The essence of MIKE’s music remains his late mother. She’s mentioned often on his wonderful and grief-stricken new album, Weight Of The World, after being the centerpiece of last year’s Tears of Joy, released not long after her passing. The 21-year-old MC is still very much battling the pain and confusion that comes with losing a parent, and he uses World to dig further into the fragmented memories of their past. It’s a raw and captivating glimpse of a young artist whose pen has grown sharper as his heart has grown heavier.
MIKE presents that heaviness through a familiar lo-fi lens. He and his sLUms associates have developed a distinct vision by now, centered on samples that sound like they were downloaded over a dial-up connection. (MIKE produces 12 of the tracks here himself under his dj blackpower pseudonym.) They rap in methodical deadpan, no doubt inspired by the drawl of Madvillain-era DOOM (MIKE’s first-ever verse was written over the instrumental for “ALL CAPS”). The combination can be both mesmerizing and misleading, as it doesn’t necessarily alert the listener when something special occurs.
But that’s why you’ll always be rewarded for listening closely to MIKE. On the self-produced “alert*”, he evokes his pain over a bare-bones piano riff: “Back then my diet was shrooms if it wasn’t herbal/And threw some violence towards the blues ’cause the wound eternal.” Later, on “delicate,” he paints a childhood spent between London, Philly, and New York, rhyming, “We used to freeze up in the winter, the summers, we rose/From nights we used to sleep through dinner, and others we toked.”
So much of World is centered around his family. His dad worries about his sadness and substance abuse (“Papa knows it’s doom I need to work through,” he says on “alert*”). Siblings and old friends are protectors who helped him navigate life on the street. “Brodie got the .30, only clean ’em with detergent,” he raps on “222,” adding “hope I never need the service.” Just a few lines later on the same song, he describes the moment his mother passed: “Walked her out the Earth, just me, a couple nurses.” He circles back to her departure often at the end of verses, sometimes sweetly, like how their laughs were the same. Other times, he just breaks your heart, as when he recalls her shouldering much of the family’s burden. “And you still grievin’ over moms,” he raps on “Weight of the Word,” like he’s being accused of being unable to let go. “Nah, I’ll never forget,” he declares with pride in his voice.
Amongst all the pain, MIKE’S confidence still seeps through in his artistic growth. “get rich quick scheme” may be one of the most immediate songs MIKE has ever released, with a crushingly fierce beat provided by the Chicago-bred producer and singer KeiyaA. And Earl Sweatshirt, the man who turned to MIKE and sLUms to craft the sound of his masterful third album, adds some star power to the project by finishing it off with a long, heady verse. On World you feel for MIKE, but you never quite worry for him. Even in sorrow, his voice grows stronger.