Michael Kraun, of Flushing, Queens, graduated from New Paltz in 2012, and has since developed an affinity for alternative hip-hop. He released his debut EP, “any minute,” on Aug. 12, and has since been gaining traction with New York City influencers. Epstein, a close personal friend and fellow Paltz alum who met Kraun on an art history field trip to the Met, works as his manager.
Epstein also works at Cinematic Music Group, where he has been for five years. He specializes in digital marketing.
“I’ve watched the label grow from acts like Joey Bada$$, Mick Jenkins, etc. to T-Pain, Flipp Dinero, Yungeen Ace, Cam’ron, and more while navigating through the music industry,” Epstein said.
“While at New Paltz, Mike and I recognized our mutual love of music and started working together our junior year and have been working together since. We graduated in 2012 and have been working together on music since, with me managing him.”
I caught up with the duo about their artistic process, friendship, and time at Ye Olde Paltz.
GW: What are you currently working on?
MK: I’m proudly working on more music, more videos, and more art pieces. Releasing my EP “any minute” this past summer was a blessing to me, and in many ways the sheer act of completing it made me yearn to complete more projects. I guess I learned the hard way that “action” or “doing” leads to more motivation; seeking motivation and seizing it doesn’t necessarily lead to more action, unfortunately.
GW: Who are your greatest influences?
MK: My greatest influences are Nas and Eminem. Being a lonely kid, it wasn’t easy growing up. But being a lonely kid from Queens, that made things a little tougher, for a multitude of reasons; financially, socially, culturally. I just always felt like an outsider looking in. It didn’t help that I was vocal about injustice and ignorance at such a young age. But hip-hop gave me that connection to something bigger than me. It also made me feel more confident. Nas’ music solidified that connection through his storytelling abilities and truth-telling.
GW: What did you gain from your time at New Paltz that benefited your musical career or artistic process?
MK: New Paltz showed me the world through a different lens. Coming from Queens, I got the chance to grow up around people with different ethnicities from different settings. It’s such a benefit I can’t even describe it. I wish all people from all parts of the world could see it — it’s like staring through a kaleidoscope. But New Paltz showed me diversity in a unique way, on a relatable parallel. New Paltz showed me diversity in thought and philosophy. The compelling conversations I had with professors, peers, and fellow students were everything. Those experiences taught me exactly what I needed in order to step out into the world as an adult. I’m so much brighter and open-minded thanks to the culture of openness and inclusion at New Paltz. Having these traits has allowed my music to speak to people from all backgrounds.
GW: What does your artistic process look like? What’s a typical day like for you when you’re working on music?
MK: My artistic process constantly changes. Depending on what type of mood I’m in, or what I’m working on, I may do different things to catch my creative spark. Sometimes I go for weeks listening to the same beat, and all I do is wander through the city blasting the beat in my headphones while freestyling different flows in my head. Admittedly, sometimes I freestyle out loud and I get weird looks from people, but it’s all part of the process so I keep it moving. It all makes me feel like I’m one with the city. And then, of course, there are other times when I’m sad and I just stay at home and write, song after song. That hasn’t happened in a while, though, thankfully. Wandering and freestyling is healthier.
GW: What work are you proudest of thus far?
MK: My music video “Next Steps.” I directed the video and collaborated on it with an Italian filmmaker by the name of Luigi Benvisto. It was my proudest moment: directing my first music video in Alphabet City, Manhattan, near The Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, where I used to attend slam poetry shows with my fellow team members of the SUNY New Paltz Slam Poetry team (I went by Kraun during those days). To me that area signified my come up in the NYC poetry and art scene around other creatives. Shooting a music video that pays homage to that community is a real achievement of mine, something I’ve always aspired to do. Above all else, I’m most proud to be on this journey with my best friend and creative brother, Mike Epstein. We started this movement from nothing and now we’re seeing it grow before our eyes.
GW: What comes next for you?
MK: Growing. In all ways, really. Getting better at my craft. Working with more artists. Connecting with more fans. Learning how to better navigate the world as an artist, entrepreneur, creator, filmmaker, mental health advocate, partner, son, brother, friend, and person. The list goes on. Whatever it is, whoever I am, whatever I do — I just want to grow at it and have a positive impact on everyone around me.
ME: From a music standpoint, continuing to push “any minute,” build relationships, spread the project, and building a fanbase from the ground up.
Michael Kraun’s music can be found on SoundCloud at https://soundcloud.com/michaelkraun, or on Spotify for all of your streaming needs. He can also be found on Instagram @mkraun or Twitter @michaelkraun.