse that he shared stages with Xzibit, Nelly, Jedi Mind Tricks, Kool Keith, Del the Funkee Homosapien, P-Funk All Stars and members of the Grateful Dead, as well as landing a spot as a finalist in a national beatbox competition alongside Scratch from The Roots.
His diverse style stems from growing up in the “Golden Era” of Hip Hop with artists ranging from De La Soul to N.W.A, from Public Enemy to Kid N Play. The artists and sound of that era had a huge influence on his lyrical style and his global point of view. That view is; “Know what you mean, mean what you say, don’t be afraid to say it, but say it in your own voice.” As a teacher he uses his point of view to encourage his students, and as one half of the group Electric City (along with DJ Skipmode) he shares his view through lyrics to showgoers. Electric City’s 1st release “Everything, Everywhere, All the Time” (2007) on Rope A Dope/Bro Kin Records received accolades for mighty FlipSide’s “energetic lyricism.” The latest independent release “King Friday” (2010) had underground heads buzzin’ for his “intense style and delivery.” Along with MCing, mighty FlipSide has received awards for his Freestyling and Beatboxing talents. He is also the founder of “Hip Hop Lives,” Philadelphia’s longest running Hip Hop live music monthly showcase, and the co-founder of the “Beats and Rhymes” producer showcase in Philadelphia. mighty FlipSide Esq. stays busy creating music and now music videos, promoting and hosting shows, and educating the youth.
Flip, welcome! Thanks so much for coming out. Should I call you mighty FlipSide “ESQ” or Mighty FlipSide “Esquire”? Can you explain what the “Esq” part of your name means?
My name comes from my last name, Fripps, and ESQ can mean a lot of things. It can be “Eternal Search for a Queen” or “Essential Search for Questioning”. “Esq.” is also the top of the hierarchy — you’re either a junior, a senior, or an esquire. It also comes from law, of course. Old school hip-hop has this phrase, “down by law”, like “I’m so down by law that I’m a lawyer”. So that’s another meaning as well.
You’re a songwriter, freestyler, film-maker from Philly which has this incredibly rich history as one of the founding cities of hip hop, neo-soul, and even Gangsta Rap. Which of these titles do you identify with most, if any?
I think I am an MC. I self identify as an MC and more globally as a hip hop person. I have five layers of identifying myself in general: first, I am a human. Second, I am a hip hop person. Third, I am a Black person. Fourth, I am an American. And of course, last but not least, I’m an Philadelphia Eagles fan as well. Lol.
What about a Philly person? I feel like you identify with Philly as well.
Well, it’s funny. In one of my songs I have a line, “I’m from a city where it’s shitty and the money is tight, We hate everybody, we don’t even like who we like”. It’s a love hate thing with Philly. We talk shit about it, but if someone outside of Philly talks shit about it, we’re ready to fight. It’s a lot of pride, and that really shaped me — in Philly, we fight, we don’t give up, and I identify with that.
How did you get started? And can you explain a bit about your start with freestyling?
As far as hip hop in general, in the early 80’s when I was a little kid, hip hop was all around. Hip hop is the voice of the voiceless and it was the voice of a generation, primarily in black culture but that really resonated with all young people in the city. I got started at age 7 or 8, and there was this girl who was 12 on the block — she was a woman in my eyes — and she asked if I could rap for her. I was like, I’ll do anything for you! I kept doing it and I realized I was just making it up on the spot, I wasn’t writing anything down. I thought that when you heard a rap artist, that they were just making it up on the spot. As I got older, people were really impressed by the freestyling, but I thought that’s just kind of what you did.
Would you say you developed that talent by practicing?
Initially my head, I would pretend that rappers I admired, like Rakim and KRS-One, were talking to me, and I would say what they were saying to me. I was channeling those artists at the time.
How did you transition from freestyling into songwriting? For example, with your group Electric City, you write down all your lyrics.
When I realized that people write them down, I thought, I gotta try this out! Initially, I would tape my stuff on cassette players and by the time I got to be a teen, rapping was like a competitive sport. I am really thankful for that, because I didn’t identify with athletes. I could rap, though, and I hung out with guys who rapped competitively, and that is when I started writing stuff down.
There were some guys I wrote with who eventually became the group Schools of Thought and when we first met, they would tell me about how guys were teaching them how to write, how they would go into different states of mind (no drugs though), that sort of thing. We would sit in circles and write these rhymes down, and that’s how I got into it. It was absolutely collaborative.
You’re an educator as well, and I know you taught hip hop in after school programs, kids in the system (adjudicated youth), high school kids…
I do make sure it is collaborative with them too. They can show me things that I don’t know, too. A great example is how one of my artist friends saw DJs scratching in Japan. Usually, DJs will fade out the sound so that you can hear the word that they are scratching at that moment. But in Japan, they would play the part where the record was being rewound. They presumably didn’t speaking English, so it didn’t matter that the words weren’t there. They showed him a technique that he never could have come up with. Going with someone who doesn’t have the legacy, those years of skill and tradition, they can approach it in a way that you never could. When I am working with a young student, they will do something to which I might say, “Oh you can’t do that”, but they are actually just showing me things I could never come up with on my own.
