Mike Ellison isn’t an artist who is easy to categorize. The Ethiopian-born, Virginian-raised-turned-Metro Detroiter is a vocalist, spoken word performer, humanitarian and television and film actor. It’s enough to make you hide your own resume in shame.
Ellison got his start in music when his parents exposed him to what he calls an incredible collection of music that spanned several genres. He initially relocated to Michigan to work in the sports management and marketing field, but found himself switching gears.
“The vast artistry of Detroit inspired me to become a full time artist in several disciplines, particularly music, acting and spoken word,” Ellison said.
Ellison’s laundry list of accomplishments includes several independent albums, community outreach tours, film appearances in “The Ides of March” and “Into the Storm,” as well as television appearances on programs like “Detroit 1-8-7” and “Thursday Night Football” on the NFL Network.
“My current project is called ‘Flytanium.’ It blends the past, present and future into a continuum that reflects Detroit’s diverse sonic soundscape,” Ellison said. “My previous project, ‘Afroflow,’ is African-American inspired hip-hop. Meaning ‘flowing from Africa,’ it speaks to the roots of hip-hop and humanity.”
Ellison’s song, “Broken Mirrors,” is featured in the Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers’ campaign for the 2015 Chevy Silverado, and it’s not only an incredibly catchy tune, but also one with a very important message.
“It’s essentially about self acceptance, strength and identity,” Ellison explained. “We are constantly evaluating ourselves on a surface level, peering into mirrors that are framed by society’s depiction of beauty, wealth and importance. When we shatter that mirror, we are forced to look inward. It also debunks the culture of fear that certain segments of popular culture promote and exploit.”
The passion Ellison has for his music feeds right into his outreach projects, which include everything from tobacco awareness to literacy to maternal and child health care.
“My platform is ‘artistry, outreach, education.’ My team has employed entertainment as a vehicle to address a number of social issues and charitable initiatives, from history and education to cancer, bullying and teen suicide,” Ellison said.
You can read more about all of Ellison’s various outreach projects here.
Ellison finds inspiration for all of his creative outlets through purpose and his environment, explaining that hip-hop has had the most profound influence on his life.
“Not just hip-hop music, but the broad spectrum of the hip-hop culture that is often overlooked, if not distorted and misrepresented,” Ellison said. “And even I say that hip-hop is part of a broader continuum that has no true name. We identify various genres for the convenience of categorization, marketing and sales purposes.”
With so many projects on his plate, Ellison is always in the process of creating. He said that a big part of that progression involves driving around at night while listening to instrumentals or uncomplicated silence.
“I would liken it to Bruce Lee’s explanation of his approach to martial arts,” Ellison said. “He said, ‘we use no way as way. And no limit as limit.’ My process is ever changing and ever evolving.”
As a performance artist, Ellison feeds off of other musicians and the audience, which is his favorite aspect of performing.
“When you find just the right vibration and we’re all tuned into the same frequency, it feels like one family expressing itself to the universe. There is no delineation between those on stage and those in the crowd,” Ellison said.
As someone who came to Detroit with a purpose, Ellison speaks highly of the city that he now calls home.
“Legendary artists in nearly every medium have left us with legacies from which we can all learn, gain insight, inspiration and opportunity. The vast continuum of culture is invaluable if you can tap into it,” Ellison said.
Just a few of his upcoming projects include speaking engagements, spot dates, a film project and the official release of “Flytanium,” all of which you can keep up with by visiting Ellison’s official website.
“I don’t hope anymore. I just do,” Ellison said. “Therefore, in five years I’ll be doing everything I’m doing now with more insight, experience and creative alliances.”
Click below to watch Ellison’s latest music video for “Surrender,” featuring Jessica Hernandez of Detroit-based band Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas.