When Andy Mineo logs onto Zoom, he’s mostly recovered from a bout with COVID-19. The fully vaccinated rapper contracted a breakthrough case in New York City and spent the next few days quarantined at home. He sounds pretty good, which is just as well, since he’s got a new album dropping soon. But he’s not 100 percent yet.
“My lungs are still a little funky, which is crazy for me,” he mourns. “I’m like, ‘I use my lungs for a living. I really want these things to be working!’”
They’re getting back to normal, but he’s still feeling anxious about it. “I’ve heard so many crazy stories about long-haulers, people that have perpetual lung issues after the fact,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s a mess.”
He’s heard some horror stories. A football player whose COVID left him with 50 percent of his previous athletic ability. A young man who now can’t play basketball without a breathing machine nearby. You’ve probably heard similar stories. Mineo feels for these people, and their stories trigger panic.
“I start feeling shortness of breath and then I start panicking because I got shortness of breath, which gives me more shortness of breath,” he says. “It’s this self-fulfilling prophecy of, ‘I’m going to the hospital, I’m going to die.” I’m like, ‘This probably isn’t helping me feel comfortable.” So I went and laid down in bed and recovered.”
Real is overused when it comes to talking about artists. For one thing, the word is a little hard to define. Real has been commodified to the point where it’s almost a product in and of itself — you have to own the right things to be real today. For another thing, how do you know what an artist is being real? Real compared to what?
But here’s the thing. Andy Mineo is real. Talking to him, it’s the most obvious thing in the world. This guy doesn’t have a false bone. No pretense. No interest in being anything other than who he is. The hip-hop artist has been releasing albums since 2013, each of them a blistering magnifying glass to his own anxieties, obsessions and passions. Fans feel like they know Mineo because he’s put his whole self out there for them to experience. It’s not always flattering. Sometimes it’s downright uncomfortable. But it’s never fake.
“One of the calling cards in my music has always been vulnerability and honesty,” he says. “I’m always processing what I’m really going through, what’s happening in my life and that’s been a real part of my journey. I’m trying to figure out what faith looks like post the megachurch, white evangelical, mega boom. There’s a different way to follow Jesus.” He’s just trying to figure out what it is.
There’s a lot that’s up in the air about Mineo’s future right now. He’s got a new album in Never Land 2, the long-awaited followup to 2014’s Never Land, the dynamite EP that put him on the map. Never Land contained “You Can’t Stop Me,” his colossal hit that was certified Gold and claimed ESPN’s “Whammy Award” for best walkup song for baseball. Mineo’s been teasing a sequel for years, and now it’s here, in a very different context than the first one landed. For Mineo, the first Never Land was about savoring childhood, just like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys did. But now, Never Land 2 is coming at the idea from a far more grown-up perspective, and the truths Mineo is finding are trickier to explore.
Mineo is asked if he wants to talk about Steven Spielberg’s Hook.
“My favorite movie of all time? Absolutely.”
He says there was a time when he watched the movie “every day” when he was a kid. Robin Williams’ performance as an out-of-touch Peter Pan who’s forgotten his adventures with pirates, mermaids and fairies captured Mineo’s imagination, and Peter’s quest to remember his actual childhood still resonates, though in a very different way.
“It’s funny, as a kid, I always related to the little kid that didn’t have his dad showing up to the baseball games,” Mineo says. “Now, as an adult, I’m watching it and I’m like, ‘I feel like Robin Williams, who’s always attached to his phone, dealing with business calls. I’m trying to provide for this family.’”
When he was a kid, his interest in the movie through the lens of two kids trying to connect with their dad. Now, it’s as a dad trying to connect to the rest of his family. Mineo feels that deeply. In the movie, Peter is forever on his cell phone (an enormous black device that has to be flipped open to work), dealing with work issues instead of talking to his kids. Mineo’s phone is significantly smaller, of course, but he feels the same pull.
“My wife’s biggest competition, in our life, is this thing right here,” he says, waving his phone. “She’s like, ‘I want time with you,’ and I’m like, “I’m working, I’m working, I’m working, I’m getting ready to launch this thing! I’ve got a RELEVANT interview!’”
That’s why the movie still hits for Mineo. He’s seeing himself from the other side of the story. Those are the thoughts he’s trying to capture on Never Land 2.
That said, Mineo understands the “the grass is greener on the other side” principle. He tells a story of riding scooters with his wife through Atlanta recently when they passed a group of kids on their way to school. “And my wife, she just said, ‘sucks to be you!’ as we drove by,” he laughs.
In that moment, yeah, it did suck to be a kid on the way to school. And it was kind of awesome to be an adult, riding around on a scooter with the love of your life. “I think every phase of life has its peaks and like you have to enjoy each of them as they come, because they’re unique and you’ll never get them back,” he says. “But what I don’t want to lose is that childlike hope, that optimism that a kid has.”
He compares it to spiritual deconstruction — the term many Christians use to describe the process of unlearning harmful beliefs that may have crept into their theology over time. Mineo’s going through his own process, but he’s trying to be constructive about it.
“I don’t want to just dissolve into nothingness and cynicism,” he says. “I’m trying to find something. I’m deconstructing for a purpose, to come out with something true. Not just to be like, ‘Eff it all.’”
“I think that that’s good,” he continues. “I’ve been there for the last few years. I just don’t want the cynicism that comes with that process. I want to re-imagine life and faith and what I’m doing here.”
“I said it in a lyric. ‘Having hope and then being disappointed is better than not having hope at all,’” then he pauses and scratches his head. “Or something like that. I can’t even remember my own lyrics, but that was the sentiment.”
[Editor’s note: Mineo was close. It’s “You get your hopes high, that’s a long fall // But better than not hoping at all” from the song “Lost.”]
“I see more of us heading in that direction as life goes on,” he says. “I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to lose that part of me.”
For Mineo, the key to holding on to that part of himself has been to do it in community. He says he sees a lot of people go wrong because they forget that it’s not enough to remove yourself from toxic communities or ideologies. You have to replace them with newer, better ones.
“That’s where it can get really dangerous,” Mineo says. “It’s like, ‘Nobody understands me. I’m alone in this, I’m going to stay here.’ But really, wherever you are in your journey in life, there’s a group of people that have either been where you’ve been or are now going through it. You need to find them and connect with them.”
That’s easier said than done, and Mineo’s found community through reading (these days, he’s a big Richard Rohr fan) and, ultimately, that’s helped connect him back to his earlier passion for faith. It’s helped rediscover a sense of childlike wonder. “There was something genuinely dope about God, about the person of Jesus,” he says. “I was like, ‘I have faith in him for a reason. He’s dope to me. I want to keep learning from it. I want to follow him.’ I don’t want to lose that.”
Mineo’s devotion to keeping it real has helped him enormously in all this. He still remembers what it was like to be the kid playing baseball, hoping his dad shows up. That’s helping him show up now too. And it’s that authenticity that’s fueling his quest to retain a childlike faith, even as he grows up.