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Exclusive Interview: Michael Wallace


Redshirt Sophomore Cornerback, Mike Wallace, has spent his career at Penn State focused on more than just what happens on the football field. The versatile athlete is also an artist in a hip hop group, Primary Element, which released their fourth project Superheroes and Zombies (which can be downloaded here) on October 31, 2011.

NLD: How did Primary Element begin?

Wallace: Primary Element started was when I loaned my god-brother a pair of sneakers. He in turn gave them to the twins, Stanley and Stephen, who went to Our Lady of Good Counsel High School with me. I saw the twins walking with them after school and asked for them. Stephen said he didn’t have any other shoes, so the next day I went to their house. I came to find out that they had their own little recording studio with a $70 microphone and a small mini-keyboard. I asked if I could try and they let me. I always thought I was a good rapper, but when I got behind the mic[rophone] for the first time, it turned out that I was horrible. Since then we saw the work ethic in each other and help each other get better.

NLD: What’s the name of that first song and is it still floating around?

Wallace: It’s definitely out there and I believe it’s called The Love of Music.

(I actually found the song too)

NLD: How has your relationship with Stanley and Stephen grown since that time?

Wallace: It started as an acquaintanceship developing into a friendship and then into a partnership. As it kept growing, it became a brotherhood. It’s ironic that they’re twins, because I am exactly 365 days older than them and share the same birthday as them. No matter how much we fight or are bickering, it’s just all love because we are like actual brothers. We believe that fate brought us together and that is why we have so much confidence in our success.

NLD: How does going to Penn State and going to a different school than them affect things?

Wallace: There is both a positive and negative to it. At one point, Stephen went to Catholic University [in Washington D.C.] and all three of us were at different schools. We all had the potential to conquer three different regions at the same time. In a sense, we have done that, but obviously Penn State is a much larger school than both of them (Catholic in Washington, D.C. and Capital in Columbus, OH) combined. It’s good that I’m at Penn State and that I can expand the movement amongst 40,000 students. When Stanley and Stephen come to visit, they are embraced on campus as members of Primary Element. The distance slows things down in a sense because we can’t work together in person, but we can still send files back and forth, relate on songs through Skype and cut through different concepts.

I wouldn’t call the distance a speed bump or a hurdle, because we all want to finish our degrees. The pace is also good because we also don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves and make sudden decisions about something that we are not necessarily ready for.

(Photo by Matthew Brady)

NLD: What has been different for Superheroes and Zombies compared to past projects?

Wallace: Going back to the Ambition days, we recorded in three 48 hour long studio sessions in which Stanley and Stephen came to Penn State. We would lock ourselves in my dorm room until we couldn’t record anymore. Those are the moments that you remember with all the Zebra Cakes and Kool-Aid. Those are the memories that I’ll always be connected to, such as The Greatest, which the beat was called “Cavs” then, where it took me 38 takes and then Stanley did his verse and I was freaking out because it turned out so good.

We had some changes from Ambition to Superheroes and Zombies in terms of musical growth, individual growth, and team growth. With Superheroes and Zombies, I was fortunate enough to go back home for a couple weeks in the summer time. I would train in the morning and then be in the studio until the sun set. We recorded three-fifths of the album in those three weeks. When I returned to Penn State, I recorded the rest of the album in a hot sweaty attic that my friend was home sitting because I didn’t want to disrupt Justin [Brown] and Jordan [Hill]. For the recording process it went from recording with most of the guys to being by myself and having to find my own as an artist. I had breathing room and creative space. For promotion side of things, with the addition of Aidan Graven, we have incorporated blog support, which has reflected in the number of downloads.

As a team, we have incorporated not just music, but also artwork in general. It’s not just about music, and it’s not just about Primary Element in Stanley, Stephen, and me. The team has been able to artistically show you what Superheroes and Zombies is about without even listening to the track. That describes what the movement is all about. We are just kids doing big things, finding out niche in the world and expressing it.

NLD: How have your roommates, Justin and Jordan, and the rest of your team react to the whole Primary Element movement?

Wallace: Justin has been living with me since freshman year, and if you know Justin, he is one that does not hide his true feeling about things. He is a very critical person with himself and other people. He’s not too jocular. When he showed interest and support way back in freshman year, that was one of the things that made me want to continue doing what I was doing. If a teammate, who really doesn’t owe me anything and doesn’t have any reason to lie to me, shows interest, it makes me realize that what I am doing is actually decent.

Then there are the older guys on my team, in particular Ollie Ogbu, who was really impressed by the Hello World album and is always one of the first to ask me how to get it. Others like Daryll Clark, Andrew Quarless, and Evan Royster are older guys that I look up to and are big supporters in my music. Stephfon Green approached me in the hotel and we had a heart to heart about how he’s really proud that I have something else going for me and that I am passionate about multiple things. It inspired him to start thinking outside the box about what else he could other than football. That right there means so much to me because I didn’t realize I was affecting people that I look up to.

