That One Song: “Sun, I Rise” by McKinley Dixon | Music | Style Weekly

Icarus could fly — so high the sun melted his wings. King Midas could turn whatever he touched into gold, but that meant he couldn’t put food in his mouth. The takeaway? Success has consequences, and Chicago-based rapper and former Richmond resident, McKinley Dixon, has firsthand experience after releasing his 2021 album, “For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her.”

That work achieved new levels of acclaim, but praise comes at a cost when you’re mining personal and collective trauma for your art, and Dixon took up the mythical lessons of Icarus and King Midas when writing his latest single, “Sun, I Rise.”

A lot has happened in Dixon’s life since the release of “For My Mama,” including moving to Chicago, signing to the Berlin-based, City Slang label, and returning to Richmond to record his next LP, due out in 2023. Despite relocating, Dixon’s creative connections to this city run deep. Another former Richmond resident, Angélica Garcia, sang the vocal hook of “Sun, I Rise,” and Dixon recorded a live version of the song in town at Spang TV Studio — part of a series that will accompany forthcoming album tracks as they’re released.

Dubbed the Kitchen Table Sessions, those alternate takes were also captured on video, with cinematography inspired by and named after the famous photographic series by artist Carrie Mae Weems. A bright light shines down on Dixon as he provides illumination of his own, attesting to the cost of notoriety and accompanying feeling of free fall.

Style: How did “Sun, I Rise” start to take shape?

McKinley Dixon: I really like the cadence of chanting “Sun, I Rise” at the end of some sort of verse, sort of like a spell. So I recorded that, and then I recorded the full chorus as a vocal draft and sent it to my harpist, Eli Owens. They sent me back about three and a half minutes of playing the harp over top of the drum beat with that chorus every 35, 40 seconds. From there, I was like, “Well shit, I have this really beautiful lead harp line — I don’t know where to go from here. I can’t change anything, because I don’t want to get rid of the beauty of it and the intricacies of the harp, so what do I do?”

I sat on it for a month and some change, and that’s when I first linked up with Sam Koff of No BS! Brass [Band], another local legend, and he had just started getting into more production stuff … He didn’t really rearrange it, because I already had the arranging and the composition down for what I wanted everything to be, but he added horns and a rough bass and all these rough instruments over top of it, and gave it this new life. We sent it back and forth, and then we got Angélica’s vocals on the chorus.

What draws you to the myths of Icarus and King Midas?

My last record was really big, but I made two records before my last record, and my last record was the one that dealt with a lot of grieving and stuff like that, so it’s kind of crazy how that one was my biggest one … It became a thing where it’s like, “Where do I go from here if this trauma response is what made everybody hear it?” And that is where the golden fingers came in, because at the the beginning of the song, and even at the beginning of the record, it’s a power to have this touch that is gold, but by the middle of the record, the character is trying to peel the gold off of his fingers, and then by the end of it he doesn’t have any gold touch, but he has found community. He sort of came back home.

Where did the recording take place?

I made most of the demos probably between February and May, and then Sam Koff, me and Kyle Williams, the engineer of the record, all went into Spacebomb [Studios] and we spent 12-hour days for like a week bringing people in, having different instrumentalists from all over. No BS! came in, a bunch of people that I’ve worked with for years in Richmond came together, and we would just let them come in whenever to record. Then whatever we had, we would spend the rest of the day making it work.

How are you enjoying living in Chicago?

I actually really love it. It’s interesting the amount of [ways] that Chicago differs from Richmond, especially when it comes to Black culture. It’s a very prominent city in a lot of ways for Black folk. Richmond is prominent in the sense that it’s the Confederacy, it’s on the Slave Trail, it was originally Black Harlem, a lot of different things. Whereas with Chicago, I feel like the history, when it comes specifically to Black people, is complicated, but people have the ability to maneuver on their own grounds in their own area. Living now in a neighborhood that is predominantly Black, compared to living in the Fan or the Museum District, has really shown me that magic of a community that is trying its hardest.

What made you want to style and name the series of alternate takes after Carrie Mae Weems’ photography?

I’ve always loved that series. That series is probably some of the best photo work that I’ve ever seen … [It] perfectly encapsulates what I’m trying to get across in my music. I think it’s so brilliant how she can take one picture, maybe have one person or two people in it, just showing one emotion really fully, and you get the whole story from it … That came along when we were thinking of, “What is a beautiful way to simply say something elegantly?”

To hear and purchase both versions of “Sun, I Rise,” and to see their accompanying videos, visit

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