Conversation with Artist Michael “Ol Skool” Mucker
“The Foundation” by Ol Skool Mike
By Jay Sanchez
October 24, 2022
Artist Michael “Ol Skool” Mucker has been sharing his genius with the city of Nashville since the late 1990’s. The extraordinary self-taught creative, has been on a journey that organically has invoked ideas outside normality in individuals and communities alike with his “Distorted Urban Perspective.” Ol Skool has continued to diversify his experience and ability to create with several mediums: including body art and tattooing, animation and graphic design, automotive painting, commercial and residential murals, and textured artwork on canvas. As an ever-evolving artist from a young age of 7, Ol Skool still feels the best is yet to come.
He recently took a trip to a magical land known as Watertown, TN. I had the absolute honor and privilege of sitting with the legend himself on a beautiful Sunday afternoon surrounded by mother nature. We chopped it up on his personal journey through life, the art community, Hip Hop, family structure, growing up in Louisville, and why the show “Good Times” was a turning point in his creative journey. Listen; A legend is now speaking…
Raw, Uncensored, Unapologetic…
“I am the whistle, the inspiration is the wind, the Art is the sound.”
Jay Sanchez: Welcome to the farm sir, I appreciate you making the long drive from North Nashville. Very surreal to have a legend as yourself in my home today. And thank you for giving Number and myself the time to engage in this conversation.
Ol Skool: It’s an honor to be here. The drive out here was beautiful man, but damn you live deep out in the sticks.
Jay Sanchez: (laughs) Yea man, this right here is a long way from the city.
Ol Skool: “I see that, regardless this is beautiful man. My stress level went down 60 points in a matter of minutes.”
Jay Sanchez: Now that you’re relaxed and at one with nature, let’s get to it sir. I want to capture the years that lead to your artistic awakening. Let the reader know who Ol Skool is? Paint the picture that gives us better understating of your creative genius?
Ol Skool: To give you a better understanding of who I am and my artistic beginnings, you must first understand where I’ve been and where I come from. It all began in Louisville, Kentucky; life was a struggle for as long as I could remember. I was raised by my grandparents and let me just say that my upbringing was all fucked up. My environment was not the greatest; the 3 male figures around me were a preacher, a black panther member, and a junkie.
Jay Sanchez: Wow, I wasn’t expecting that sir.
Ol Skool: The man I looked up to growing up was always Muhammad Ali, he was the epitome of the male figure in my community and all over Louisville. Not having that in my life was tough as a kid, to make shit worse I was living in a home where I never felt welcomed. Comic books and cartoons were great companions in those early years. One day after a ridiculous argument over a shirt, I find out I was adopted. I was only 12 years old when I got the news.
Jay Sanchez: What was your first thought in that moment sir?
Ol Skool: Everything I’ve felt up to that point made total sense! I had always felt as an “OutKast” within my own home, as if I never belonged. “Just try and imagine this situation; a Rubenesque cracked out junkie pulls out a shotgun on me. She accidentally blows off her brother’s hand during a scuffle. Yeah man, that was my amazing aunt.” I had nothing but fucken chaos around me, thankfully art and Hip Hop kept me sane at a very young age.
Jay Sanchez: Take me to that period in time where you find art as an avenue of self-expression. What was the root of inspiration during those early years of life?
Ol Skool: Man, I was doing some type of creative shit from the early age of 7. I really got inspired and serious with wanting to be an artist by watching the tv show Good Times. The main character J.J. Evans was always painting right, so I always felt like he was the dopest artist ever. I was totally amazed by this individual’s ability to create artwork every week. One day my homie Chris comes around and tells me that J.J. did not paint those pictures on the show, “I was like yes he did.” He told me to watch the end credits and look out for the name of the artist, the art was created by the great Ernie Barnes man. That shit fucked me up bro, to the point that I stopped watching Good Times. This took me on a journey to the local library, my quest was to find other black artist. In the process I got to see more work by Ernie Barnes, my favorite piece was always “The Sugar Shack.” In the process, I was introduced to other painters I found inspiration in. Their work truly resonated with me. One of the artist I grew to admire was Aaron Douglas, a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
JS: What form of expression were you mostly using in those early years?
OS: I was doing a lot of drawings and graffiti. The “hustler’s ambition” within had me charging other kids $5 dollars to draw their names in graffiti form. They were selling like hot cakes bro. Up until this point I was stealing spray cans from the store, but eventually the rattling in the cans got me caught. The household I grew up in didn’t have the money to buy art supplies. My hustle was very much necessary. The money I was making was funding my graffiti supplies, all the spray paint I was using was top of the line my dude. The city was getting “The Message” in every wall I could possibly bomb. I had the streets of Louisville wondering who the fuck “Chilly Mike” was.
