We at Jesus Wired recently had the opportunity and privilege of speaking at length with Mike Sarge, whose new album, Excuse The Honesty, was just released July 23rd. Mike Manning is a Georgia native and a 25-year-old Senior Airman (and impending Sergeant) in the United States Air Force. In this, Part I of a two-part interview, we discuss Mike’s background as a person, believer, in music, and his thoughts on many things witness- and gospel-related.
JW: So, what’s your history with the Lord and with the church?
MS: As far as history…I’d say, for the most part, I’ve been your usual kid that was raised up in the church. You know, had two very supportive parents that felt it was very important to make sure that their kids were raised up not only knowing the Lord but having that relationship. So that was one thing that they focused on. But in the midst of that, growing up I also learned that it’s a journey. It is a journey having that relationship, learning that, you know…just because my folks raised me to be this way doesn’t always equate to me being close with the Lord. So that was a journey that I definitely had to learn on my own.
JW: So, basically, what it sounds like you’re describing is your faith becoming your own…
JW: As a believer, I can relate to that. It wasn’t always roses. At one point I even identified as agnostic. So amen to that man. So what about the music? What’s your relationship with music in general, what has that been like? And then, more specifically, with hip-hop…and when would you say you first fell in love with hip-hop?
MS: Man, um…so just taking music in general, I’ve always just loved music. There were times where…you’ll see stories about artists how, when they’re explaining their story, they were always on the piano or doing this or that. I was always that kid that, as soon as we got in the car (to go somewhere as a family), I always had a pair of earphones on. It was something that was just natural.
…and it wasn’t just a hip-hop thing. Everything from pop to jazz…I was just a fan of it all
Granted, now I can say that I’m a product of hip-hop and gospel and a lot of that has influenced me and it’s awesome from the standpoint of: I’m able to relate to things that are going on in the hip-hop culture. That being said, I’m also faith-driven so that everything in the way I see the world is from a spiritual, biblical perspective. So music has definitely influenced a lot of what I do.
JW: I’m going to ask you this, because you mentioned how it was almost as if your headphones were surgically attached, if you will – were you one of those kids who, you were just always able to entertain yourself? Almost like being your own best friend?
MS: Yeah, oh yeah! Music was one of those things that could always understand me even if I felt like other people couldn’t. And that’s where I felt like music was always there, even though sometimes, if you’re not careful, you can allow music to control your emotions.
JW: Indeed, indeed! Word to Marshall Mathers.
JW: Let me ask you this; what about other hobbies outside of music?
MS: Oh man…in many ways, I’m a little bit of a jack-of-all-trades. So, I love sports. You know, basketball, football, I just love sports. I’m from Georgia, so I’m a Bulldogs fan. I’m Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks…I would say Georgia Tech but, I’m Dawgs first, so GT is sort of on that back tier for me. But yeah, hobbies…I love graphic design, which helps me be even more creative with my music. I actually designed most, if not all, of my album covers and for my singles. Video games, just like everyone else…I can geek up every now and then…
JW: Specifically, what types of video games? RPGs, sports games…
MS: Aww man, it’s a mix, because I like good stories…
JW: So you like the epics, like Oblivion or Assassin’s Creed-type, would you say that’s correct?
MS: I’m gonna say…let me give you my top ones. I’m a huge fan of Gears of War, I like the Gears of War series. I am a fan of the earlier Assassin’s Creed. Um, I think my favorite one was the second. I did like the new Batman series, the new Arkham series is really, really good. I love the Tomb Raider series. I do like sports games.
JW: Tomb Raider is a classic, I just gotta say that!
MS: I’m ready for the next one. I’m a little upset they took away my college football for a while…
JW: Let me ask you this man, switching gears from that to maybe more of an intellectual side, getting outside of hobbies…the question at hand is, what subjects – because you’re clearly a smart dude, I don’t have to ask if you did well in school – but what subjects really kind of grabbed and held your attention?
