Los Angeles-based nerd rapper mc chris is a prolific and multi-faceted musician and animator. Along with releasing well over a dozen EPs and LPs about things such as Harry Potter, Batman and Star Wars, he has worked as an animator, co-creator and voice actor for Adult Swim shows such as SeaLab 2021, The Brak Show, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
Ahead of his April 21 show at Cervantes', mc chris spoke with Westword about balancing his love for songwriting and animation, learning to be satisfied with his work, finding the courage to open up about having been sexually abused, and the joys of fatherhood.
Westword: You have a new album in the works, correct?
mc chris: I have two new albums in the works. I have a collection that just came out last weekend, and I have a children’s album and a Batman album that came out last fall. So, I have a lot of stuff going on [laughs].
I think there will be an album release this summer. There’s going to be more things announced. We should have something new happening this summer, and I'm working with a new agent now. We’re just kind of rebuilding the machine.
Did you always want to be this multi-faceted?
No. I had a lot of brothers growing up, and they did different things: They read, they did plays, they wrote, the drew, they did sports — they did all sorts of things. I was exposed to so many different things as a kid because I had so many different things being put in front of me.
The first thing I thought of was The Muppet Show. I love The Muppet Show. I like that Kermit could play music, he could act, he could sing, he could do all these sorts of things. He was a childhood hero to me. I sang at a very early age in front of everyone at my school and started performing at five or six, but I also loved to draw. I had asthma, so we were inside a lot, did a lot of things like reading, drawing and writing.
And playing with G.I. Joes. 95 percent of my childhood was me playing with G.I. Joes.
You could certainly have a worse childhood than that.
Definitely. It wasn’t that bad.
Is there an update on the mc chris cartoon?
There’s some news on that front. I’m not sure how much I can talk about it, but I’ve been approached by a really cool company about making the mc chris cartoon, or a version of it.
I can’t really say anything about it, but I’m always doing research for the cartoon, I always want to make the cartoon, and it’s kind of always close at hand for times when I space out and want to think about something awesome. I love this idea, and I can’t wait to make it. I moved to L.A. to pursue it. I would say there’s a lot of forward movement on the project.
How do you balance successful careers in animation and music?
Recording albums while we wait to see what the next step is in my career is this awesome thing that I get to do to make a living. I have a family now; I used to spend money on nerdy things like toys, movies, books and comic books, and I packed my apartment full of stuff. Now that I have a family, I’m trying to get rid of that stuff, trying to make as much money as possible, because everything is so expensive if you’re an independent musician. People don’t really buy music, you know? So you have to find different ways to deal with things. There’s been lots of challenges as an independent musician, whether it’s that people don’t buy music or that Facebook is keeping your audience from you and you must pay to talk with your fans.
There’s lots of things that make it difficult, so you always hustle, keep working, and write songs. The good news is I love working; I really love writing songs. I love the process every single time. Some songs are bad, some songs are great, but for the most part I don’t care. I just keep at it because I know that there’s something down the road that will make me happy, and I just have to keep writing to get to it.
It seems like as an artist, you can’t be over-protective of your art.
When I was a senior in high school, I was in an AP portfolio class, and they wanted us to draw so fast, and I thought, 'Oh, this is making my drawing bad.' You have an impulse to make a lot of songs really fast all the time for people just to make money, and I still try to treat my songs like [art] and put detailed work into them.
The next album, I’ve loosened up a bit on that stuff. I’ve lessened the research and just made it more fun. But for the most part, I put a lot of work into my songs, because I have a very knowledgeable fan base and I want to get my facts straight.
Between animation and music, which is more difficult to be satisfied with?
I think my first stab at making a cartoon was a learning process because I was so detailed-oriented and it was pretty much a storyboarding phase. That doesn’t make sense; that was just naiveté on my part. I would have been a lot looser before I went into a more expensive animation process. There’s lots of things that I would have done differently.
I think because I was so detail-oriented, that process was hard for me, because the details weren’t amazing yet and I wanted them to be. The idea I have for the cartoon and the quality of it sort of goes against the current trend of cartoons you see now, which is sort of anti-quality and anti-drawing, anti-illustration, anti-Disney, anti-Warner Brothers animation. It’s sort of going for a drawing style that seems like bad drawing. It’s going for an abstract point of view about 'what even is a cartoon?' I’m on the opposite side of that. I want it to be great and amazing and look clean and perfect.
That’s the difficult thing about cartoons: You have to let a lot of things go. I watch a lot of cartoons with my son. We watch a lot of Scooby-Doo, and it’s so funny to see how many terrible drawings are in it. They got in there and thought, 'Kids don’t care.' Hanna-Barbera was sort of all about shortchanging the audience and drawing less. I’m all about drawing more and making things look nice. So, cartoons in that respect are very detail-oriented and very difficult to get into that whole mess, but I can’t wait. I love getting in there and figuring out what the problems are and trying to solve them, and I would say everything that I just said applies to music, too. I’m the same way with it, too: I’m very detail-oriented, and even during the mastering, I’m like, "Send it back to me. I want to fix it." I love the process of it.
My wife is always like, 'No one’s going to notice that. No one’s going to hear that,' and I just have to stick to my gut and remain detail-oriented. It’s just who I am.
Both jobs require so much from an artist.
It’s almost that the creative process is about letting go. Over and over. It’s a lot of saying goodbye a lot to things that you think are integral to the project, and you should remember that no one is as deep in it as you are.
