If you checked out my last Philly’s Phinest post on A.Rob, who has been doing incredible work fighting for justice in Palestine, then this name may sound fairly familiar. Voss was featured on A.Rob’s album, 42, where he absolutely killed it on the track “30,000.” However, if you’re well-versed in the Philly Hip-Hop scene, then you’ve probably already heard of him. He’s made a name for himself as a battle-rapper and emcee, showcasing his quick, witty lyricism everywhere from Philadelphia Streets to BET’s 106 & Park. But Mike Voss’s versatility doesn’t only extend to his bars. He can be found walking the runway at Philadelphia Fashion Week or in front of the video camera, finding passion in both acting and modeling and incorporating them into his number one love: music. With that being said, don’t let his pretty boy appearance fool you; if you step to Voss, you better arm yourself with some fire. He is not an easy target.
Mike Voss’s newest release, The Highwaylist, is split into three parts: Left Lane, Middle Lane, and Right Lane. Left Lane has just been released, and the subsequent parts will be released throughout 2021. The first part of the trilogy represents the fast lane in life, with Mike coming heavy on each track. The production takes on a more trappy approach, and definitely sets the bar for the next two parts with clever lyricism, hilarious one-liners, and ridiculously catchy hooks. Overall, it’s a super fun project, and is a perfect addition to your summer playlists. As Voss releases the ensuing parts of the trilogy, they’ll be added into this post with a mini question and answer segment to get more insight into the inspiration behind each lane. For now, though, Mike has just released his third video off of Left Lane for his track, “Absolutely.” You can watch the video below!
Premiere for “Absolutely”
If you enjoyed that, you can check out Mike Voss’s other videos off of The Highwaylist: Left Lane
Hey Mike! I’m so glad we finally got to do this. Your newest project has been on repeat. I first want to start with a few questions about your career as a rapper, just because you really do wear so many hats. When you first decided to start rapping, what made you decide to go by your real name?
Mike Voss: “I went by just my last name “Voss” for years, since I first started rapping. It rhymes with a lot and it’s easy to remember so why bother making up a “rap name”? But there’s this Norwegian water company “Voss water” that keeps getting more popular every year, you might’ve heard Drake or Lil’ Uzi shout them out. So when people would Google “Voss” it would be pages of shit about Norwegian water before you get to me. Plus there’s a couple other rappers called Voss or Lil’ Voss or whatever and I wasn’t trying to get confused with those dudes. So in 2019 I decided to go by my first and last name, since when you google “Mike Voss” you get me.”
It definitely is a catchy, memorable name. Straight to the point! Would you say that even with going by your own name, you still adopt a persona when rapping, or do you just rap as yourself?
Mike Voss: “I wouldn’t say I adopt a persona, but like a lot of artists I amplify different parts of my personality on different songs. It’s always me rapping as myself, but there are songs where I turn up aspects of my personality or emotions that are already there, whether it’s being super confident or being more emotionally vulnerable. Also not all of my songs are written from my present day perspective, some of them take from experiences I’ve had in the past too.”
I love that. It’s also really awesome to see that development in an artist, especially when you’ve been following them for a long time. It’s really cool to watch your favorite artists grow, not only in their crafts, but just generally in life as well. I feel like we see that a lot in the Philly music scene especially, because from what I’ve experienced, everyone seems really invested in each other’s success. Speaking of the Philly music scene, how has growing up in Philly had an impact on your flow and subject matter?
Mike Voss: “I know Philly gets mad if you say you’re from Philly and you’re technically not, so I’ma be real. I been living in the city for years now but I’m from Levittown, about 20 minutes northeast of Philly. I started hopping trains to the city to go to concerts or battles or open mics since I was a teenager before I moved there, so it’s been influencing me since the beginning. I truly believe some of the greatest pure rappers ever came out of Philly, and there’s definitely a signature “Philly flow” that was poppin’ back in the early 2000s (IYKYK). But I always pride myself on being original so I never really used that flow. I’ll slip into it here and there to pay homage but otherwise I’ve always just came up with my own. As for subject matter, yeah definitely. I’ve seen a lot of wild shit in Philly. It’s a crazy city that hardens you pretty quick, especially if you’re around some of the shit I used to be around. But I’m grateful for that because it’s inspired me so much.”
