McKinley Dixon wasn’t born here, but much of the creativity and inspiration that led to his rap career was. It was during his years at Virginia Commonwealth University that he found the community and creativity to become the artist that he is now. He released three records while a Richmonder, “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?” (2016), “The Importance of Self Belief”(2018) and last year’s “For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her,” building creative and professional momentum with each offering. Like many local favorites, his artistic evolution led him out of town and he’s now a Chicago resident.
Named after books by Toni Morrison, his latest album “Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!?" is his first on the Berlin-based City Slang label and may be his most potent work so far. In a feature on the 27-year-old last May, Rolling Stone called it “brilliant.” A review in The Guardian praises its urgency and velocity. Dixon takes the recent praise and his elevated status in stride. “It’s just another day. It’s cool,” he says. “But you know, keep it pushin’.”
And he has. In a recent phone chat with Style Weekly, Dixon talked about his start in Richmond, his upcoming show at Gallery5 and why he may never write a book.
Style Weekly: Talk about how Richmond influenced your development as an artist.
McKinley Dixon: Richmond, honestly was where I was created as an artist. I did start rapping before I went to Richmond, but that's where I started taking it seriously. That's where I formed a community. That's where I did my first show. That's where I met the people that I know forever, you know? And it sort of became this thing where Richmond created what I am today … and some of the people that I loved for the first time in that sort of way.
So how does it feel to be coming back for this show at Gallery five?
Oh, it always feels great. You know … I wish I could be more frequently there, but it's just so far away. I'm excited to play at Gallery5 If of all the places I would play, it would be Gallery5.
How did you hook up with City Slang for this album?
One of my friends in City Slang actually came through just because I think they really keep their ear to the pulse when it comes to music. And they knew that I was popping and I was like, ‘Hell yeah, I'm popping.’ And then bing, bang, boom. We both got popping together. So I think they just sort of knew what was coming and I appreciate them being able to see that.
A lot of people describe your writing as literary. Have we ever given any thought to writing a book?
Nah, that's hard. And also way more obligation and way more things I got to know, you know? So I think I'll just stick to [song]writing. It's easier and it's quicker. You know, I only got to write an album and then I can sort of be done. A book? You never know when a book is done.
You were recently profiled in Rolling Stone. Are there any other benchmarks or milestones that you're looking for in your career to happen next?
I think that it's good to keep your focus and your intentions really in place because we sort of aim for milestones. You never know what could happen, you know? I think I just am aiming to keep it cool. Keep it cool and keep it me.
Tell me a little about what your live show is like.
Shows are dope. The Richmond one. We got, you know, full band. We got guests. We got Tribe 95 opening. And then we got Ant the Symbol with his band and his arrangements, and then we got us going on. Yeah, it's going to be … a crazy show.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Shouts out to the city.
McKinley Dixon performs at Gallery5 on Friday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. Ant the Symbol and Tribe.95 open.Tickets are $15-$17. gallery5arts.org