It'd be easy to dismiss MIKE on first listen, his monotone flows and sleepy delivery sound like a half-baked parody of 'mumble rap'. Over the past couple of years he's emerged as a flagbearer for New York's modern underground, spearheading the prolific sLUms collective in their recent rise to prominence.
2018 saw big names like Solange and Earl Sweatshirt working with the likes of Standing On The Corner, Adé Hakim, and Navy Blue, integral figures in the creation of this new sound. Paradoxically, sLUms' production is defined by their samples, often glitched out or distorted beyond recognition. Through simple loops the group mine emotional depths with heartfelt verses characterised by raw imperfection.
MIKE exemplifies this principle with his signature sound, built across hours of crushingly intimate performances. Tears of Joy is the 20 year-old MC's latest mixtape and follows MIKE's grief and acceptance around his mother's passing. It's a topic he's touched on before, but Tears puts it into focus, bookending songs with confronting voicemails grounded in a harsh reality.
Production wise, most beats come courtesy of MIKE himself, working under the alias of DJ Blackpower. Guest producers include industrial experimentalist Michul Kuun and influential Ratking founder Sporting Life. Both artists bring a unique and colourful backdrop that slots perfectly into MIKE's overall sonic vision. sLUms' usual roster of beatsmiths also make appearances to maintain diversity across 20 brief tracks.
Last year's War In My Pen was largely self-produced, shying away from a history of collab-heavy releases. That tape's instrumentals were some of MIKE's best and Tears is much the same. Cuts like PLANET and goin truuu are joyous in their simplicity, delicate vocals shaped into spirited choral offerings. Closing track stargazer pt. 3 also sounds near-triumphant, juxtaposing angelic horns with gritty meditations on life and death.
All in all, it's another MIKE project. With artistry this unique it's hard to be unhappy with more of the same. His prolific release schedule has shown consistent improvement but it's hard to be surprised when creative progression is documented this frequently.
If you weren't a fan before then Tears of Joy isn't likely to change that, it's yet another refinement of the values underpinning MIKE's music. Few modern MCs balance spaced-out contemplatives with raw emotion as well as Michael Bonema, this tape is just further proof.
First aired on 4ZZZ's New Releases Show 28/6/19