It definitely is a very…certain… city. There’s really nothing quite like it. I feel like I still am relatively sheltered and I’ve seen some shit, so I can only imagine the stories that you’ve been able to tell in your art. I think every readers from Philly will appreciate your honesty about being from the burbs, though. They get aggressive about that shit. Are there any artists in the city that you frequently collaborate with? Or any you haven’t gotten the chance to work with yet that you really admire, or hope to work with in the future?
Mike Voss: “Just put out my 2nd record with my guy Tone West, “Eureka”, love working with him. M11son who you know is my brother from way back, we’ve done a bunch of songs together. I got a couple new records coming with my dude Patrick Feliciano, one of the best singers I’ve ever met. Reef the Lost Cauze is my guy too, we’ve worked together before but this new jawn we got coming is CRAZY. There are definitely a gang of artists I want to work with but I never made “checklists” like that. If it’s meant to happen then it will, but in the meantime I’m not looking for a big name feature or anything.”
Always a big shoutout to M11son, and lots of gratitude to him for introducing me and you (as well as a plethora of other incredible artists!) Definitely a great idea of letting those collaborations just happen. Timing is always key! In terms of performing in the city, are there any standout shows or experiences that you always look fondly back on? Any pivotal moments in your career?
Mike Voss: “Too many to even think of. Obviously all the shows I’ve done with artists I’m also a fan of: Mac Miller (RIP), Ghostface, Pusha T, Wale and Cam’ron were some of my favorite ones. Also back before I had any notoriety when I was just a hungry kid taking the train to Black & Nobel on Broad & Erie to battle. That feeling of being the underdog based on what I looked like gave me so much motivation to win every time, which made earning respect mean even more. Philly is a brutally honest city but if you’re dope they let you know it.”
You are spot on about that. If you can gain respect in this city, that holds a lot of weight because it does not come easily. And Philly definitely is the place for a good underdog story. At what moment did you realize that you know longer held that status, and had instead become a force in the music community? Was there a particular concert venue that you performed at, or a certain artist that gave you a crucial co-sign?
Mike Voss: It became real to me after I did 106 & Park a while back. I started making money from shows and features, and having more attention on my music. Then from there, just playing big stages like the TLA and Union Transfer were milestones. I headlined Underground Arts a couple times, the turnout being almost sold out (600 capacity) showed me I was making some noise. But I’m realistic about the fact that I’ve still got more work to do to get my music out there more not only in Philly, but all over the place.”
Having that clarity is imperative, but it’s also an amazing feeling to be able to celebrate those wins! With that being said, I have to congratulate you on your newest release, ‘The Highwaylist: Left Lane’, which is a three part project. Can you explain the premise of the trilogy?
Mike Voss: “A couple “industry types” have advised me to “stay in my lane” meaning to pick one style of music and stick to it since that’s easier to market than what I do now, which is whatever I want. Fuck that. I’ve never wanted to be the type of artist who you can easily categorize or compare to anyone else, so I decided to double down on my eclecticism instead of taking that same old tired advice. I feel like now is the best time for that anyway since there ain’t really any rules to this music shit anymore. Each of these three projects represents a lane on the highway: left, middle and right. And each one is focused on different parts of my personality and different sounds I’ve either already been doing or new ones I wanted to try. I never heard about any other artist doing something quite like this before, so I know it’ll be an uphill battle to get people to catch on but I’d rather fail as a dope original artist than to “succeed” as a biter following the same old tired formula.”
I love that concept. Not only does it require a lot of innovation just to create the idea behind it, but then it needs even more skill to create a cohecive project that does reflect one specific style without sounding repetitive, which you definitely did. So kutos to you! What made you choose to split it into three parts rather than just put it together on one album? That sounds tedious!
