Miki Vale is a hip-hop artist, playwright, teaching artist and the founder of SoulKiss Theatre. She's also part of the cast and creative team for The Old Globe's forthcoming production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
As part of KPBS's "Influential" series, we asked Miki Vale to make us a playlist of songs that have influenced her career as an artist. Here are the tracks she chose, in her own words.
'Inside My Love' by Minnie Riperton
Music from my childhood is critical because, for one thing, we weren't able to just listen to it anytime we wanted unless you bought the record. But as a kid, I didn't have money. I wasn't going and buying records, so I listened to what my parents played and I listened to what was on the radio, and every time it would play, it was just so exciting to get to hear it. It was just like, "Oh, this is it. I get to hear it again. It's so exciting." So just for it not being immediately accessible makes the music even more precious.
Minnie Riperton, "Inside My Love" — I actually don't remember when I first heard it. I just feel like Minnie Riperton's music was just always a part of my life, always a part of my childhood. And that particular song, it just moved me because it sounds ethereal, the way the beat comes in and the way her voice is just so soft, so it always stuck with me.
'3 Tha Hard Way' by Bahamadia
Bahamadia's "3 Tha Hard Way," was just one of the first times I heard three women on a track just barring out, just all raps, no chorus or anything. And Bahamadia's raps on there are just incredible to me. It's just rap. It's not about anything in particular. It's just bars on top of bars, and that style of creating a song really stood out to me.
Some of the first rhymes I actually wrote — because before that I would rap, but it would mostly be freestyle, just off the top. So when I finally sat down and started actually writing rhymes, I wrote them to that beat because I loved that beat so much. It was like I was the fourth person on that song in my head.
[Note: explicit lyrics]
'Got to Give it Up' by Marvin Gaye
I first heard Marvin Gaye, "Got to Give It Up," probably at my grandmother's house. In my family, there was always music playing. My dad played the drums, my mom was always singing and there was just always music playing, soul music, and the family would get together and these songs would be playing — and Marvin Gaye was always playing.
"Got to Give it Up," it kind of represents my childhood, and I remember just hearing that and you can hear people partying in the background. And I was a kid at the time, but I just wanted to be at that party. It just sounded so fun. It sounds free, it sounds happy, it sounds so Black and so beautiful and soulful. And it just made me want to create Black, beautiful, heartfelt music.
'Africa' by D'Angelo
D'Angelo's "Africa" also transported me. I used to just play that on repeat. It's another one that just sounds so ethereal. And he says, "Africa is my descent, here I'm far from home," and that's how my spirit feels — that whole song just speaks to my spirit. And then when I learned that it was about his child and that just gave it another level of beauty to me. And it sounds almost like a lullaby, which I thought was so creative.
It sounds roots. It just sounds like this sound that's coming from the earth. And I like those ethereal sounds, so just knowing that it's okay to have this soft, beautiful sound.
'Tell Me Something Good' by Rufus and Chaka Khan
Rufus and Chaka Khan, "Tell Me Something Good," that was one of those songs I heard growing up during my childhood, and I grew up in the '70s and '80s, and funk music was everywhere. When I was a kid, that was what was played in my home.
Me and my mom would clean every Saturday, and we'd get up and listen to soul music and funk. So I love creating soulful music because I grew up on soul music. Anytime I heard it, it struck me. The way that the bass line comes in, it's just so funky. And Chaka Khan, the way she's singing on it and that hook, "Tell me something good." It's just so funky. And that one definitely had a huge impact on me.
I think there are connections to music that influenced me growing up to this work that I'm doing in the Shakespeare — The Old Globe production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." And I'm also creating original music for the production. And that's just been fun. It's been definitely something like I've never done before, a challenge that I've never done before. It's very fast-paced. I'm doing some of the scene transitions — I'll be rapping during those transitions. So here's an example of one of them:
"Things in the palace are not going well. Will love prevail well? Time will only tell. This crew of players sounds a little hood. Let's see what's happening in the magic wood."
Thinking about what the work I'm doing with the Old Globe and the "Midsummer Night's Dream" production — there are Afrofuture themes in the play. And those African sounds, like the song D' Angelo's Africa. There's those drums in there, those African drums. And I'm using the same type of drums in the music that I'm creating for this production. So those rhythms have stayed with me.
But those rhythms come from — they were with me before I heard that song or any music. Those come from my spirit. Those come from my ancestors' spirits. So those rhythms are going to be within me forever. And they'll always come up in some way in the work that I do.
— Miki Vale, July 2022
[Note: explicit lyrics]
This interview has been edited for length. You can find a slightly longer playlist of Vale's influences on Spotify here. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" opens at The Old Globe with preview performances beginning July 31, 2022. Opening night is Aug. 6, and the production runs through Sept. 4.