MS: Honestly, anything that dealt with being creative, thinking outside of the box. Many people always kind of think art, creative writing, things like that…but, most importantly, I always had this love when it came to opinionated essays and things like that…
JW: You like critical thinking!
MS: Yeah, because it forced me to not only see what do I believe, how I feel about certain things and what is behind those beliefs…but also, how do other people think? Are their foundations legitimate? So those were things that always attracted me.
JW: Ok, well, speaking of foundations for other people’s opinions and whatnot, I want to go ahead and change lanes and talk about what it is that you do now and revisit something we were discussing earlier off-record…you were telling me that you’re military, what branch, by the way??
MS: I’m in the Air Force.
JW: Ok, so you’re Air Force Intelligence. Now we won’t delve too deep into that, for obvious reasons, leaving out the specifics of what it is that you do. We’re gonna respect that…but you said something that really caught my ear, and this is tying back into other people’s foundations and you just told me how you found it really interesting to see how all these highly intelligent people that you work with react to faith. Expound on that if you will.
MS: Oh yeah, definitely. One of the most interesting things about my career field and working in intelligence is that I get to work with some of the smartest people alive. And, there was a point in the first couple of years I was working within this career field that I realized – wow, these are some very smart people – but, it seems like often, depending on what the topic is, people can take certain subjects very personally. One of those topics would be faith and religion. And it just seemed like…whenever, say, Christianity or Jesus, creation, God, all those things…would come up around certain people, there would be almost a sense of hatred or just very, very strong distaste towards it. And, as a believer, when you get the sense that it’s just being bashed and criticized consistently…when you’re trying to fight back (defend the faith), sometimes you reach a point where you want to just say, “I’m done with it. I’m gonna believe what I believe, they’re going to believe what they believe.” But, there became a point where I saw myself, saw my heart, kind of hardening towards those people. And I realized it was wrong, and I just asked the Lord to work on me, and soften my heart and so it would help me see them from His perspective. So now, specifically in the last 2 or 3 years, I don’t see them as “haters”, or stubborn people who just don’t want to understand what I believe…I see them as hurt people. Because that’s exactly who I was before someone actually sat down and explained to me that relationship portion where I was actually able to understand what a relationship with Jesus meant. So, come to find out in talking with my co-workers, there were a number of these people that were either agnostic or atheist and had strong sentiments against Christianity, who were actually raised in the church.
MS: Like, a good 70, 80 percent of them. And the sad part is, that I’ve actually met people who actually WENT TO SEMINARY…JUST so they could come back and attempt to disprove it.
MS: And that’s a strong, strong disdain. And a lot of it is…when you talk to people and are able to sit down and ask, “what made you leave the faith?” or, “what made you say, ‘no, I’m done with this’?” Is it just because you legitimately don’t believe it? What happened? And when you’re able to build relationships and talk with people, most of it is either church-hurt or when they really needed to look to the church for answers or just to help them in a real time of need…they felt like people within the church weren’t there. Or when they sat down with them to discuss or seek explanations of matters within the Bible or interpretations or different versions…and all that other stuff, that, if you’re willing to stand up for, you do need a solid foundation, you do need to have a basis for it, so that nobody can just say anything to you and you just falter…
JW: Right, like, you can’t just listen to a Joel Osteen “sermon” and regurgitate that!
MS: And that’s it…
JW: You can’t just listen to any sermon and regurgitate it. The clichés, I feel like is one thing that is crucial and really just turns people off about the church and, I would say, the Western church. Specifically, American Christians, evangelicalism in general. But, there was one thing that I wanted to say, a lot of time I’ve often found – and I agree with everything that you just said, by the way – but, I’ve also found that…people have been…they’re almost like spoiled children. Like, this one time I said this prayer to God for this one thing…”God just help me with this and I’ll never ask you for anything again.” And God didn’t come through, so I’ll never bother God again, I don’t need him! Or…God please heal my bubby’s brain cancer. But she died, so now they’re just like “Eff God”, that sort of deal. People are just angry and bitter towards God.