NLD: What have been some of the influences for you?

Wallace: My mother has always been an encouraging factor in my life. Anything that made me happy, she was supportive. There was one day that I wanted to be a cartoon artist and she told me to draw as many pictures as I could every day. She was the one that taught me how to play the piano in the living room of my town house.

My mother told me a story about my grandmother on her death bed while my mom was pregnant with me. Before my mother had an ultrasound, my grandmother touched her on the stomach and said, “This is going to be a boy and he’s going to be something special.” My mom didn’t even get an ultrasound. I throw any doubts that I ever had to the side because my grandmother was somebody that I never known, but has never been proven wrong yet. 

(This is mentioned in the song Kid Things at the beginning of Mike’s verse)

My cousin, D.J., was the first person to encourage me to play instruments. When I was young kid, he told me that music could take me places. Back then, he told meant physical places, such as Disney World and California with his high school marching band. At the time, I don’t think he realized what he was saying that music can take you places far beyond your imagination.

My father is one that you don’t want to disappoint. I had to quit band my senior year of high school and he was devastated. My sister is someone who looks up to me more than anybody and looked up to me before I even knew I was somebody to look up to. I never want to let her down.

NLD: What challenges have you faced throughout everything?

Wallace: As a competitor and a person of ambition, you always think that you can do more and that you can do better. If I finished my 40 time at 4.44 seconds, I wonder what I could have done to get a 4.43 or 4.42 seconds. It keeps me motivated and keeps me from complacency. You never want to be satisfied with what you do. You always want to be proud and you want to know that you’re getting better to accomplish something. I don’t ever let that voice in my head tell me that I’m failing, but instead to tell me to continue to get better.

NLD: How has music affected you both on the football field and in your everyday life?

Wallace: Music keeps me grounded in the sense that it forces me to have excellent time management and organization. My priorities are school, football, and music in that order. Music is something I love to do, so it’s something I must take care of first before I can get to music. It’s like finishing all your vegetables before you can ask for desert.

Music has also taught me the importance of teamwork, honest, and integrity. It also has taught me what family is outside of your biological family. There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for the people in my team. I feel that the people in my team know that and it is reciprocated with each other. When you have everyone on the same page like that, it takes the team to a new level. Music has molded me into a person that can handle complex situations, which is something that is a struggle for a lot of people. You don’t get these experiences outside of the classroom that can’t be taught inside of the classroom.

NLD: What is your vision going forward for the Primary Element team and yourself?

Wallace: Regardless of where Primary Element is, I want everybody in my team, including myself, Stanley, and Stephen, to be recognized and what we have done together. There is no textbook, guidelines, or rules for what we are doing and how we are doing it. We are building a movement by ourselves and playing it by ear.

If it had comes to it, want for everyone our group to be recognized. I want our graphic designer/web designer to be recognized in that field without that even being his trained occupation. I want Aidan Graven to be recognized as a very organized individual that can get someone to the next level. I want Stanley to be recognized as one of the best producers in America, because he is, and people don’t know that. I want to be recognized as someone that has changed the lives of people, while doing what I love. Then there is Kevin Garcia and it continues.

As a group, I don’t want to be known as a gimmick. I don’t want to be known as a group that was hear then left in half a decade. I want us to changed music, evolved with music, and  did so for the better of music. One goal of Primary Element is to change the perception of a rapper. Today, if you tell someone that you’re a rapper, they’ll laugh at your face because they think you shake booty and pop Kristal. We have to get back to the integrity, love, and passion that it takes to be an artist.It goes along with the title of Superheroes and Zombies. We brought back what people loved about hip hop in the first place.

NLD: You’ve see how people have been influenced by your music, are there any stories you’ve heard that have stood out for you?

Wallace: There is a girl from back home that is now a freshman in college. We didn’t go to the same high school, nor were we that close. One day I came back home, and I was talking to her at a party. She said, “Wallace, I’ve see you doing so well with this music. How do you do that with being a football player, step out of bounds and have the courage to do what you do?” I told her because I love to do it. I have only have one chance to do what I want and this is one life to live, so I have to make the most of it. She told me about how she wanted to be a fashion designer, but her parents want her to take the safe route at a regular university, but her heart and passion is in fashion.

After that conversation, Ambition dropped. She called me back after listening to it and said, “I’m going to fashion school. You inspired me to follow my dreams and pursue my ambitions.” That’s the message we’re trying to convey. Even if that was just her, that one person, I could hang up all of this tomorrow and be happy because I know in my heart that I affected at least one person for the rest of her life.

(Artwork by Kevin Garcia)