Though he graduated in 2019, Mic Nickels’ college experience began more than fifteen years prior, when he transferred to UM from Eastern Connecticut State University.
“When I got to that campus, in that city, I just fell in love with everything about it. The campus is so beautiful. And, you know, that just draws you in right away,” said Nickels, rapper and author of the autobiography “Bars for Days.”
Nickels originally started as a communications major before switching to the B.A. program in Liberal Arts. He worked on developing his sound during his few years in Miami, learning how to write lyrics and produce beats while playing at local venues.
After dropping out in 2001, he moved to New York City, continued making mixtapes and performed with a jazz group called Nickels and Dime Ops, a complete 180 from his hip-hip background.
“I literally spent 15 years around some of the best jazz musicians in the world. And they really have influenced me, because even though the music is so different, the freedom that they have, on top of just being great musicians, you know,” Nickels said.
“They improvise the way that we freestyle as rappers. I feel there’s such a correlation between jazz and rap.”
After his 15-year hiatus, Nickels started taking online classes at UM to finish his degree in 2016.
“I called it Starbucks U, because I had a Starbucks on the first floor of my building in Manhattan,” Nickels said. “So every morning — after doing shows or working all night, I would get up in the morning, log on like this and I would just study. That’s how I graduated.”
One of the classes he took was ENG 408, Writing the Autobiography, taught by Professor Evelina Galang, a member of UM’s creative writing faculty.
“She was just really super encouraging. She was like, you’re one of the best writers I’ve had in years. Really, you should really do this. she gave me a lot of encouragement and that motivated me,” Nickels said.
Though Nickels started “Bars for Days” in this class, he suddenly found himself with more time to write when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Every day, I would write three to five hours,” he said. “People don’t even take you seriously at first when you say you’re writing a book, if you’re not really like an established author, you know? I’m like, I’m writing a book. And now here it is and I’m getting a lot of love.”
Piecing together vignettes and stories from his life, Nickels compiled an over 500-page manuscript before cutting it down to the 400 that make up “Bars for Days.”
Released in Dec. 2021, the book coincides with the completion of his solo album, also titled “Bars for Days.” Both the book and the album draw on his experiences as a child, college student, musician and parent. His Cuban, Jewish and Eastern European heritages also appear in both works, as well as his experience growing up in Hartford during the hip-hop revolution.
Despite the overlap, Nickels emphasized what distinguishes the two works.
“As a creative on each project, I wanted to make sure that they each flourish without being restricted by having to appease the other,” Nickels said.
The rapper’s vast musical influences shine on the album, with artists like André 3000, Redman, Boot Camp Clik and Outkast all contributing to his sound. Genres like Motown, Afro-Cuban, rap and jazz also appear, making for a well-rounded record.
The record also features Grammy award-winning artists like Method Man from the Wu Tang Clan, who Nickels cited as one of his major musical influences growing up.
“It’s still almost hard for me to believe,” he said. “When I first started writing, I used to listen to the way he rapped and try to emulate it. [So] for him to hear my music and be like, ‘Yeah, this is dope, I’m willing to put my name on this…’ I couldn’t tell you how proud I am of that.”
When describing his writing process, Nickels highlighted how writing song lyrics has influenced his writing as an author.
“The way that I’m structuring these sentences, in a way, sometimes it still feels like poetry,” Nickels said. “It still feels like there’s a cadence to it, even though it’s not an exact science, like doing 16 bars on a track.”
“I think it’s gonna be a thing where now it’s like, they’re growing from each other, you know. They’re gonna keep pushing each other, which is pretty cool.”
Above all, Nickels reiterated how important finishing his degree at UM was, as well as UM’s lasting impact.
“I just love that school and what it stands for, everything I experienced there. I made so many great friends there — all the people that are there now, all the alumni like me that are graduated. I just think we’re such a really cool community,” Nickels said. “I’m just super proud to be a Miami Hurricane.”