Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Mike Baker

On NYC's musical history, rap, and the power of print

Mike Baker (MB) was a teammate when I worked at Barbarian Group and is steadily ascending in the creative world. He’s a lyricist, writer, creative, and has a pretty wide range of inputs. Find him on all platforms as @bikemaker. We’re happy to have him here on the page, sharing some picks. Have a great week. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a creative on the copy side at everyone’s favorite former movie company-turned-global agency, R/GA. I’m originally from an island town called Alameda in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area that’s famous for the bridge scene in the non-classic Sandra Bullock flick, The Net. I moved to NY in 2011 in loving pursuit of my partner of almost 10 years (this year), Darling Chuck who’s an incredible DJ and musician.

I myself am a musician as well and have been rapping/MCing since I was a young teen, but actually making music for about 15 years as Mike Baker the Bike Maker. I’m part of a Hip-Hop collective out of the Bay called the HNRL (or Honor Roll), and we put out dope music like this, and this, and this, and also this. Try this on for size while you’re at it as well! Dope stuff if I say so myself. 

I’m also heavy into tennis, film, running, and drinking rum (in a cool way, not a fool way). I’m also apparently into cooking now too, as I haven’t eaten food made outside of my home since March 12th at this point. 

I live in Queens and finally got a new computer, so I’m working on putting my home studio back together so I can bless ears more regularly going into the second half of our first year of quarantine. *cue unenthusiastic cheer

Describe your media diet. 

I don’t like saying this, but I get a lot of my news from Twitter. Granted I follow all the pubs and authors I enjoy, and sort of just make topic lists and use it as an aggregate, but that digital hellhole can be such a drag. So I do my best to keep it moving once I find something like a good Indiewire article about the 37 best Paul Thomas Anderson shots or whatnot.  

I’m on my computer all day banging on these keys on whatever client need I’m tasked with, so I’m always bouncing back to fun stuff to read as a respite in between. Some places I go to read and feed my brain: EaterThe InfatuationNYT COOKING(!), and Punch for food and drink stuff; VultureHollywood Reporter, and Collider for movie and tv news and nerd stuff; and finally The Atlantic and NYT when I want to get serious. 

And there’s more. Like a lot more. Too much. I like a good hodgepodge like the rest of you, but I should really cull a few-to-a lot of them, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ meh.

I do listen to a lot of podcasts. Mostly when I run and when I cook. Some of my faves are Questlove SupremeUnspooledHow Neal Feel, Conan O’Brien Needs a FriendKwik Brain with Jim KwikIndieWire’s Filmmaker ToolkitScriptnotesand Bodega Boys. There I go with that hodgepodge again. I promise I think pretty clearly despite shoving a bunch of random shit into my brain.

What’s the last great book you read?

OH EASY! Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes. Hermes, a writer at Rolling Stone, does a crazy deep dive about the years of 1973-1978, and how ALL of the different types of music being created in the city that never sleeps took music to incredible new places that — being true to the title — changed music forever. 

If you’re into music at all, it’s an incredible read. Highest possible recommendation!

What are you reading now?

I just started reading Lenny Bruce’s autobiography How to Talk Dirty and Influence PeopleI just started reading it this morning, so I can’t really call it yet.

Some books I just finished in the past few weeks though are James Baldwin’s Another CountryBeastie Boys BookKazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and Best Movie Year Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery.

I recently picked up a couple of essential reads by a couple of friends as well: 

·         Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile: Stories of Street Harassment and How We're Taking Back Our Power

·         Mel D. Cole’s Great: Photographs of Hip-Hop by Mel D. Cole 2002-2019

Also, go check out Mel’s Instagram for some of the best photography coming out of the protests of the past month+.

What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?

I used to be a huge magazine nerd. I may be dating myself, but when I worked at Tower Records in college, one of my favorite things ever was tending to the magazine section. 

Print just feels so good to the touch, and no matter what you’re reading, the content just feels so much more tangible. This could just be me of course, but I definitely do miss magazine shopping. 

But to finally answer this question, I would flip through the magazine from front to back to suss out the contents. Then I’ll start with the stuff that interests me least, so I can look forward to the stuff I really want to read. 

Check out Undo-Ordinary, and magazine by two dear friends, Nai Vasha Thomas and Sophia Chang. Each issue is thematic and empowering for folks from all walks of life. 

Another magazine currently enjoyable enough to subscribe to is Racquet. It’s a great quarterly publication about tennis written from a variety of cool perspectives, and not in the corny way the sport tends to get, with all of Brad Gilbert’s out-of-touch slang and Novak Djokovic’s goofy dancing. And sorry not sorry if he’s your favorite player, but Djokovic sucks. What an irresponsible loon.

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

Given the current climate, James Baldwin. I mean what an incredibly timeless, and affecting writer. Read him. Watch or listen to him speak. Watch I Am Not Your Negro. Just introduce Baldwin into your diet, please.  

Also, I’m a huge fan of Haruki Murakami. He writes very weird stories that take you all over the place, but man, do they connect. My favorite of his is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but start with something that piques your interest, whether it’s off the title or the cover.

Also, a friend of mine started a finance/tech/crypto newsletter called NahRabbits that’s simply INCREDIBLE. The “nah” in the name is an homage to a legendary, but now defunct Hip-Hop site called nahright.com, and the “rabbits” refers to rabbit holes that oftentimes make taking in lots of information difficult. In essence, It’s a pop culture, Hip-Hop inflected, layman’s look at topics that are normally way heady and stuffy, that are seldom written with young Black and BIPOC in mind. 

It’s hella tight. Subscribe!

What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone? 

Honestly? Notes. Like for real, for real. 

I write lyrics, story ideas, recipes, thoughts, quotes I like, and more in that app. It’s my lil’ engine that could. And it does. Every damn day.

Plane or train?

Planes all the way. It’s in my blood.

In 1968, my mom became one of the first Black flight attendants at United Airlines. She met my dad when he tried to holler at an airport. And she just celebrated her 52nd anniversary with the airline this past June.

Before I was born, my parents would be somewhere different every week, and when I came along, we were always going places, on a whim. Just not as much, because of school and stuff. 

What really grinds my gears now though is that after these 52 years, her illustrious career is most likely going to come to an end as United has announced layoffs to the tune of 45% of their workforce (36,000) in Oct. A career as unique and awesome as hers shouldn’t have to end in a whimper, but I’m still so proud of her for being such a groundbreaking person at home and in the friendly skies.

What is one place everyone should visit? 

I don’t care if it’s cliche or not, but one of my favorite places is Oahu. Growing up, I’d be there a couple of times a year with my parents. I just feel it’s the place my spirit is most in tune and harmonious.

Oh wait, the question is “what’s one place everyone should visit?” That’s easy. My Spotify.

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into. 

I often find myself reading about something like daiquiris on Punch, and it’ll lead to something like the history of a drink, or the rums Trader Vic used when inventing the Mai Tai in Oakland in the 40’s, and I’ll get so caught up in it, and my mind will race, and I’ll start jotting out cocktail ideas, and then I’ll finally pass out. This happens a few times a week. 

It’s better than counting sheep.

Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Mike (MB)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).