As a matter of fact, I shared with you off-record about my brother, who just got out of the Army. Grew up in the same home I did, with an imperfect mother…and that’s another thing, many people grew up in the church with raging, hypocritical parents, and that’s a big cause of the falling away also. I definitely was in one of those homes. But my mother’s been dead about 14-15 years now. I took me 5 or 6 years after she passed before I could find the grace to truly forgive her. Not to make matters about me. Point is, my brother is how you described those co-workers of yours in many ways…
MS: Yeah, yeah…
JW: It’s exceedingly obvious to me…but it’s also ironic, because people are clearly angry with a God that they claim does not exist.
MS: You know what, and I’m learning from you, that you say that…it’s definitely two-sided and you’re absolutely right. Because there’s a side where people are hurt and then there’s where people are upset upon a request that wasn’t met. What really makes it worse, often times, is like you mentioned with the clichés. A lot of times, believers will sometimes forget how it felt to be hurt or to have that doubt towards God. And so, instead of being there and just being loving and caring towards those people that may not understand, we’ll toss clichés, like, well, “You know, everything happens for a reason.”
JW: You know what? That’s part of the problem too. We have this sense of entitlement towards God, because we haven’t been discipled the way that the church should be discipling people…so, we have this cream-puff Christianity. You know, we have this fluffy, happy-go-lucky, “the world is your oyster” sort of thing and then…when that illusion is shattered, sooner or later…matter of fact, life is crazy and we’ll run into stuff probably on a daily basis that, if your faith is that sort of weak faith, you’ll question God every single day to the point of insanity. If that’s the case, it’s only a matter of time…you don’t find God in the world or the things of it. You find God in the Word, right? And people don’t want to pick the Bible up. I remember when I perceived it in myself, like, it’s such an arduous task! People view it like it’s this dry, dusty, antiquated tome (when, in fact, it’s Living Water). And it’s unfortunate, but you’re right. We do need to show people more grace and act like we’ve been somewhere before, like we’ve had doubt. Because we all have. I was doubting a few days ago, not God’s existence, but His faithfulness, the calling and purpose on my life, so on and so forth. And that’s something too: this illusion people have that when you come to faith and receive Christ as your Lord and savior, those struggles somehow magically dissipate on their own. And we know that’s not that case. It’s work, it’s devotion.
But let’s change gears man! This is a little bit heady.
I want to ask you; who in hip-hop, and it can be anybody, secular, CHH, whatever…who are the five MC’s that have influenced Mike Sarge the most, in no particular order?
MS: Oh man, oh man…five emcees…oh man…
JW: I know, because if somebody asked me that question, I’d be doing the exact same thing you are right now. So many dope MC’s out there, on all sides, so…
MS: You know what, I think if…this is tough. If I had to say, off the rip, there are definitely three off the jump that come to my mind. One, I would have to say Lecrae. And I say that…I say that with a smirk on my face because, um, especially Christian artists, that’ll be the first name on their list. The reason why I say him is because I was listening to him before he ever won a Grammy or any of that stuff, before so many people knew his name.
JW: Yeah, I had never heard of Lecrae until 2012 homie! I was in the world, I was in the streets, I wasn’t you know…hip to it, I guess.
MS: Yeah, I was listening pre…hmmm, if I had to say a year, I was listening to him maybe in ’04.
JW: Like around Rebel?