Painted in the 6th grade
JS: Oh shit, was that your tagging name?
OS: Yea man, all through my early years I was known as Chilly or Ice Mike. That was my rap name as well. To be honest, I had to give up my Big Daddy Kane aspirations because I was terrible on the mic bro (laughs).
JS: (laughs) That’s hard big dawg. Never in a million years would I have known you were an MC back in those days. I see the fun you’re having as a creative, but your childhood wasn’t the best and to make shit worst you find out you’re adopted. What kept you going during all that time?
OS: My love for art, hip hop, and all the fucken anger I had inside kept me going until I graduated from high school. I was so full of rage at 18 and needed something greater in my life. One day I’m watching cartoons and a commercial for the marines comes on, “at that point I knew what I needed to do.” I joined the marines right before the beginning of Desert Storm.
JS: Not only are you joining the marines, but short after your headed to war in the middle east?
OS: That’s correct bro.
JS: Can you take the reader to that time in your life?
OS: Definitely! That was a very interesting and wild period in my life. It was 1989, boot camp was no joke man. After they programmed me to be what they wanted me to be, I was shipped to the Gulf War in 1990. I was ready to do my duty for this country, not knowing what I was about to witness in the service. The level of disrespect amongst fellow marines was astronomical man! On top of that I was reading a lot of Malcolm, Marcus Garvey, and other literature that embodied the struggle of the black community. To make shit worse, I’m at war with marines who feel a certain way about me because of the color of my skin. Their hate was equivalent towards our enemy on the battlefield. “Hearing other marines say names to them that were very similar to the ones I’ve been hearing all my life really fucked me up bro.” Like really, it’s the 90’s and I’m still dealing with this shit. That entire experience was extremely eye opening for me, “almost felt as if I was on the wrong side the entire time.” Luckily, I had my airbrushing equipment, that totally helped pass the time. That eventually became another problem because they kept saying it was some kind of smoking pipe (laughs).
JS: Well, I got to say “thank you for your service” sir. I appreciate your sacrifice for this nation. I must also acknowledge the fucken shame that even in the act of patriotism, equality is still a major factor. The fact that it’s 2022 and we’re still dealing with unnecessary acts of hate, discrimination, and racism really appalls me. Couldn’t even imagine dealing with such hostile behavior from fellow service members in those days.
OS: Thank you for those kind words my brother.
JS: I’ve got to say that even though this piece is aimed to bring greater insight on the artist and their work, I love how this has become a bit of a testimonial. Now, tell me how the name Chilly Mike eventually becomes Ol Skool?
OS: Extremely funny backstory bro. After the service, I did a bit of time for some shit I got in back in Louisville. After the service, I was really on some gangsta shit. I get out on probation and decide to move to Columbia, TN. I was still dealing with some personal issues during this time, depression and anger were big factors for me. People had already been calling me Ol Skool because I’d been around since the birth of Hip Hop. One day I got into an exchange of words with someone and I told him “I’m so Ol Skool, I’m going to whoop your fucken ass then take you out for ice cream.” (Laughs) That stuck ever since man, I was Ol Skool Mike since that very day.
JS: That’s some funny shit, hope you got him some cookies n cream. Tell me, where are you artistically speaking during this time?
OS: Honestly, I was just focused on surviving after the war. I did some tattoo work, airbrushing on clothing and cars while I lived in Columbia. My state of mind was focused on making money and not so much on creativity, I was really just trying to find myself. That all changed when I had a life changing experience. I was stabbed 7 times, and my path to the other side almost became a reality. This totally changed the way I was seeing life at that very moment. So, I moved to Nashville.
JS: Wow. Your life can be a movie sir. Life has taken you places unimaginable to most. Once in Nashville, what changed?
OS: Everything bro. I started to get serious about art, street art was really taking off in the mid 90’s thanks to Rex 2 and his crew Thoughts Manifested. I was painting murals in clubs, restaurants, and all-around town. My work really was taking off at this time, started painting more on canvas, and I was challenging myself beyond my comfort zone as an artist. The Hip Hop scene was really dope as well. We used to gather at Club Med near Vanderbilt, the spot was a vibe man. Dope DJ sets, the atmosphere was very celebratory of the culture.
JS: What’s the greatest Hip Hop album of all time sir?
OS: Oh shit, you threw me off with that one bro! “Paid in Full by Eric B & Rakim; this album changes the sound and cadence of Hip Hop, and its structure can still be heard till this very day.” The Foundation this album built, and its groundbreaking masterworks created a musical revolution. The culture was very present when Rex 2 curated one of my very first shows. Hip Hop has been extremely influential in my work still today.
