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Dave Miranda might've been born 15 years too late. Ask the Phoenix rapper, who performs as Mr. Miranda, about his influences, and he speaks reverently about old-school hip-hop artists like Run-DMC, Gang Starr, Masta Ace, and Ice Cube. Even though Miranda was in grade school when those acts were at the height of their fame, their influence is all over Miranda's work.
Miranda's latest release, an EP with producer Jimmy Nelson titled The J&D Experience, features Miranda's smooth, laid-back flow over a collection of Nelson's retro beats. Miranda is unapologetic about his love of classic hip-hop.
"The term 'hater' is used so loosely," he says. "If you don't like anything that's out now, you're just automatically a hater. They'll tell you 'Get out of that Golden Era bullshit, man. It had its time. Live on. It's the new millennium. We're taking it to another level.' Well, I don't necessarily know if I wanna go to that level yet. Speaking on just hip-hop in general, I fell in love with the culture. I fell in love with the sounds. It wasn't about the Mercedes-Benz. It wasn't about the jewelry and the women and stuff."
Miranda has clearly found a kindred spirit in Nelson, who lists DJ Premier, Madlib, Pete Rock, and RZA as hip-hop heroes but also finds inspiration outside the boundaries of rap.
"Really, more than hip-hop influenced me, jazz, soul, and classic rock records pushed me even more," Nelson says via e-mail. "From Marvin Gaye to Bob Dylan, Miles Davis to The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix to Django Reinhardt. They all sounded like they were married to music, rather than just tinkering around the edges."
The duo met in 2004, when Nelson was a member of Valley hip-hop crew the Society of Invisibles and Miranda was performing as Smooth.
"When I first met Arlo from TSOI, I was really young and new to production in general," Nelson says. "He saw the potential;, the crew kicked my ass around a little bit and taught me a lot. I started progressing, and producing a lot of music with Nonsense and Sneaky Pete. Some of it was good, some of it was pretty bad. I met Mr. Miranda around this time, who was the 104,642nd musical artist to use "Smooth" as his stage name. I generally just recorded music for him — he'd bring other peoples' beats to the studio and record his tracks. When I convinced him that sometimes the music sucked and that it needed more elbow grease, he started recording over some of my beats here and there."
Nelson contributed a beat to Miranda's 2008 mixtape, The Wonderful World of Mr. Miranda, and Miranda liked it so much that he hasn't recorded with another producer since. Nelson provided all the beats for Miranda's 2009 album, Let's Get On with the Music, as well as the latest EP.
The two don't necessarily agree on everything, however. Nelson prefers staying behind the scenes, working on beats in the studio. He rarely performs live and takes a pragmatic view of the local hip-hop scene.
"It's like going to the flea market," Nelson says. "You exchange your currency for the goods and services you want. You end up with some neat little knickknacks and leave the rest for somebody else. That's really all I have to say about that."
Miranda, meanwhile, is one of the most active members of the local hip-hop scene, regularly performing at local shows and opening for Ne-Yo, Common, Evidence, Cappadonna and Aceyalone, among others. He toured the Midwest with MG! The Visionary in 2006 and joined fellow Valley rapper Random on a tour of the Southwest last year. Touring and performing live is hardly an unusual business plan for independent artists, but when it comes to the Phoenix hip-hop scene, it's a relative rarity, something Miranda thinks has held back the scene.
"You've gotta get yourself out there," Miranda says. "That's the only thing that I think has a lot to do with it, is that a lot of these artists, they don't do indie shows. You've gotta invest in yourself, man. If you can't invest in yourself, why should anybody else? A lot of artists want to just sit there and wait for that handout. You can't have the hitchhiker's mentality. You can't wait for that handout. You've got to really go for yours. A lot of artists, they may have the talent, but they don't necessarily have the drive."
That's not to say that Miranda doesn't do his part to unify the local hip-hop scene. He's an active member on ArizonaBeats.com, a message board that serves as an online hub for all things related to the Valley scene. He also contributed a verse to "Back to AZ," an epic, eight-minute protest song that closed out New Times' anti-SB 1070 comp, A Line in the Sand. The song featured a dozen local MCs and DJs — some of whom had never even met each other before — and was written, recorded, and released (video and all) in little more than a week.
"The way it went down was real, real crazy," Miranda says. "It was like this whole trial process, like this five-day trial. He [who] contacted me on Thursday. I knocked my verse out that Saturday, gave it to him that Sunday. Monday, we shot the video. Wednesday, it was released. It was just that fast."