Mike Voss: “I was recording a lot of new songs that I had no idea how to release. Originally I was just going to drop hella singles, that’s what all the “tastemakers” say you’re supposed to do. But I’ve always loved the process of putting projects together, down to sequencing the tracks. So I figured instead of dropping one long ass project with 20 something songs or just dropping 20 something singles, why not drop 3 short projects throughout the year and tie them all together?
Once I realized that I could break up all the new songs I was making into 3 even groups, my brain just started working to tie it all together.”
Thank you for not releasing a 20 track project. As much as I love to support my friends, I cannot focus enough on that long of an album, haha. The first part of the trilogy, ‘Left Lane’, really did have the perfect number of songs. Long enough to give you a bit of a rotation, but short enough to make you anxiously await the next two parts! Can you provide us with some insight into ‘Left Lane’? Is there a particular theme or mood to it?
Mike Voss: “The left lane on the highway is the fast lane, so this is all SLAPPERS. Just bangers with production that bumps in the car and subject matter that doesn’t get too deep, but it’s still smart, it’s still clever. But yeah as the cover shows it’s just me being the most ignorant, reckless, fun version of myself for 20 minutes.”
Okay, I did NOT put two and two together initially. That is incredibly thought out, major props to you! If someone were to only listen to one song off of the project, which would you suggest?
Mike Voss: “This answer might change tomorrow but right now I’d say “Eureka” with Tone West. It was the first song I dropped. The beat slaps (produced by DCX Batman who also is mixing and mastering “The Highwaylist”) and we both ran that shit. Just a hard ass record.”
And we are actually celebrating the video release of one of the tracks off the project, “Absolutely”, which admittedly, is my favorite song. Is there a story behind the video?
Mike Voss: “No real story behind this one, we just had fun with it. I ran around acting a fool on my homie’s rooftop, plus he’s got a green screen so we had a lot of fun with that just being cheesy on purpose. It’s really just a fun little bop, didn’t want to overthink the visual by doing too much.(By the way, I’m dropping a video a month for the rest of the year).”
We’ll have to keep an eye out for those other videos! You also have another release coming up in June. How is part two of the trilogy, ‘The Middle Lane’, going to differ from ‘Left Lane’? How are the two projects going to piece together?
Mike Voss: “I don’t want to say too much yet but it’s pretty different from ‘Left Lane’ for sure, definitely more diverse as far as production. What I can say is it’s got a couple different types of songs on it with different vibes but they’re all inspired by one general theme.”
Do we have an expected day for the third part, Right Lane?
Mike Voss: “Not yet, but I will say the fall is the perfect time for that one to drop.”
Is there anything you can reveal about part three yet? I need some inside scoop here Voss!
Mike Voss: “You know I can’t reveal anything about that yet! haha
But if you’re reading this you can follow me on IG and Twitter @whoismikevoss to keep up with everything I’m dropping for the rest of the year and beyond :)”
Amazing! Thank you so much for giving us a bit more detail about The Highwaylist! Keep an eye out on this interview because as Voss continues to release the rest of the trilogy, he’ll be answering a few questions about each part. And if you haven’t as yet, you can stream ‘Left Lane’ everywhere now.
It’s June 25th and Voss and I came back together to touch on his new release, ‘Middle Lane.’ Mike slows things down on his 7-song project, and took the time to give me a bit of backstory to it.
Hey Mike! Loving this new release. Why don’t we jump right into things. Can you lay out how the Middle Lane differs from Left Lane? Did you go about the creative process the same way?
Mike Voss: “Left Lane was all bangers with heavy hard production, hence the fast lane. Middle Lane is very different. It’s got uptempo and downtempo songs but they’re all tied together by the concepts of sex, relationships, just my experiences with women in general.”
I can definitely see those themes throughout it! Like you mentioned, the Left Lane had more upbeat tracks to represent the fast lane. Is there any symbolism behind driving in the Middle Lane for you that you incorporated in this project?
Mike Voss: “Not really any driving symbolism in the lyrics but I purposely called this one Middle Lane just bc of how it changes different tempos instead of being all fast or all slow paced.”
