That Time I was Mogli the Iceburg’s Tour Guide in NY
Accessible Christian hip-hop artists rarely come through New York City. Manhattan at least once a year will get Lecrae, Andy Mineo, NF, and maybe Social Club Misfits. You don’t often see indie artists and mid-tier artists come through much. (Shout out to GOM, nobigdyl., and WHATUPRG, Y’all came through). Even rarer, two times maybe, does an artist come to Staten Island, where I live. In this instance, it was Mogli the Iceburg.
Without diving into his personal reasons, Mogli found himself coming to New York to not perform. He’d never been here before and he just so happened to be in Staten Island. I was having an incredibly busy day running from a work meeting, then to my house to be with my two-year-old, and later on, running a show at a new venue and performing with my band. There was no way I’d be able to meet up in Manhattan, where all the artists go. So when he said, he was coming to what the Wu calls “Shaolin,” we could make it work.
I’ve interviewed Mogli several times, but we’ve never met in person. In fact, I don’t meet many of the people I interview. However, he met me at my house and told me about his road adventure to find himself in the Big Apple. I was most curious about how he survives as an indie artist. One of the key components of that is, Nashville is about 10x cheaper than NY.
Understanding how New York City is broken up is a bit confusing for people not from here. Anyone outside of “the city” is basically Canadian. When you think authentic New York – skyscrapers, pizza, subway rats, and ‘fuhgettaboutit’, you’re thinking Manhattan and Brooklyn. When you think of hip-hop, Latino and African-America/Caribbean cultures coming together, you think the Bronx and Queens. Then you have Staten Island. it’s known for Wu-Tang, a garbage dump you can see from space, retired mobsters, and ‘Jersey Shore’ looking young people. We have trees, grass, parks, backyards, houses, and even deer! Then we have a whole part of the Island that is like a less chaotic version of Brooklyn. It’s quite a shift.
I took Mogli for a drive with my daughter throughout Staten Island and showed him a few spots along the way. I took him to the Island’s top-ranked pizza spot, Denino’s, first. Then we went to Richmond Hood Company, a dope clothing and sneaker shop part-owned by Method Man. The next stop was my show’s venue.
It’s always interesting to get people when they are unguarded. We chatted about record labels, upcoming musical endeavors, the realities of the music industry, and even personal things about life. One of the things I’ll always be grateful for is that his song “You Can’t Hold Me Down” (watch below) helped me realize I was biracial. (Read his breakdown of the song here). Mogli talks about being white and Mexican, and not really fitting in with either crowd growing up. His identity was kind of culturally ambiguous. Similarly, my father is Polish and my mother is Puerto Rican. I grew up around my Latino family but never had the skin tone, the last name, and the Spanish speaking ability to truly “fit in” even though I have plenty of PR pride.
There was no official interview taking place our convos were “off the record,” but I tell this story because it’s refreshing to me. It’s just artists being friends, being themselves, and opening up without feeling like they half too. Fans, churches, media outlets, labels, managers, etc, demand so much from artists. They always have to be “on,” they always have to watch what they say and “act right.” Nah, Mogli was just having fun as an artist exploring a place he’s never been. I was fortunate enough to be the tour guide and a set of ears for a good conversation.
A lot of my job is asking people tough questions or to explain their thinking and then trying to gather the best responses. It’s not to just sit back and be asked questions too and develop conversations that don’t follow a structure. I try to do that in my interviews anyway, but you get the idea. A change of pass is needed.
Oh yeah, and most importantly, Mogli said, “I’d give you five stars on Yelp.”