In 2019, MIKE released Tears of Joy, his first project after the death of his mother. If you’ve listened to MIKE before, you’ll know how important his mother is to him and his music, from the frequent sampling of her voice, to using a picture of her for the cover of his 2017 album May God Bless Your Hustle. All of these things made the opening lines of Tears of Joy some of the most heart-wrenching in recent memory: “The feeling when you get robbed/Somebody playing with my mom, I hope it’s not God”. In 2020, a year after putting out Tears of Joy, MIKE released his follow-up, Weight of the World; here, the themes of grief and mourning are again omnipresent. And if you have a problem with this repetition, I gladly direct you to the hook on the track ‘Weight of the Word*’:
“Sometimes I’d rather just be wrong than to settle with it/I know my momma sing that song so I’ll never forget/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’s music has always been dark, sad and sombre, but on Tears of Joy and now Weight of the World this melancholy, abstract hip-hop has been turned up to 11, and this is reflected heavily in MIKE’s lyricism and delivery. MIKE’s trademark slow, sleepy, muffled rapping style is on full display on his new album, yet he deviates from it just enough to keep you guessing, as is the case on each of ‘Get Rich Quick Scheme’, ‘Weight of the Word*’, and ‘Allstar’. Any point of reference to MIKE’s aesthetic always melts down to the artist who influenced MIKE to spell his name in capitals: MF DOOM (“Just remember ALL CAPS when you spell the man’s name!”).
When MIKE demands that you spell his name in all caps, just like the legendary DOOM, you would expect the former’s lyricism to be on par with the latter’s. And it is: one of MIKE’s biggest assets lyrically is his favouring of blunt emotion over the cryptic esoteric imagery relied on by many of his contemporaries. This is best on display when talking about his late mother, as on the opening track ‘Love Supremacy’: “Watch my brother’s back, the enemy ain’t came to stab him/I took another slash, lookin’ for my mother’s casket…I got my mother’s laugh, grinnin’ through a bunch of bad shit”. MIKE even delves into his struggles dealing with grief on ‘222’, chronicling how his family tried to help while he resorted to drinking: “Believe I got the nerve, seein’ mommy with the burden/Had to hit the curb, papa told me hit the churches/Thinkin’ got me hurt, got my emptyin’ the bourbon/It don’t quench the thirst, but my belly feel the burnin’”.
Just like DOOM, MIKE also handles the majority of his music’s production, and his influential sound is in full effect all over this album. MIKE’s sound was the most influential in underground hip-hop throughout the 2010s, and he comes through on Weight of the World with some his best beats yet. ‘Love Supremacy’ is dense, whirling samples and ascending and descending piano/bass rhythms combining with the lyrics to create a real gut-punch of a song. ‘What’s home 1/2’ utilises a woozy vocal sample that melts into the bassline, overlaid by driving percussion – blunt drum hits interchanging with metallic hi-hats – before the beat switches entirely halfway through. The hats fall into the background as a piano and a more soulful vocal backing appear, beautifully complementing MIKE’s catchy flow. My favourite beat on the whole project comes on the KeiyaA produced ‘Get Rich Quick Scheme’: a grinding, pitched saxophone sample will leave your head spinning as sporadic, stuttering hi-hats carry the tempo. Different vocal snippets enter in the same sparse manner, adding personality and humanity to the ethereal beat. (NB. please listen to KeiyaA’s debut from this year, it’s amazing).
I want to end this review by looking at Weight of the World’s last track: ‘Allstar’, featuring Earl Sweatshirt. Earl has made it clear on his masterpiece Some Rap Songs that MIKE is his primary inspiration for his new sound, and more importantly a friend who helped him during his darkest times. That’s why this song is such a big moment for a fan like me, because it marks the first collaboration of the two. And they don’t disappoint. The track uses a euphoric vocal sample and simple but catchy drums to act as a victory lap for the two artists – this is the ‘Allstar’ game of the rap world. Earl brings his best
“In the middle of the trip, I couldn’t reroute it/Steep falls into big crowds, I’ma leave proudly.”
(image rights: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MIKE_At_Highland_Park.jpg, original image by Awiderpath licensed under CC BY-SA)