Do you have a favorite track on the album?
Mike Voss: “I love them all for different reasons so this will definitely continually change but right now as I type this it’s Chopper. That’s probably my favorite music video I have right now too.”
Oh the music video is so dope! I’ve linked it below for all of you to check it out. And finally, to wrap things up, how does this prep listeners for the final piece of the trilogy? Why did you choose to release the Middle Lane before the Right Lane?
Mike Voss: “I don’t think it preps them for Right Lane at all but I think that’s a good thing. This project is much different than Left Lane and Right Lane is gonna be much different than both of the ones before.I figured going from left to right just made sense, since that’s the order people usually go on the highway when they’re about to exit, so Right Lane had to be the finale. But we’ll talk about that in the fall.”
We’ll come back when ‘Right Lane’ drops, but in the meantime, you can stream ‘Middle Lane’ down below!
If you’ve been following along on this journey, then you may know that Mike Voss has finally completed his trilogy with the release of the last part of The Highwaylist: The Right Lane. Voss managed to maintain his momentum through every single release, and this one did not disappoint. We got together to talk about the last part and how it contributed to the project as a whole, which you can check out below:
Hey Voss! Super excited to have you back to discuss the third part of The Highwaylist! Congrats on everything! I’m super excited to hear more about this project, I’ve been very invested. For this last part of the trilogy, why did you decide to end it on this note? Was there a particular reason for saving the Right Lane for last?
Mike Voss: “Usually the right lane is the last lane you’re on before you exit the highway, so it made sense to make it last. Just felt…right. sorry 😂”
Haha I love it! I honestly thought it was just because that’s where you slow things down, so it’s even cooler to me that you thought one step further than that. Was there a certain theme you tried to highlight throughout the project?
Mike Voss: “Just the highway theme, which is a metaphor to put a focus on my versatility as an artist. I’ve always been able to make all these types of songs, I just needed a way to showcase that diversity in a more up front way. The Highwaylist was the best way I could think of to do that.”
And you managed to do so while keeping things cohesive and interesting, so major props to you! Which of the three projects would you say was your strongest lyrical performance?
Mike Voss: “I’m proud of the songwriting on all three, but if we’re talking strictly lyrics, definitely Right Lane. The focus of this lane was to show that I have one of the best pens in the game period, and I think that really shines through.”
I love it. What about production? Any of the lanes you like the best in that regard?
Mike Voss: “I can’t pick just one simply because they’re all so diverse with so many different sounds. It depends on my mood. Big shout out Vizions who produced 13 of the 21 songs, dude is such a versatile producer. And shout out to the other fire producers who helped make The Highwaylist happen: Level 13, Northwave, DCX Batman & Lester London.”
Definitely have to give them all their flowers, they killed it! Would you say that all of the lanes were within your comfort zone or did you branch out more in one than others?
Mike Voss: “I can’t say any of them felt outside of my comfort zone just because I’ve never been a rapper who even HAS a comfort zone. But I guess to the majority of my fanbase who tapped in earlier in my career when I was doing more of the battle rap stuff, the Middle Lane was the most unexpected content wise. Like Jamie Foxx said on “Slow Jamz”, you can’t forget about the ladies.”
Haha, I could see that. There really is something for everyone. Did you face any challenges as you created the project? I don’t know how you didn’t get burnt out, it really was one project after the other!
Mike Voss: “To be real with you it all fell into place pretty naturally, as far as making the songs and dividing them equally into the three lanes.I guess the toughest part was thinking of how to release and market the projects, just because as far as I know no other artist has ever done a concept quite like this before. Three projects all tied together under one concept, in one year. I’m just proud and relieved to be done now lol.”
You should definitely be proud! This is a huge accomplishment. If you haven’t already, take the time to check out some of Voss’s project. The visuals are incredible as well, and his newest video, ‘What’s Mine’ may be my favorite one yet. Huge thank you to Voss for taking the time to talk to me about The Highwaylist!