Usually when an artist drops an album, especially a debut, they want to spend some time pushing it out to the public — performing the songs and building a following around what they hope to become a defining piece of art.
For local singer, rapper and producer Midas Black, his debut album Free Midas, which dropped in December 2021, is already just a reminder of the past.
“A lot of people are telling me, ‘You should keep performing the songs, keep pushing the album,’” he told Queen City Nerve. “The only reason I don’t want to do that is, it’s really dark. I’m not in that place anymore, I’m really not.”
The Monroe native recorded Free Midas when he was struggling. Relationship trouble, financial issues and an over-reliance on self-medication had Midas Black, whose real name is Daniel Thomas, feeling trapped in a cycle of depression and negativity that he could only escape through self-expression and music.
What came out was an impressive, if downbeat, collection of 11 songs that are rooted in hip-hop but mix in aspects of R&B, mumble rap and emo alternative. He’s proud of the work, and rightfully so, but listening back to it brings up mixed emotions.
However, the feedback he’s received after dropping the album has helped him boost his self confidence, and learning how to love himself has helped him build stronger relationships with his family, his friends, and God, he said.
But before he could get there, he had to free Midas.
The making of Midas Black
Like so many other musicians, Thomas’ interest in music started in church, watching his mother and grandmother sing as he grew up in Monroe. It remained only a minor interest, however, up until middle school, when at age 12 he received a laptop from his school in the hopes it would help him do his homework.
He was pleasantly surprised to find Audacity, an open-source digital audio editing app, downloaded on the computer.
“Instead of doing schoolwork I would record songs on Audacity — record beats then record me rapping over that,” he said.
He took inspiration from his three favorite rappers at the time: T.I., Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West, with sprinklings of Gucci Mane, Ying Yang Twins and other Southern rappers. He got put onto Outkast thanks to his three older brothers.
After having fiddled around on Audacity, he grew an ear for production, specifically citing Drake’s Thank Me Later — which features beats from a list of iconic producers that includes Timbaland, Swizz Beatz and Kanye — as an album where he truly awoke to the possibilities of production.
Though he trailed off from the production side of things during his high school years, he never stopped writing songs.
Growing up in Monroe, a suburb located about 20 miles southeast of Charlotte, Thomas didn’t have trouble finding kids who shared his interest in hip-hop, but he felt as though many weren’t sure how to pursue their passion.
“A lot of kids were actually really gifted, but I feel like coming from that area they were afraid to pursue that because we all run into the idea of ‘What if.’ Like, ‘What if it doesn’t happen,’ or ‘What if people don’t like it?’ They start selling themselves short of their own expectations, and I started falling into that as well.”
It wasn’t until he moved to the Queen City that he began to truly pursue music as more than a hobby. When Thomas moved from Monroe to Charlotte to attend UNC Charlotte in 2018, he built a studio in his bedroom, which didn’t leave a lot of room for a bed. He put in a futon and slept on that. He would wake up every morning in the studio and go to sleep in his studio.
He was listening to a lot of alt emo rapper XXXTentacion at the time, specifically the 2018 album ?, which inspired much of the sound he would curate on his Free Midas album.
“I was listening to X’s album and realized you can still create art that you love and still be versatile,” Thomas told Queen City Nerve. “You don’t have to be versatile within a box. I feel like that’s what’s happening a lot; people want to curate versatility within these restrictions. I feel like it’s being broken slightly, but whenever it gets broken it gets labeled too much as straight pop. It gets watered down. I just don’t like that. Just call it what it is; call it art. Call it something you wasn’t expecting.”
It’s hard to know what to expect when listening to Free Midas, and that’s just how he wants it. The tracklist keeps a throughline but jumps around in genres and vibes.
“King Freestyle” is a melodic bop with soul. “Yerp” is an auto-tuned joyride, the lightest track on the album, while “Lord Farquaad” is a repetitive banger over a Latin-style acoustic guitar riff. The song ends with a ferocious verse that Thomas describes as channeling his “raw aggression” at the time.
