For many artists birthed in the digital era, the path of success has been well mapped. First you create an online buzz, then drop viral mixtapes, maybe a weekly freestyle series or moderately budgeted music videos, sign your deal, and finally drop your debut on a major. That’s how it happened for Asher Roth, Wale, Kid Cudi and B.o.B. But for Mickey Factz, who shared the XXL 2009 Freshmen cover with all of the aforementioned, things happened a bit differently.

After appearing on the Freshmen cover, Mickey went on to tour during Rock the Bells in 2009 and then become a spokesman for Honda, appearing in print and television ads for the company’s Accord model. At the beginning of this year, the Bronx, NY MC dropped thedarkphoenix#ALPHA mixtape and finally signed his first record deal with Battery/JIVE in May.

While his debut album, The Achievement, won’t drop until 2011, Mickey Factz is back to add to his musical buzz with his latest Heavy Hitter-helmed mixtape I’m Better Than You. [Download Now]. caught up with the former Freshman to talk shop. Where have you been? At one point you were releasing music at a rapid pace and then it seems things got quiet for you, musically.

Mickey Factz: I think a lot of people wanted to see me put tons of music out when I was really just trying to perfect my performance game. So I did tours, I did a ton of interviews and I was doing freestyles for those interviews. I put songs out here and there. I also was trying to find the right situation to put The Achievement out. I was also recording non-stop. A lot of people were saying that I was lazy and that I wasn’t working, but I actually worked the most in 2009. It was just that we weren’t very active online like we were before. But now, I’m back and we’re not looking back ever again. We’re gonna treat the game like Noah’s Ark, we’re gonna flood it.

Well, you did do that commercial for Honda, that had to have its benefits, right?

The exposure that I got from that Honda commercial was very much needed. A lot of people saw me, a lot of people were like, “Oh, who’s this Mickey Factz guy? Is he really a rapper?” It made them question who I was. They would go and Google and I would get the hits, so it was a great promotional tool. The benefits of that was that I got a chance to get a S.A.G. card, I got a chance to get a free car, I got a chance to just be able to expand my brand outside of just hip-hop. But I have to always remember that it was hip-hop that took me there. I was very appreciative.

You dropped thedarkphoenix#ALPHA, but it was a departure from what fans expected. Did the mixtape meet your expectations?

I liked the Dark Phoenix project a lot. It was a very personal project. We were promoting “Alpha,” which was the initial release for the Dark Phoenix. I wanted it to be very personal and eclectic. I wanted it to be something different from what everyone was hearing. We got a ton of downloads in the first couple of days. The fans were very happy to get music from me, but others weren’t very keen to that [type of] music because they felt it wasn’t hip-hop enough. [A lot of it was sampled] from the band Phoenix and M83. I loved the Dark Phoenix project, I still listen to it today, I think it’s a very informative and honest project from me. It’s not what people were expecting, but I felt it was great enough for me to put out for the fans to enjoy.

Now we have I’m Better Than You. Who are your better than? Are you referencing a specific person, another rapper maybe?

Initially the tape was just a very personal tape on how I felt about myself and where I was and how people viewed me in hip-hop. So I felt like, I’m better than you and I want to be better than everybody and I wanted to prove that I’m better than everybody. Then after listening to where the mixtape was going, I felt it was time to change it around and say I’m better than myself. Now the tape is more geared to me bettering myself on a consistent basis, because I have to look at myself in the mirror every single day and say, “Yesterday you did what you did, but today you have to be better than what you were yesterday. So now when I say I’m better than you, I’m basically looking in the mirror and saying I’m better than you to myself.

But you are a very competitive artist. You sure there aren’t any subliminal disses here?

I’m very, very competitive. Extremely competitive, but at the end of the day I still have to say to myself that I'm better than what I was yesterday. If a person feels like, “Mickey Factz is directing that towards me,” then you’re directing who I was yesterday towards you because I’m just trying to be better than myself everyday. If you can’t be better than yesterday’s man, how do you think you’ll be able to compete with my future?

As competitive as you are, did it hurt to see artists like Wale and Kid Cudi get their chance to drop their albums before you? You did the song “Overdose On Life” with Drake in 2008 and look at where he is now.

I don’t really think it affected me… When these guys were doing what they were doing from Drake, to Wale, to Cudi, I was actually happy for them. I would hit them like, “Congrats, you’re doing your thing. Continue to do your thing because you’re making it easier for me to do my thing." I would watch what they would do; the good things and the bad things that they did so I wouldn’t have to make those same mistakes, or [so I could] emulate their successes. Right now, I’m at a great, great place. People are feeling the “Paradise” video that I put out, they’re feeling the song, the mixtape is going to catch attention from people. I think it’s gonna be a really good end of the year, heading up into the album coming out.

Now Jive Label Group has had great success with artists like Ciara, Justin Timberlake, Usher and R. Kelly, but they aren’t known much for rap releases these days. Why sign with Battery/Jive?

Jive was one of the number one or two places that I wanted to come, Battery/Jive. Being that there was no hip-hop here, [I thought] that I would fit perfect. Not to mention that I have records that can work in the system. The thing about being here is that they chase hits, so there was a reason why they were like, “Oh, well we want you to come here.” And being at Battery, they have that independent mindset with the backing of a major. So I wanted to be somewhere where I would be a priority and people would care about my project and move it forward. I think this was the best move for me to do.

So what’s the vibe on the album feeling like?

The album is just going to be the basic story of my achievement. And I want it to relate to [other] people’s achievements as well. My achievement is not the only story I want to tell. I want to tell everybody’s achievement. All of their accomplishments and all of their successes. I want everybody to get a general idea of how they’re supposed to be appreciative of their lives and when you appreciate something then you’re happy about it. I also want to take it back to when people were having fun, enjoying life and dancing again. That’s what The Achievement is about for me, because when you achieve something you celebrate. —Rob Markman