Another fine self-released installment in what has quickly become another golden age of hip-hop.
In the era of Chance and Kendrick, hip-hop has once again found its center in personal and interpersonal lyrics. Like Marvin Gaye’s move from lightweight pop to socially conscious soul with What’s Going On?, the genre has seen a sea change in the wake of Black Lives Matter and a heightened awareness of civil rights violations straight out of the Jim Crow south. Those who receive the most attention – at least from the blogosphere and white critics (myself included) – are those who seem to present an authentic voice that represents the people in the streets struggling to make their voices heard. It’s easy for those of us with a decidedly liberal social conscious to get behind that which we perceive as earnest social commentary from a perspective far removed from our own. It’s a combination of anthropological curiosity and white/cultural guilt that may emerge from a place of well-meaning but can come off as patronizing or an attempt to be politically correct.
At this point in the history of pop music, there is really no need for lines of racial demarcation, but they still exist whether or not we admit it. While we the days of so-called “race records” may be far behind us, there hip-hop still comes with a bit of societal stigma. Though more mainstream and far more accepted than during its formative years, there’s still a decidedly underground feel to much of it. For those on the outside looking in, this can be alienating and utterly foreign. Yet at its heart, there’s a clear universality, a humanist root that drives the music; it’s just a matter of finding the relatable in the unfamiliar.
Eighteen-year-old Bronx native MIKE may well provide the integral link between Kendrick Lamar and Chance, the Rapper’s street-wizened social commentary and the interpersonal navel gazing typically associated with indie rockers and other introspective types. “Looking in the mirror be the worst thing/ Bulky black body with a shirt hang,” he drawls on “GREEDY.” “My rap’s a lot of funky topics I don’t mean to touch/ I need to sleep more ‘cause I don’t dream enough,” he intones as his lyrics run the gamut from depression to personal frustrations to setting a good example as the proud son of a powerful black woman to concerns over health care and an inability to cook for himself; “making some real ass music about shit that [he knows] about.”
In other words, there’s no posturing, no stereotypical clichés, no modern minstrelsy. Instead, May God Bless Your Hustle offers a no non-sense look at MIKE’s personal struggles, reality and personal aspirations. These are basic sentiments that anyone can easily get behind regardless of their socioeconomic or cultural background. “100%” offers a fine summation of MIKE as an artist, social commentator and self-analyst as he offers with a shrug that, “I ain’t even trained for this.”
Opener “Somebody Please” drops the listener in mid-thought, the mix a swirling chaos of chopped samples and woozy beats that produce a wildly disorienting effect. It’s a bold 95 seconds of experimental sound that finally gives way to MIKE, his voice a rock solid punch to the solar plexus reaching out of the darkness. This music-centric approach is at the heart of May God Bless Your Hustle. Producing it himself, MIKE litters his tracks with gently pulsating soul samples stretched and distorted, beautifully ugly and perfectly complementary of the lyrical sentiments. “I know I’m doing something/ Don’t know what it is/ I know the truth is somewhere/ And I can run for it,” he offers on “FOREVER FIND FLIGHT” before quickly changing tact with, “I fucking hate my guts/ Don’t got guts to do shit.”
In all, May God Bless Your Hustle is another fine self-released installment in what has quickly become another golden age of hip-hop. With younger artists like MIKE, Chance, Kendrick and countless others taking the form in new and different directions (read: away from the swaggering nonsense of the rap/hip hop culture that has been misappropriated and commercialized for corporate gains) hip-hop may well be to the ‘10s what rock was to the ‘60s. Perhaps an overly simplified notion, but one that nevertheless resonates thanks to significant releases like May God Bless Your Hustle.