Going with someone who doesn’t have that legacy, those years of skill and tradition, they can approach it in a way that you never could.
You collaborate with a lot of different artists. What do you do with someone who works in a very different style from you, or who has conflicting ideas and beliefs to you?
For example, I don’t use the n-word when I rhyme, nor derogatory terms for gay people, though I have worked with people who do. As an artist, you have the freedom to say what you want and I am not going to guard you on how you work. I kind of like the challenge of compromising with another artist. I was in Oakland, CA with rappers that were are super hardcore. They had one line that went, “Everybody dying, and the dog!” I thought, I don’t rap about that kind of stuff. To me, that sounded really bad. So I just started rapping as if I was a reptilian, some conspiracy theorist guy. That was my way of saying, okay, I will be evil in my own way. It takes a lot to maneuver my style and what I believe in, and not compromise myself too.
With regard to your music, I know you talk a lot about double, triple meanings in lyrics. Is that something that you think about when you’re writing?
In Way It Goes, there’s a line “He died over street rep, rap DVD mixtape.” I was watching the news and working with those boys that were locked up. And there was this boy, 12 or 13, who was shot while he was riding his bicycle. That whole song is about the challenge of those boys that I worked with, and even more than that, the struggle that a lot of black Americans face. To be completely on the inside outside, working with those boys taught me so much about what it really means to be a Black American.
We would create a timeline for each kid, when they were born, and so on. Then there was always this the point on the timeline where something went wrong. I started thinking about their parents’ timelines, and how some people are still dealing with the repercussions of slavery, how they never got on track after all those generations. These are the ripples, these children are the ripples of that timeline.
I want to talk to you about rejection. I know that you were with your group the Rhythm Deposits, about to be signed to Ruffhouse Records…
I had just gotten out of middle school and my uncle had hooked me up with Taj Walton, a legendary producer. I rapped for him and I didn’t even realize I was auditioning, but he liked me! So we all go to Delaware and start recording at Preverb studios, and then to Studio 4 where they worked at Ruffhouse. This was the same room that saw Cyprus Hill, Mariah Carey, G. Love and Special Sauce…it was crazy. We fell out of the deal though, because I recorded with someone else, and that went against our agreement. I was the lead songwriter, so it fell apart after that.
How did you deal with this at the time? What did you learn from it?
I had a lot of support and people told me “Don’t give up,” but it took a long time. I had made it to the top of the line recording studio, so when I would go to other studios, I was kind of a snob, like a basement recording studio wasn’t good anymore. It took me a long time to get over it, because I always thought it was going to be like those high-end studios. I got back to work when I realized, hey, I can do my own thing, I can do my own shows. The 90’s were a good time for that; I just started doing my own thing.
You are so enterprising — you make music, you’re a DJ, you’re a videographer, the whole deal. Have your expectations changed now, for how you want to move forward?
That little guy in my head, he is still talking to me. I can’t stop doing things, I need to be creating. That little voice is saying, “Ok, you’re not rapping anymore, you need to make videos.” When I see someone doing something cool, my first inclination is, how do I do that? The trajectory is to make sure that I am not stopping. One of the best things I learned from working with musicians is that they told me that a working musician is a good musician. Just to be working is good. My trajectory to grow is to just keep doing. Now that I have a son, I want to make sure that he sees me doing what I am doing and things that I love to do, too. The only thing that is different now is that now I have goals and a vision.
I think this interview is so valuable for anyone who is trying to break in or get started putting their art out there. Do you have any nuggets of advice for people who are just starting out in songwriting or trying to get on their local scene?
There’s a lot to be said about fight. Don’t give up, you have to fight. Once you feel yourself getting exhausted, the fight is the thing that keeps you going. If you have that, you’re gonna be ok. Passion and being an artist is great, it’s a huge part of it, but there is a fight that has to be there so you don’t give up or give in. If you see someone that is doing what you do, just ask to get in with them and to just be around! Just being around really helps. I’m not talking about being a shmoozer, just to say, hey, I want to be a part of this is.
If you are really interested in learning out to rap, I can give you a curriculum to learn! Email me at [email protected], and tell me you’re interested in rhyming, I can help you out.
What’s next for Mighty Flipside ESQ?
I am very proud to have launched Provided Media: we primarily do corporate education videos, but we have a wide range. We create information tools; I have a long legacy of being an educator and a filmmaker, so that’s what I am up to now. There is also Stay On The Beat, which is the entertainment arm of our group. We do short films, podcasts, a lot of cool music things. And Electric City, my group, has a lot of new music coming soon.
Flip, thank you so much!