Underdog: “A person who is expected to lose in a contest or conflict.” When you look at Michael “UndaDawg” Hankins (or Mike, as I’ve come to know him), that might be what you expect. In fact, his attitude about his craft suggests that he expects you to underestimate him and he feeds off of that. It fuels his drive to be the best version of himself as an artist. “The obvious reason for my name is because I know I’m not always the one you’re rooting for. If you think I’m gonna win or not, I’m in the game ready to lace up.” Recently coming off his latest single “Oklahoma Shxt” and joint project “So MidDub” with fellow Oklahoma artist BonezFlow, we got to sit down with UndaDawg in the studio and learn about the man behind the music.
AJ: “So what got you into music?”
UndaDawg: “That’s my big brother, man. Raphael Chapel but most people know him as Cortez. My brother was really big into Swishahouse and DSR..just that Texas movement. So being here from Oklahoma, that was the closest thing we had to the underground. And he introduced me to that. Next thing I know, I’m at parties and my brother is putting me in freestyle circles. He knew there was something there but I never did. He pushed me into it and I fell in love with the music.”
“I dropped my first mixtape in 2010 and locked in with a producer named Pivot. After that, Pivot wanted me to go in a direction that I wasn’t mature enough to go in. I was into mixtapes and he wanted me to do an album of original music. I don’t know if I was shy, scared, or struggling with just creating from the bottom like that…but the idea of it was scary to me. It caused a bit of a falling out but he kept pushing me when he’d see me.”
But eventually, Mike ended up buying studio time and recorded his debut album, “Sleepwalking”. And that’s where UndaDawg began to grow. “As I grew, one of my boys introduced me to Nipsey Hussle. It began growing me up musically. I became more mindful and conscious of what I was talking about. I went through my phase of drugs and guns in my music. Then one of my big homies that I looked up to got his freedom snatched from him and that made me realize, I can’t do that. My perspective changed between those two things.”
AJ: “So would you say what led to your growth was feeding off who you listened to?”
UndaDawg: “Definitely. Even with Nip, he’s not solely the reason I grew but I fed off of him. In some songs, you’ll see me working harder on my storytelling and attempting to broaden my ability to see what I can do with this music. What I want to do is take my music that route.”
But just as much he puts in his music, he puts into his other craft, being a barber at OKC Metro barbershop, Twice The Cuts.
AJ: “Now I’ve been in the shop when you cut, and man when your clients leave, they leave with confidence. And I feel like that obviously shows your dedication to that craft.”
UndaDawg: “Oh yes sir. See, that’s an art. From a very young age, I always felt like I had some roots in being an artist. I didn’t know I’d be a music artist. I thought I’d be a cartoonist. I got the love of art from my mom. I picked it up and at 13, I started begging Deuce (Twice The Cuts Barbershop owner) for a job. I started sweeping the floors. I picked up a love for cutting hair from there. It was an art for me. It fed into the artist in me. I always had a love for cutting hair, grooming, and seeing someone’s posture change when they get out of my chair.”
“I feel like that helps me bring the best out of someone.”
AJ: “With the art of cutting hair, you bring the best out…would you say you look to pull the best out of your listeners as a musician?”
UndaDawg: “I definitely do. If you hear my lyrics, you’ll see that I have a tendency to pull from my listeners. That’s why I said I had to change my music. I understood that talking about bad things was influencing people around me. I talked about popping pills and the next thing I knew, 2-3 people around me are popping those pills and I had to become conscious of my influence.” – Daily, Mike tries to tap in to his influence to make the environments around him better. “I think that’s just a human struggle. We all have ups and downs but I became more conscious of just because I’m having an off moment, I don’t have to take that out on the world around me.”
And just as much as he looks to influence in the booth and the chair, Da UndaDawg looks to share his wealth of knowledge in another unique way. “If I wasn’t rapping or cutting hair, I’d teach. I’m actually an instructor at the shop’s barber and cosmetology school. I love teaching because I love to learn. Teaching taught me that’s the best way to learn. I’m constantly sharing what I have to others that also give me information and perspective in return based on what I taught.” Quoting the late great Nipsey Hussle, “you’re a student at best. I’m always looking to broaden my mind. So no matter what, I’m gonna try to share something because I’m constantly learning.”
A dedicated father, Mike talked about the influence and motivation his life experience and his daughter has given him. “Experience makes me want to grow, and my child, I got a daughter…she’s number one. She showed me my reckless and childish ways. Knowing I want to provide, protect, and teach, I not only want to give her the world, but I want to teach her how to obtain it.” Being a man who understands the recklessness behind who he was prior to being a father, Mike says it takes a certain degree of care to be different for the sake of his child.
“If you care, you’re responsible. It’s a different type of growth because of that child. Everyone doesn’t understand that. She’s my legacy. And her experience is on me, like it or not, I helped create her and I want her to be better than me.”
Some things you might not know about Michael Hankins, not UndaDawg, but Michael is that he’s into video games like God of War and Elden Ring; but he’s also into comics which one could say fuels even more of his creativity. Creativity that would also fuel his perfect track. “Lil Baby, Lil Wayne, and Andre’ 3000, plus me would be the perfect track, in my mind. I would like to do a track with those guys because I feel like we could make the perfect record.”
A man of many talents as well as many influential words, Michael “UndaDawg” Hankins takes his time to put in the type of efforts that help him surpass the definition underdog, but don’t think his mentality changes. He’s just as, if not even more hungry than he was when he dropped his first mixtape.
You can find some of UndaDawg’s music on our Suave’s Summer Playlist and follow him via his Instagram (@UndaDawg91).