The track that got her attention? “ErykahBadu,” a nod to the singer and her message, which often deals with topics like institutional racism and inner city life.
“Tryin’ to get back to my roots. In my car and I’m listening to Erykah Badu,” Austin sings. “It can’t all be so easy, so what about you?”
Austin — real name Michael Austin — recently completed a music video for the song, which will be released Nov. 11. He’s hoping Badu will check out the video as well.
“We’re hoping that she will see it and share it like she did with the original song,” Austin said. “That’s the goal.”
Austin planned to make at least one music video for “T I N T E D” but wasn’t sure which song he wanted to start with.
“I put the project out and wanted to let the listeners determine which song they wanted a music video for,” Austin said. “Whichever song they shared the most would be the one.”
When Badu posted the song, that sealed the deal.
“Once she shared the song, I knew for sure,” Austin said.
The music video, which features a Harlem Renaissance theme, was directed by Jared Milburn, a graduate of Michigan State University’s media arts and technology program. It was shot at The Avenue Café on Michigan Avenue.
“We had about 20 or 30 people, all dressed up in 1920s Harlem Renaissance attire,” Austin said. “The Avenue was really open to letting us use the space. They loved the idea.”
Austin, 20, is fascinated by the explosion of African-American culture that came from the Harlem Renaissance. He compares it to the birth of hip hop in New York in the early 1980s.
“The song talks about going back to the roots — the roots of music, back when music was pure, and there were no hidden agendas,” Austin said. “People made music just for the love of it.”
He also sees a parallel, albeit on a smaller scale, in the resurgence of Lansing’s REO Town. Austin is a member of All of the Above, a community-focused hip-hop collective that recently set up a classroom and recording studio in the district.
“REO Town is our headquarters,” he said. “I’m there pretty much every day, writing or working on something. That’s home for all of us.”
Austin is working on his debut album, which he plans to release this spring.
“I started my full-length album in April, before ‘T I N T E D’ even came out,” he said. “I’m putting the finishing touches on that, but it won’t be released until March or April. We want to give it four or five months to plan out the marketing so everything is executed perfectly.”
For the upcoming album, Austin worked with several local musicians, including singer/songwriter Taylor Taylor, hip-hop artist James Gardin, drummer Austin Tipton Jr., Detroit artist Stoop Lee and producer Shaquille Brown, aka PianoBoy.
“It’s definitely a community feel,” Austin said. “I believe that collaborations lead to the best kind of creativity. I love bouncing ideas off people. Community is everything to me.”
And while “T I N T E D” was his first solo effort, Austin sees it as a blueprint for future projects. The driving idea behind the EP is tinting one’s vision, metaphorically, to see the world in a different light.
“My whole goal in music is to shift people’s perception, how they look at things,” he said. “That’s always going to be the backdrop of anything that I put out.”
Austin has a day job to pay the bills, but he hopes the album will open up opportunities to make a career out of music.
“I would like to focus on music and not have to worry about work,” he said. “What I’m working on right now, I think it has the potential to do that.”
While he realizes that a full-time music career may mean a move away from Lansing, he’s hoping to stay in the area. And if he has to move, he expects that he’ll often come back to visit.
“I’m always going to give back to Lansing,” he said. “It’s all about community for me.”