JS: You’ve been an active artist in Nashville since the late 90’s sir. Tell me what you see in the art community now that maybe wasn’t noticeable 20+ years ago? Is anything from back then still relevant today?
OS: I am seeing way more black and brown representation compared to those days. I’ve lived in the North Nashville community since I moved here. We are currently witnessing something powerful with all the creatives representing that side of town. Unfortunately, I am still observing some of the same roadblocks from 20 years ago. Some galleries are still very much one dimensional in who they show or represent, this still makes the conversations on diversity and inclusion relevant till this very day. I’ll leave it at that bro.
JS: So, would you say that we are moving in the right direction?
OS: Things are a lot better today, but even within society we’ve got some way to go. I see what you’re doing with this platform. To be honest, the fact that I’m sitting here speaking with you today tells me that we are most definitely moving in the right direction within the art community.
JS: I am honored to be here giving legends like yourself their flowers. Art and those who create it hold the key to a greater future. This platform allows me to expand on that vision.
OS: “Mr. White, who was a very influential art teacher growing up told me that there’s two words we must always use; earth and heart. Neither one of those words is possible without ART.”
JS: That’s powerful brother. Thank you for sharing that. Speaking of art, let’s talk about the work you been doing and creating for decades now.
OS: Wow, it’s been a lot of that bro.
JS: You have created 5 amazing series. Those include “The Fragility” series, “Deep Rooted” series, “Kiss Me” series, and the “Unrefined Collection”. My first introduction to Ol Skool was the “Hip Hop Quotables” series. As an admirer of you work, I’ve always felt like this series found you moving in a different direction. What inspires your creativity? Can you tell us more about your style?
OS: What’s crazy is that until I had a conversation with Michael Mcbride and James Threall Kill, I was just focused on creating pieces. My work until that point was very scattered. The biggest influence in my work is everyday life bro, the chaos that I’ve witnessed helps me take from experiences that have either affected me or helped me grow. “Let me put it to you like this, my work is recreating snapshots of my life through art and music.” My style is not a style, is more of an expression I feel that embodies a distorted urban perspective. Because a lot has changed in the past 10 years, the approach to my work has reflected that. The Hip Hop Quotables series for example, was inspired by a change in “Respiration” as both a man and artist. This series also inspired me to have a more distinctive approach with my work.
JS: Not many know about the awesome work you been doing teaching art to kids in various locations for the last 20 years. Can you share with us some of that experience?
OS: Such a dope experience. I’ve had the privilege of teaching some of the most beautiful minds I’ve ever met at places like Plaza Art, the Boys & Girls Club, and the Infinity Fellowship. Teaching art has been something I’ve been very passionate about for decades, these kids hold the keys to the future. They are the inspiration behind my latest body of work, the “Unrefined Collection”. The core relevance of this body work stands for the brilliance in children we as adults sometimes ignore. As adults we continue to teach old things, as we continue these habits children will only continue to do what we’ve done. Picture yourself teaching a room full of intelligent children! Now picture these kids breaking down quotes or scholar type conversations. These have been situations I’ve encountered over the course of years. These beautiful minds have inspired me tremendously. I am still working on a few pieces that will fully complete this body of work, very excited to complete this series. I want to find the space to share this conversation in the near future, but I also want this body of work in a time capsule experienced 200 years from now.
JS: Thank you for the wonderful work you’ve been doing in the community; your presence alone creates inspiration. The fact that you’ve inspired so many children over the last couple decades speaks highly of who you are and what you mean to the art community.
OS: Thank you. It’s been an honor and privilege to be in the same room with those amazing kids.
JS: What else is Ol Skool working on right now? Any plans for 2023?
OS: I am constantly creating brother. Come out and get tatted homie, I am still very active at One Drop Ink. Right now, I am working on some pieces for an upcoming show in February of 2023. The show is called “Back to the South Side (Pick up the Pieces)” inspired by the great migration of six million Black Americans to north, Midwest, and western states between 1910-1970. I’ll say no more, other than I have the honor to be presenting this body of work alongside TC at Coop Gallery. TC is a dope and extremely talented artist from Memphis, TN. This opportunity to bridge the gap between generations with such a talented artist makes me proud and has taken me back full circle. Legends like Michael Mcbride and James Threall Kill, once gave some up and coming young artist like myself and Elisheba Israel Mrozik a similar opportunity. I am eternally grateful for that experience, something that continues to inspire me till this very day. There are also other things in the works that I’m looking forward to sharing with you all. It’s time to make some noise. “I am the whistle, the inspiration is the wind, the art is the sound.”
Student Kammarah Stevens
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