Sometimes, being weird can be a lonely business. Take Gary Milholland, aka Mission Man, veteran creator of “hip-hop without ego.” For 15 years, Gary’s been toiling away in his home studio somewhere in the boonies of Ohio, cranking out album after album of his bizarre version of hip-hop, doing everything from producing and playing all the instruments to, as he proudly notes in his video bio, “booking, promotion, choreography, music video production and direction, web design, and anything else that goes into living the life of an independent musician.” Yep, when your music is as out there as Mission Man’s, you pretty much have to be a one-man operation.
The message behind Mission Man’s music—his mission, if you will—could best be summed up with the title of one of his songs: “Do What You Love.” Mission Man loves making music and he’s going to keep on making it, even if no one really “gets him.” And believe us, the subtext of the video to “Do What You Love” is clearly “nobody gets me”—it’s pretty much just an endless series of shots of Mission Man performing at various near-empty bars, probably mostly at open mics, which he travels to all over the Eastern U.S., chronicling his journeys in heartbreaking detail on his website. “I received almost no response whatsoever, though I could see one person making fun of me,” reads a typical entry. After the open mic, “I found a Wal-Mart parking lot to sleep in, instead of a rest area. It’s nice to mix things up a bit.”
Back home, Milholland supports his Mission Man habit by delivering pizzas for Papa John’s. He even wrote a song about it, called “Chillin’ at the Papa,” which is actually among his catchier numbers. If the folks at Papa John’s had any sense, they’d license the song and make Mission Man their new spokesperson. I mean, look what Jared did for Subway—and that guy can’t even rap.
Some would argue that Mission Man can’t really rap either, and it’s fair to say that his flow is, well, unconventional. His verses do actually rhyme, for the most part, but rhythmically, they’re all over the place, and Milholland delivers them in a droning, Lou Reed-like monotone. He backs this up with instrumentation—guitar, bass, keyboards and electronic drums—that’s even more unconventional than his vocal delivery. “I have never learned music theory, nor have I ever learned how to play any other musician’s music,” Milholland defiantly declares on his blog. “I just make music from my heart.”
Earlier this year, Mission Man released his latest album, liberty island. (The album and song titles are all in lowercase to “reflect the lack of ego in Mission Man’s music,” according to his press release.) Milholland says the new songs represent his growth as an instrumentalist: “I’ve been really listening to Prince and other artists I have always loved, and most of all I am more free when I’m playing.” He’s also promised to make a video for each of liberty island‘s 11 tracks. If they’re all as wackadoodle as this computer-generated clip he created for the song “wonder,” we can’t wait to see the rest of them.