Mike Russ plans to be the next big thing out of San Bernardino. He says he has the Lil Uzi effect: when he walks in the room, he’s mysterious. People want to know who he is, what’s he doing, what’s his motive? Grinding as an independent artist, he knows his time awaits. And when it happens, you’ll know. Read more…
Breaking into the music industry is a story in itself. His utilization of social media in the digital space has not only helped his own music career, but helped hundreds of others chasing their dreams. His own LYF Records is designed to help up and coming artists do what they love and create music, while getting their brand out there for the world to see.
To celebrate his 26th birthday, the “On” rapper bought the penthouse at Caesars Palace and invited 40 artists and producers to conjoin and make music all night long. Young California was in attendance to chat with Mike about his upbringing, utilizing social media, new music, and current goals.
Talk about being from San Bernardino, what were you seeing growing up?
It’s been a crazy journey. I grew up in San Bernardino, my mom and dad did an amazing job taking me out of the bad parts as fast as they could. From that experience, I learned that you always have to level up. Seeing all that, it inspired me to level up because I’ve seen all my family go through it. They go through stuff till this day. [chuckles] They’re still over there, but it’s been insane. I’ve had people close to us taken away from us. Things weren’t right and doesn’t feel right. I wish we could really fix that in the world, that’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what my company Live Your Future is about, taking that negative out of your life.
Who were you influenced by growing up?
Honestly, my dad had a really big affect on my life because he was always wanting the better for everyone. Not just me, but everyone. Everyone knew him as someone that’s hard on you, but he always taught me perspective. Taught me how to make sure you’re living right. “Don’t worry about living good, don’t worry about living better, just make sure you’re living right.” That’s a big thing. My dad and mom inspired me a lot because seeing where we came from and giving me so much really young, I wanted to do that for my son when it came to be.
I didn’t have a baby when I was doing music so I was trying to get there. Now I feel I’m pretty close, but it’s surreal. Because I have my little sister here — I’m yet to bring my entire family through this experience, but my family inspires me. Even if they’re not doing great, they inspire me because I want them to see that someone who’s in their immediate circle can do it: get out and help you. So why don’t you come over here and do the same?
At what point did you realize this music thing was for real?
It was real when I got an invitation to a hills party. Everyone knows how parties in the hills go. I ended up seeing everybody in the damn channels. I saw Nickelodeon stars, Disney stars, I saw everybody. I’m like “damn, this is crazy. I want to do this shit.” That was a kickback with Cory in the House. [chuckles] It was so funny. I realized this is somewhere I want to be in the music industry. Seeing all the celebrities network and hang out all of the time, build their brands together, that’s what got me into the music industry.
I learned that you got to make money, so that’s how it became real. My mom and dad said “if you want to live here with fiancé, you have to pay rent.” I was 18. The next day, I decided I’ma be a rapper. I was always a rapper, but I decided “alright, I’m going to do this forreal.” Started networking on Instagram, my numbers jumped up 10K, 20K, 30K. Finally, someone’s like “let’s work!” I said “$500 for a verse.” He’s like “what’s your PayPal?” I’m like “one second,” because I didn’t even know what Paypal was then. I made a Paypal, I’m like “alright, let’s do this.” Sent over the invoice, boom. Got paid. First time I received a text message telling me I got paid, “damn, this shit is real.” So I took that money and put it into an LLC. Made sure I was legit. Made sure the shit was all recorded so that I could live right, like my dad always told me.
Talk about building your social media, it’s not easy getting 10K, 20K, 30K.
It is if it’s all you want to do. If it’s not what you want to do, then it’s hard.
How did you do it?
Basically, it was my first time having an iPhone. I went out to this hills party, they’re asking me “yo, what’s your Instagram?” I was like “wtf? I don’t know…” Even though I knew my IG, I said I didn’t have one. They’re like “you don’t have one?” I knew I had 600 followers. [chuckles] I’m like “nah, what’s your number? I’ll text it to you.” Everyone gave me their numbers like nothing. I’m like “thanks for your numbers.” I went home, made an Instagram with my name Mike Russ.
I networked into the industry with the real social media people who are running these huge accounts, all the meme pages and everything. I’m like “damn, this is really the world they’re doing over here.” I dug deeper into it and started creating a bunch of promo accounts. Started promoting a bunch of artists, promoting myself, and promoting everybody. Everybody started knowing what LYF Records was. Everybody’s like “I don’t know who this kid is, but I’ve heard of Mike Russ. Who is he?” I’ll even make my mama tag your account like “yo, what’s good? Who’s this guy?”
I made sure we created a software that automated everybody’s account and started engaging with people who were hashtagging their life away saying “sign me, unsigned artist.” We found you. Created a huge funnel, looked through them, then went and hit you guys up to see who was serious about it. Long journey but five years later, now we’re bringing out all these artists around the world to penthouses to network with people in the industry.
What are some goals for yourself at this point of your career?
Honestly, I have connections in the inside that are literally the biggest people in the industry. They’re my biggest inspirations, being a power couple and doing what they do. A long time ago, my mom was an actress and she always wanted to be in movies on the big screen. I wanted that too, but I didn’t know how I wanted it. Her acting coach was with her for so long.
Long story short, her acting coach married Beyoncé’s mom. His son was someone that my mom introduced me to. Before they got married, me and him built a relationship. Just feeling that I was so close with someone like that wasn’t that I cared more of his relationship because he’s that person, it’s because he called me a friend. He made me feel comfortable like I wasn’t trying to get nothing out of him, and that’s how I live. I was nervous that anybody would think that of me because I’m that normal organic person, but I wanted to become so successful that Jay-Z knew who I was. He never knew that his little brother was my buddy. I wanted to be the small circle that it’d full circle come around, that’s my plan.
Let’s talk about your music. Your last single was “On?
Funny story, “On” came out last year. It leaked out. I wasn’t supposed to have it out, it got on platforms and hit 500K in one day.
Who leaked it?
I don’t know. All I know is I had to report it, take it down. Then I claimed it and made it mine. I didn’t care how many plays it had, I knew I needed to do it the right way. I let a lot of people in my life. As you see, I have a bunch of random people on the internet that come and work with me. People love my music, but I never know what’s really going on inside in their minds. I provide it all for them, but I have to be careful of who’s listening to my music on my laptop, on my drives.
“On” came out because I was taking so damn long to drop music. [chuckles] They’re like “when the fuck is new music coming out?” I fucking made this album called Loading… Vol. I, it’s coming soon. Then I turned it into a brand. Everybody’s like “that’s dope, let me get one.” Everybody started buying it, sold out my store from my merch. I’m like “damn, this is dope.” Being independent, it was a lot for me to handle.
First time big time independent record label and artist, I was going through ups and downs and learning as I go. I’m not perfect. It may look cool on Instagram. I may be in jets, I may be in penthouses, but I’m just like them. I’m checking in, walking on the same floor you’re walking on. I’m still trying to figure it out and get it going but that was the point: to show people who cares if I have autotune on my voice? I’m fucking dope. Listen to the words and know the next music coming out will not be what you expected. I’m throwing you off guard, that’s all I have to say.
Anything else that you want to let us know?
I love and appreciate everybody who’s showing me love and who contributes to my vision. Mike Russ 2020 Loading… Vol. 2