Reviewing MIKE is hard. He’s one of those artists that are notoriously hard to capture, and you’d be better off experiencing his music on its own terms than reading what some slacker critic has to say about it. With his latest release, MIKE hasn’t changed much from what MIKE always does, and that’s not really a bad thing, because the dude can rap.
Living in the slacker outsider space with cohorts Earl Sweatshirt, Lil B, and DOOM (ALL CAPS), MIKE (ALSO ALL CAPS) raps breathlessly over lo-fi beats with ease. Most of the time he’s dropping lines through what sounds like he just stopped doing whatever he’s doing to rap, and he just had to get this off his mind in a really refreshing way. Sometimes he sounds elated, contemplative, angry, or like he just stopped laughing. It’s all subtle, but whatever the emotion is, the songs come off as necessary and with forethought; flows that he absolutely had to get out and complete before moving on with the rest of his day. In the mix of all of these subtle complexities, MIKE keeps a unique playfulness with his delivery that connects him more to his slacker brethren than anything else.
The hazy production maintains an out-of-focus perspective that benefits the off-center nature of MIKE’s approach. A lot of the tracks come off like he built the beat around the flow, rather than the flow around the beat. It can come off wonky and quirky, but it definitely maintains a cohesivity that purports his individuality. On weight of the world, his darkness sounded heavy (heh), and downtrodden, but with Disco! he’s managed to develop a much more warm and vibrant tone that never wavers into the dark. The two instrumental tracks are well-placed, and although transitional, stand on their own shining a light on his production skills.
Standout track “alarmed!” does a good job at showing MIKE’s prowess and control over a beat. His flow weaves in and out of drippy production, then dips into a choppy self-sample, and back again. The end result is a loopy, solipsistic presentation that reflects more of the inner workings of his introspective process than anything else. “Leaders of Tomorrow (intro)” plays with structure in a heavy intro that sounds like a recording of a VHS home video that takes up half the song before the beat transitions and MIKE jumps on the back half rapping voraciously for only a minute and a half until it just ends. A lot of artists couldn’t pull this off without it sounding undone, but MIKE presents it as a complete track with sheer earnesty, and it works.
Disco!’s conclusion feels intentionally rushed towards the end of the 43 minutes. His momentum throughout the 17 tracks feels unstoppable, until it just ends. Overall, it’s more like pressing pause until his next release instead of starting a new cycle, and he works that feeling to its full advantage.
Every album MIKE drops feels like a stream of consciousness continuation rather than an album cycle. It’s rap as a journal, much like Lil B, but more pointed and less drugged-out navel gazing. Every bar comes off with multiplicity exposing subtle complexities that unify him in the space of valid outsider voices. This, paired with his warm tape hiss dusty production, gives him a status as an extremely unique artist that benefits from repeat listens, and doesn’t relegate him to lesser status. With a new album dropping every year since he started – and a new single dropped before I could get this review out – his prolificity is putting him on an interesting path of experimentation that uplifts his independent voice, and delivers a novel experience that resonates in various ways.