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MIKE: Disco!

It’s well-known that MIKE’s mother is of significant influence on his artistry. Not only did she grace the cover of his breakthrough mixtape MAY GOD BLESS YOUR HUSTLE but its title was lifted from an Instagram comment she left him. The young rapper’s last two albums both reckoned with her passing through differing stages of grief. He opens Disco! already in motion towards accepting her passing; “It’s for my momma when I make raps dummy, when I pray/ ‘Cause I know she gonna pray back for me.” His brief yet prolific career is indebted to the hope her portrait captures on MAY GOD BLESS YOUR HUSTLE, in which she’s crossing a rickety bridge in Nigeria. She looks terrified on the suspension. She wanted to turn around, only for her tour guide to tell her, “Nobody goes back—you have to keep going forward.

MIKE carries this perseverance through Disco!. He takes his mother’s overflowing belief that he will achieve greatness and reciprocates it into his relationships with his sisters, his friends, and, in Disco!’s toughest notes, himself. There’s a noted attention to those around him, and how he must care for himself in order to take care of others. Guided by his mother’s passing, he stresses familial strength in one long mesmerizing vision.

That being said, it would be dubious to deem Disco! a happy album, because this is still MIKE. He exudes perseverance, yet hasn’t mapped out where that will take him. The musings about finding himself and a purpose are cut with insecurity regarding affection. He asks, “I send my love, let me know if you get it.” Despite recognizing a path forward, MIKE stumbles in his search for meaning. Having a map is only handy if it’s legible. This murkiness comes through in Disco!’s opaque soundscapes. Sometimes, it’s hard to grasp what is swirling beneath MIKE as there’s a perpetual fog obscuring even the brightest moments.

Beyond this, Disco!’s free flowing beats skirt with pleasure, like the shining horns and astral keys in “Leaders of Tomorrow.” MIKE’s production as DJ blackpower comes from a bedroom existing in between time. There are 8-bit informed productions, soul samples and murky trundles alongside one another. Midway through Disco!, MIKE steps away from the microphone and the beat coils upwards. Hand claps syncopate with the kick drums in celebration. It indicates MIKE’s astute balancing of beat and bars.

MIKE reflects this sublime balance by alternating whether his rapping or his production powers the engine. This finds MIKE mumbling over the active beats and asserting a practiced tongue on the hazier cuts. He flows hard when he’s backed up by jazz samples driven through a dial-up connection and garbles his words as drums step forward in the mix, both bringing him down to earth and lifting him up from the dirt.

On swanky beats such as “Center City,” MIKE puts in work. You can hear him gasp after every bar. In one of his most impressive performances, he reimagines ad-libs as another avenue for punchlines, resulting in gems like, “I know why you hide what you covering, flaws.” Elsewhere, he both flaunts (“Got more ties than they got in the sneaker store,”) and doubts (“It’s hard to take love as it is or love as it was”) his support systems. His conflicting emotions can only be expressed when he’s rapping. And, were he a more scattershot artist, his ping-ponging topics could be disharmonious. MIKE’s assured delivery is the weight holding his reservations together, acting as his source of confidence to confront and progress through his grief.

MIKE is tentative to embrace all the love around him and the necessary impetus he has to carry it forward despite recognizing its power. He may stumble with his words in overcast pastures, but it’s in service of communicating his insecurity and in trying to find that security in those around him. There’s no direct object when he asks, “How you fetish over grimace then expect grace?” because it’s obvious who he is speaking to.

Disco! finds MIKE in an uncertain position in his development as an artist, yet his technical ability and dogged perseverance combine to create something worthwhile.
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