MS: Like before then too…He affected me from the standpoint that, I was listening to an artist that not only clearly knew his Word, you could hear it within the lyrics. But you could feel the relationship, like he was talking directly to you. He was saying, “Look, these are my struggles. I’m not tryna front about it. I’m putting it out in the forefront so you can see God’s grace over my life.” And when you’re a kid, especially growing up in Atlanta and all you want to do is be accepted, be popular, play sports, and all that…to have a positive role model that you could look at and say, I’m living this life just like you’re trying to. You know, that meant a lot to me
JW: And it’s almost like guys, not just Lecrae, but he and people like him have made Christianity “cool”, right…
JW: But if we look at it through a balanced prism, Christianity has ALWAYS been cool. It’s the coolest thing in the world. But because we’re in the world, but not of it…Christianity is something that exists in the world, but the world does not embrace it as cool. But, we know different. Lecrae is engaging the culture, he’s always been real and transparent. So props to ‘Crae man.
MS: And that’s why he’s definitely on that list. There’s no way I could keep him off that list.
JW: So who else you got man?
MS: Okay, he’s one. Another one is, I’d have to say, Bizzle. And the reason why I put Bizzle on this list is because of the contrast between him and Lecrae. And you know with Lecrae, there’s this Unashamed aspect, but with Bizzle, there’s this edginess that if I was to just walk up on Bizzle and ask him a question. I KNOW that he would just keep it 100…
JW: He might even say n***a…
MS: Yeah, I know right! It’s one of those things that…he would keep it real with me. And I love that! You can hear the transparency in the music, so hearing him, it allows me to focus. To understand that no matter what I do, whether in music, ministry, engaging with people in the community, I need to continue to be me. Don’t get puffed up because God’s called you to something or because of your purpose. Continue to show people every now and then that you still fall, that you still make mistakes.
JW: Yeah man, absolutely…
MS: That’ll keep you humble, number one, and it will keep you connected with people.
JW: It’ll keep you honest, you know what I’m sayin’?
MS: Oh yeah! Yeah, that’s why I love seeing him. And then hearing from Lecrae, from a musical standpoint, I love the way that Lecrae balances his albums.
JW: Yeah, I was thinking that too earlier. Just his structure, sonically, the flow of his projects. Yes. I would say he brought excellence. But think of who he came up under. I said I hadn’t heard of Lecrae until 2012, but Cross Movement, actually, my mother gave me a CD of theirs when I was 15 or 16 years old…it was the first Christian hip-hop that, when I heard all that CM brought to the table, I thought, “Yo, this is tight.” So, who you got at #3 man?
MS: I have…Drake.
JW: Please say you’re talking about early Drake?
MS: Oh definitely, yes. That’s definitely what I’m talking about.
JW: Okay, good, because I’m definitely diggin’ what Joe Budden is doing to dude right now. Just being honest with you…
MS: Ok, so, I say Drake, mainly from the standpoint of – he’s actually the only one I can think of around that time that made you feel like, you didn’t have to be a thug or a gangster or any of that, but you could still be successful with your music.
JW: Yeah, Drake’s always been himself man…
MS: Yeah, he’s always been himself. That’s something I’ve always respected just that he’s kept it authentic.
JW: Rule #1 of hip-hop!
Around this time, my old-school tape recorder died. Mike continued his list with Chris Brown, calling him a “generational talent” and the only artist we’ve seen in this era who can even begin to hold a candle to Michael Jackson’s combination of voice, dancing, songwriting and crossover appeal. Mike then went on to say that Mouthpi3ce is another one of his key influences inside of hip-hop because of his deep convictions, integrity, and the fact that he is priority-driven. He even shared part of a face-to-face conversation between the two artists where Mouth divulged that there have been times recently where he’s backed away from the music in order to ensure that he is taking care of matters on the home front and that his marriage isn’t suffering at the expense of music or ministerial pursuits or ambitions. Mike conveyed that this gave him a newfound level of respect and appreciation for Lamario Houston (Mouth’s “government” name), the man.
Please check back in with us soon for Part II of our interview with Mike, as we discuss his new album Excuse the Honesty, the artists with whom he collaborated, his artistic process, recording process, and many more interesting nuggets from behind-the-scenes of an active, independent Christian hip-hop artist.
Read our review of Excuse The Honesty here