Album Review: MIKE’s War in My Pen (2018 LP) is a concise exploration of maturity and loss

This project from prodigious New York rapper MIKE dropped just before the end of last year, and may have flown under the radar as a result. Though it proves more than deserving of proper attention, despite being lost in the flurry that is the holiday season.

MIKE’s style of music is an incredibly experimental take on classic New York sounds; yes the creaky drums and heavy basslines remain – but they contort and writhe over instrumentals, with synths and samples crashing over each other in melodic cacophony. His music is noisy yet he remains relatively soft spoken in his delivery, somehow parting the sea of sound surrounding his vocals, cementing the significance of his lyrics.

Previously, many of MIKE’s songs felt like interludes with verses or hooks momentarily being interspersed, before more ambient sounds returned to fill their place, whereas ‘War in My Pen’ has much more concrete song and verse structure, while still allowing him to experiment with empty space on beats, often letting his own words fade as the song ends as if the train of thought has finished. This more classical approach to structure makes the claustrophobia of his instrumentals ease as his lyrics pierce through to the listener and are less obstructed. This communicative improvement allows for this project to feel immeasurably more personal, as there is true vulnerability in presenting these ideas clearly and more thoroughly.

Stylistically, MIKE is very reminiscent of Earl Sweatshirt’s newest project Some Rap Songs, and both work closely together, with Earl acting as a mentor to MIKE as he navigates the DIY scene. Starting with nothing but a bandcamp account and a few songs, MIKE has flourished as an artist over a number of incredibly vulnerable and evocative projects – ‘May God Bless Your Hustle’ is a definite standout in his catalogue, and this new project rivals its quality closely.

‘War in My Pen’ still holds the introspection and emotion that makes his music so captivating, but there seems to be a greater clarity in not only the songs themselves, but the ideas he’s expressing. Rottweiler is an excellent example of this, as MIKE quickly jumps from idea to idea over spooky samples, with each of them being explored, then moved from, as if he is procedurally working through pressures plaguing his train of thought. The maturity to essentially lay these feelings to rest by clearly verbalising them is what sits at the core of what makes this short project so great – listeners can feel a concerted effort from MIKE in his soul-baring, while he looks upon his own progression despite all the problems he finds himself enamoured with.

The road ahead is still winding and long, but MIKE seems to be fully aware of this fact and refuses to allow melancholy or trauma get the better of him on this project. As a result, despite the dark subject matter there is an overall feeling of progression, leaving the dark and creaky beats still feeling uplifting when paired with his delivery.


FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Find ‘War in My Pen’ and the rest of MIKE’s releases on his bandcamp profile: https://mikelikesrap.bandcamp.com/

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