“Pony Boy” takes listeners into a psychedelic space, while “Normal” is a straightforward two-minute track that follows Thomas through all the anxieties of a day in his shoes at the time.
The album peaks as it ends, with the final track pairing Midas Black with one of his closest friends, Charlotte-based R&B singer Trent Dominic.
“This World” isn’t just the only track on the Free Midas album with a feature, it’s also the only one on which Thomas plays the guitar. He describes his own playing as intermediate, but he knew he wanted to play on one of his own songs, so he woke up and set a goal to finish a whole track by the end of the day.
“I was trying to push myself: ‘OK, sit with your guitar, come up with something, after you come up with something, take a little break if you need to, come back to it and start writing lyrics. Don’t just be like, “OK, I made this little guitar riff, made this guitar melody, that’s cool.” Naw, you need to come back and actually make something from it.’”
The process resulted in the most emotional track on the album, in which Midas Black most directly confronts his own demons over the acoustic track before going into the refrain, “Of course I’m afraid of this world/ Too much hate in this world/ Can’t stay in this world/ Ain’t made for this world/ Ain’t safe in this world/ Man I hate this world/ You can take this world…”
Midas gets free
Though he was feeling more driven around his music, Thomas began to lose focus on other aspects of his life while recording Free Midas. He was working a full-time but low-paying job while also attending UNC Charlotte. He eventually began to burn out.
“While I was creating the album I was in a really dark place,” Thomas told Queen City Nerve. “It was relationships, the lack of financial stability, and man, I was getting cross-faded, drinking and smoking every day not trying to feel the pain and emotions I was feeling.”
He dropped out of UNC Charlotte in 2020 and continued to work on music with his friends, collaborating with folks like Dominic, Neb Hagos and Damani. Though it took him to some dark places, once he finally finished Free Midas and released the album on Dec. 15, 2021, things finally began to turn around.
“It really helped me out of that dark place. I wanted to be out. That’s why it’s called Free Midas; I wanted to be free from the depression and the negativity, everything that I was dealing with mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”
The album release was a wake-up call, with so much support coming from each corner of Thomas’ life that he was able to shake himself out of the cycle he had felt he was stuck in.
“I never received that kind of support,” he said. “That’s been driving me to want to keep creating and keep making songs — the stuff that I love, the stuff that I love making and really pushing the pen in that aspect.”
Thomas decided to go back to school, starting at Fayetteville State University early in February. He studies English, which he hopes to help him with songwriting. He feeds off the inspiration he gains from life at a small HBCU campus, where he said he doesn’t feel like just a number.
Musically, he wants to continue to work on his sound, both behind the boards and behind the mic, while working to collaborate with and inspire others who came up in the same DIY way that he did — kids from Monroe or any other town who don’t think they have any options where they live.
“What I really want to do is try to be somebody that the next generation can look at and understand that it doesn’t matter exactly where you came from. You don’t have to come from the slums, you don’t have to come from Atlanta, you don’t have to move to L.A.,” he said. “You can do whatever you need to do and make the music you want to create however you want to create it no matter what you look like, no matter what your name is, no matter where you came from. As long as you put your heart into it, there’s always going to be people that fuck with it.”
But before he can act as the driver, he has to keep the drive. He’s been putting together new tracks, venturing further into different genres inspired by bands like Tame Impala and Alabama Shakes.
“I definitely want to still have elements of it that are hip-hop and R&B — those are my roots — but I still want some pop elements and alternative elements,” he said of the new work he’s experimenting with.
One thing that will certainly change in Midas Black’s music is the tone of the lyrics. He’s in a whole new mind state, after all, with a new outlook on what artistry can look like.
“After coming out of that place, and seeing the love that [my friends and family] had for me for showing that vulnerability, I was like ‘Man, I can still be vulnerable, but it doesn’t have to be me being vulnerable and sad. I can be vulnerable with the amount of love that I have for people. The amount of love that I have for myself.’ And now [the music] is definitely brighter.”
So no, you can’t take this world. Not yet.
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