Innerstate Ike on making music for the streets and the evolution of hip-hop in Colorado

Years ago in an interview with BET, rapper Jadakiss was asked the age old question: Why do you rap? He answered, with shrewd honesty, for the money. Innerstate Ike (aka Michael Hope) works under that same premise. A Coloradan to the core, Ike makes music specifically for the streets and for the people who understand his background.

There are the typical stories of violence -- he spent four months in a Denver hospital recovering from gunshot wounds in 2005 (today is the anniversary of the death of Colfax Cac, who was killed in the shooting that wounded Ike) -- and other glorified notions of street credibility but, Ike is just as in sync with the heart of the city as he is with the problems that plague his community.

Taking on the moniker of Ike Obama, the MC considers himself a diplomat of the hood, a messenger of sorts, sent to tell the story of his people, his constituency, in order to incite change. With over fifteen solo projects under his belt, Ike has transformed his street persona into a bona fide brand.

The latest mixtape to drop, a throw to Jay-Z and R. Kellys failed attempt at the marriage of rap and R&B in full length form, is Diamonds in the Dirt, a collaboration with Will Guice. We sat down with Ike to talk about the rules of the hood and the politics of don't ask, don't tell.

Your given name is Michael Hope. How the hell did you become Innerstate Ike?

How I got the name Innerstate Ike goes back to 1995 or 1996, when I got in the studio and I started rapping. I really didn't have a rap name. After I got through recording, one of my big homies was like, "Man, that's slapping. You got slapped!" They said I had slap like Ike Turner, so they started calling me Lil Ike. That just transformed me into Innerstate Ike. I was doing a lot of shows and traveling on the road, and one day, as we were driving, I was like my name is Innerstate Ike, and the homies said it goes good. The rest is history.

You've dropped fifteen albums and fifteen mixtapes -- that doesn't even seem possible in a market like Denver. What are your methods for engaging your fan base?

It's quite possible. I'm still doing albums and counting. At this point I'm at least fifteen solo projects and twenty mixtapes. In Denver it is possible. You have to have drive and motivation. I treat this rap like the drug game. I keep dropping albums every month. Its like my re-up. I get a project, I record it, get it mixed, mastered, press it up. I feed it to the streets; they eat it and they fiend for something new. This music is my money maker so I gotta keep dropping product to keep my money up. It's my re-up to the game.

Diamonds in the Dirt with Will Guice is your version of R. Kelly and Jay-Z's Best of Both Worlds. You remember how that turned out, right? Why is this a good idea?

It was a brilliant idea, and it captured a lot of attention. It went sour because they had a lot of personal issues going on within themselves. But me and Will Guice are two solid dudes, and were on the same level. We both feel like we've been overlooked and that we should have been on -- that's why were the diamonds in the dirt.

The Best of Both Worlds thing is a great idea because it captures two different markets and two different types of crowds. We're promoting each other and hitting different avenues. Singing and rapping: You cant go wrong with that.

The continued marriage of R&B with hip-hop seems to give the culture a boost. The more it's co-opted by artists like Drake and others, the more popular hip-hop remains. Is it safe to say that without the collaboration of the genres, rap would suffer?

Rap and hip-hop together is a marriage: They work together to better each other. I don't feel like hip-hop would be ruined or would suffer or that it wouldn't make it without R&B. If you like hip-hop you're gonna tune in and love it for what it is and its culture. The R&B singing does enhance it and makes it better in certain ways, but I don't feel like it would suffer.

What did the evolution of hip-hop look like in Colorado during the early years?

In my early days coming up, there was Tripps, Dez the Man, Nyke Loc and Zaboo, and it was just growing. I studied the pioneers that were doing their stuff, and I knew I had it in me. From where it was to where it is now, it's grown a lot, and Colorado hip-hop is ready to be discovered and tapped open. We've come a long way.

Simply put, Innerstate Ike makes music for the streets, and fortunately -- and unfortunately -- the streets don't change. Do you ever run out of subject matter?

I'm a product of the people, and I do it for the people, the love of the streets. No matter what happens, you gotta do it for the streets, because that's where the people are. I never run out of subjects or song titles or ideas or nothing like that, because everyone gets writers block at some point, but I don't write raps. I don't write raps at all. I just listen to the beat, get what I need to say in my head, and I just go with it.

I've been through a lot, I've seen a lot, I've heard a lot, and Ive got a big story behind me. So I don't ever run out of subjects and ideas. The more you see and go through, the more you have to talk about.

Many say that hip-hop has evolved beyond the necessary study of the greats like Rakim and works like Reasonable Doubt. Is this true? What are your hip-hop pre-requisites?

I studied the greats of this hip-hop game. Ice Cube, as an example: I studied his movement and where he came from and what he was doing. Before you get into it, you've got to have some history of the culture by itself. You gotta have the drive and the motivation; it might look easy but its not.

Everybody can rap, but you have to have something in you to make it happen. Most guys don't even know how to write their 16 [bars]. That's like a key thing to the game. To write your raps in bars and measurements and know how to create a good hook is a skill in itself. That's the whole song. The hook will set the mood for the whole song. You gotta know your background and have a vision.

Why do you rap?

I started rapping as a hobby back in the day. I did it for the love and it was in me. I'm a natural. You feel me? Its not no T-shirt. It is IN me, its not ON me. Right now, I'm rapping to get money. I'm gonna keep it 100 percent real. I'm seeing everybody rapping and getting it in and making millions, and I feel like I'm up to their standard. Everything they can do, I can do better, actually. I always wanna lace my people up and get the message, but at the end of the day, I'm rapping to get this money up. Done deal, point blank.

You go by the moniker "Ike Obama" an obvious throw to President Obama. Let's talk politics. What do you think about the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell?"

I'm really not with it because I don't swing that way, but I cant judge it, and I don't have anything against it, and people have rights. They protected behind their rights, so I feel like its fair, but again, I feel like God made Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve, so that's all I have to say about that.

Barack Obama, the first African-American president, understands walking the fine line of diplomacy. In what ways are you the diplomat of the hood?

I'm Ike Obama in my hood and in my section. I'm an underdog. I have a story that connects to the people. I'm a stand up guy. I'm well respected and well connected. There's a lot of pressure coming with it, but I can handle it. If people are looking for change, I am that guy that has all the qualities that the game needs. Check my resume. Run my Turf Report and you'll see no one has a problem with vouching for me.

What's on your iPod?

I keep some Hawkman in there, Murder and Mayhem, the Foodchain, Will Guice, Young Doe and Analiza Controversy 2, Dispensary Music by Foe and Whygee. I have that Kevin Pistol that I just got. I have Rocky Barcode 2. I have a bunch of Ktone mixtapes. That Rick Ross. I've been messing with that Trey Songz a lot, too. Mostly I listen to a lot of local and underground stuff. I listen to everything, though. Right now that's what I've got bumping. If you love great music, everybody go pick up that Diamonds in the Dirt with Will Guice.