Success is a double-edged sword. Time and again we see artists struggle with the expectations of fame. Some choose to live in isolation in the Hollywood Hills, far from their humble origins, while others retreat even further to avoid the scrutiny of the public eye. Regardless of the industry, in a capitalist society, publicity and money affect a person and their circle. Being a leader who desires positive change requires sacrifice, or giving of oneself to others, in hopes of gaining solidarity for the betterment of our society. Bronx rapper MIKE’s ties to his community and zeal for the lessons passed down from his elders have made him unusually self-aware and adept at avoiding the pitfalls of fame and influence. His private Instagram page is indicative of his usually reserved nature, and MIKE tends to only speak out when necessary, such as to criticize misogynistic behavior following the death of 19-year old activist Toyin Salau.
MIKE is adjusting to this newfound celebrity, not only through his social media presence, or lack thereof, but also by limiting his availability to the press. As of this writing, he has not done an interview in over two years. After a whirlwind year of losing his mother and releasing the emotional tribute album Tears of Joy, MIKE closed 2019 by curating his three day music festival YOUNG WORLD. Poised to continue his role as the head honcho of the DIY Hip-Hop scene in New York City, a global pandemic broke out, revealing deep systemic inequality in our country, as the COVID-19 virus disproportionately impacts Black Americans. Coupled with the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and more at the hands of police, systemic oppression is an unavoidable topic of discussion in the Black community. The profound stress and resentment that comes with being Black in America is reflected in MIKE’s new aptly titled album Weight of the World.
On this project MIKE sets a new tone of defiance and hostility, unwilling to offer himself to others in the ways he did on Tears of Joy or 2018’s May God Bless Your Hustle. Preserving his own spirit and protecting his crown, we find MIKE defensive and on the attack against those who would try to detract from his movement. While still emotionally honest, the sLUms MC is now guarded toward those around him, in fear that people will take advantage of his image and fame. He bears his soul over mostly self-produced, atmospheric soul samples that sometimes border on vaporwave, and uses his beats to announce this change in persona. Pivoting from the caring and generous identity he once portrayed, MIKE wants to remain open and vulnerable, but without wasting his emotional energy on those who just want to take advantage.
Cynical lyrics pack the album from front to back. On album opener “Love Supremacy” MIKE gets straight to the point by revealing his desire to, “watch my brother’s back, the enemy ain’t come to stab him” before admitting, “the villainy in us is massive.” MIKE understands the desperation of human nature. A self-described “victim of the state,” his struggles with mental health have led to plenty of self-discovery, whether it be through psychedelic reflection such as when his “diet was the shrooms” on “Alert” or when, “emptyin’ the bourbon / It don’t quench the thirst, but my belly feel the burnin’,” on “222” produced by KeiyaA.
Like many before him, MIKE’s maturation into adulthood has him questioning those who claim his friendship. The jovial MIKE is gone. Despite “grinnin’ through a bunch of bad shit,” he now also divulges, “gettin’ old, I peeped the game, you gotta be violent.” On the track “Coat of Many Colors,” a reference to the Biblical story where Joseph is betrayed by his jealous brothers, MIKE details how he “offer niggas my advice and they just seek a fortune / Try to leave me poor, I try to do it ’cause it’s right.” Calling people “informants”, MIKE’s impulse to “seek performance” enhances his claim to live above the drama and bullshit that comes with a popular name. He’s cold, but still caring as a 180° pivot on his personality would be impossible. On the same song he declares, “I know it’s love, but it’s still learnin’,” before further detailing that, “found niggas’ worth, most the time it’s really worthless.” This is a far cry from the positivity rap of “Comfort Ajoke” on 2018’s Black Soap. When MIKE proclaims, “I came back from lightin’ bridges I forgot to burn,” his resentment is seething, but understandable. Growing and maturing as a person requires cutting any attachments that are adequately surmised on “More Gifts” as, “to be of service, a leecher in your circle again.”
MIKE’s dedication to Black struggle is rooted in his personal history. Throughout the album the influence of his parents is apparent. MIKE admits on “Trail of Tears” that his movement is, “some of mine’s plus my mother plan.” The death of a parent is difficult at any age, but especially for a young man like MIKE who may feel unprepared to continue on without his mother’s guidance. MIKE writes off any criticism about his grieving process and those who don’t have his best intentions at heart by stating, “and you still grievin’ over moms? No, I’ll never forget / When I needed you, you gone, but you said we was friends / This shit I’ll never forget.” MIKE adheres to his mother’s love as a guiding principle that keeps him focused in such unprecedented times. While most rappers want fast cars and a flashy lifestyle, MIKE rejects materiality and instead reveals his motivation as: “You think I did it for the figures? It was all for her.”
Lyrically MIKE has always been astute with the pen, as evidenced by his ability to match wits with fellow wordsmith Earl Sweatshirt, who blessed the album closer “Allstar” with a rare feature. MIKE’s production prowess, however, continues to show improvement and experimentation. Producing under his alias DJ Black Power, the sometimes hazy, sample-driven sounds still exude joy, even leaning into the chipmunk soul sound first made popular by fellow producer-rapper Kanye West. Whereas Kanye’s chipmunk is hyper polished, MIKE’s raw styling offers a different vibe entirely. Crafting sonic backdrops of various tempos, the album speeds along, slows down, and drifts in a calming manner despite aggressive lyrics he unleashes.
As MIKE heals from the betrayals of friends and continues to grieve the loss of his mother, his willingness to reveal the extent of the damage the “serpents” did to his psyche follows in his usual style of radical honesty. The album is rife with verses of great detail, but yet he still notes, “I tried to scribe it, don’t really think the words do exist,” before quickly revealing, “I tried to find it, it’s peak ’cause the search is within,” regarding inner peace. Over meticulous beats that often play out long after he has delivered his sermon, MIKE’s free flowing lyrical style highlights the need for Black Americans to slow down and process the trauma we are born into and living through. As the Internet and digital screens connect us more than ever, there is a need for understanding purpose and intent in our actions and feelings. MIKE’s firm understanding of who and what he stands for makes him an artist of the now. In the arc of the activist, or revolutionary, when MIKE vents, “turn my soul to a militant march / bet you close to revealin’ your card,” on “What’s Home”, he is speaking to a time old adage, from Jesus Christ to Fred Hamtpon, that those closest to us may want to do the most harm.
Mike is an artist whose growth can be charted in real time through his music. With consistent yearly releases, sometimes multiple per year, his progress as a musician and individual are happening in real time as he matures from adolescence into adulthood. While the music is not nearly as joyous this time around, the bitterness MIKE shows on this album not only seems justified, but is healthy and honest to himself.