Recently you spoke up on your Facebook page about being sexually abused, and you really helped open the door for that conversation to take place more in the hip-hop and animation industries. There’s a lot of power attached to sexual conquest. How do people change this?
Everything that’s happening now [with people speaking up about sexual abusers] is absolutely what should happen. I think it’s a really difficult question, because hip-hop is in a lot of danger right now. Obviously the most important hip-hop isn’t listening to the PC guidelines of Twitter or the Internet, but I think that what happened with Russell Simmons shows that anybody that has power — I think everyone knows this, we’ve all had a boss that showed some sort of display of this behavior — everyone’s had the experience of having a boss that had power and misused it.
Most people do that once they have power, because they don’t have a strong moral code. A lot of people seem to think that’s dependent on the Bible, but I’m an Atheist, and I think a strong moral code should be present regardless of if you are or aren’t a Christian.
I think everyone makes mistakes, but we’re also seeing that these aren’t mistakes; these are predators. We’re hearing words like ‘grooming’ and ‘cycle,’ and this is how they work. This is their modus operandi. This is something that abusers do over and over and over and over again. You have someone like Bill Cosby, who is the greatest known date-rapist of all-time, and this is a huge thing that happened for a long, long time because he had a lot of power and nobody questioned it. Now, all of that is sort of being washed away. It never rains in L.A., but sometimes when it does, it’ll rain for like five days, and you just feel like everything’s being washed away, and that’s sort of what this feels like.
We’re washing this stuff away and putting up signs that say this will not be tolerated in any way. In my situation, you can bet that Cartoon Network and Floyd County are very clear about those things, or I hope that they would be. I haven’t heard from them, but I know that it was real and it messed me up.
It’s not really the hip-hop industry. I’m an independent artist. I don’t have to deal with [the industry]. I did have some people coming at me in my early days that I think might have been creeps, which is a nice way of saying a man that’s trying to bring you into their circle. I never knew where it was going. It happened to me so many times, and I [initially] thought it was innocent, and it wasn't.
You get a vibe from the creeps. I attract something that makes me feel really sick inside. It’s these creeps that give me jobs, or change my career or change my life, and [there I was] as a young a person, thinking that this is going to be awesome. I’m taking all these chances, I’m moving all over the country and doing what these men say, and then cut to me now, after all of this is over, and I’m still waking up and having nightmares, and I’m still talking about it so much more than I want to. It just feels like a loop in my head.
My wife will tell me, ‘You’ve said that so many times this week. What’s going on?’ and I’m like, 'Oh, I don’t know.' Maybe [the abuser] has won an award, maybe they’re doing press – it just feels like it’s something that never goes away.
It was totally real, and there’s much more than just what I said in my post. I’m not going to give any more details than I did. I think that I gave enough detail. I had good intentions going into the animation industry. I really wanted to be a part of Cartoon Network, and I really wanted to be a part of the group that made Space Ghost Coast to Coast. I was really happy to be there, and it makes me sad to think about how that time is going to come coupled with these nightmarish moments of my life, which I can say are easily the worst parts of my life.
I'm sure your openness and honesty means so much to people out there who may have similar experiences.
I think if you’re a man and you want to say something — and I didn’t say something for months; I was talking to a therapist about it for months before publicly saying anything — it’s a difficult situation. If you’re like me, you’re a feminist, and even though you’ve made mistakes in the past, you’re a feminist now. You want to give this moment to women; this is a time for women to gain recognition as a group of people who are being mistreated. You don’t want to take anything away from that. At the same time, every single [reference to my abuser], every single article [about sexual assault], is making me think of the exact moment when I was violated.
I read this one article featuring Brendan Fraser, and I just thought, 'I have to get this out of me because I hate it being inside of me.' It feels like bile. You want to expel it from yourself. The reaction from my fans was great, but I didn’t really feel any friends coming out, any animators or anyone from that industry coming out in support, so I just assumed that they didn’t know about me saying anything.
We’ll see what happens. What happened with The Ren & Stimpy Show will add some importance to what me and some other people are saying about the animation industry and being mistreated. The animation industry is very powerful, very big and corporate, and it’s a very difficult thing to step up to.
Let's talk about some fun things now: Is your son old enough to connect with you over things from your childhood?
Yes! He was connecting with me on Star Wars before he even should have been. I was putting him in front of Star Wars right around the time he started walking, and he memorized everything. He memorized the sound R2's hand makes when it touches the button to open the escape pod door; he just memorized every little sound before he could even speak.
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My wife loved it, too, because it wore him out and he’d fall asleep about half an hour into the movie. She’d get half an hour to relax, read about The Bachelor online, which is what she does because she’s a normal person and needs a break [laughs].
He and I connect on everything. I am such a kid. You hear that in my music: I love Batman, I love Star Wars, and he’s becoming intense about it. He knows all the guys in Star Wars, he’s really well-versed in the Batman characters, and now we have Lego Batman books. He’s learning such tiny, minor character names, and I think it’s great. It’s a way for us to connect and a way for him to learn, and it’s been fun. We’ve been learning language and life, and the cool thing now is that Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker don’t always fight when we play. Sometimes they just go have pizza [laughs]. This is a cool new phase where we don’t have to be so angry and testosterone-fueled and fighting and try to keep things balanced.
It’s a dream come true. I thank my wife every day for him. We connect on things that I love, and I’ve been waiting for this my entire life. In a lot of ways, some of these days are the hardest of my life, but with him there, it just really centers me and keeps me happy.