Of course MIKE was gonna drop an album on the winter solstice, having dropped projects in the past on the shortest and longest days of the year. As one of the most respected artists within the US independent hip-hop scene, he’s just gone from strength to strength, improving both his textured, soulful production, and his pen, rapping with more clarity and intent than ever before. His new album, Beware of the Monkey is probably my favourite project of his to date, following the exceptional 2021 “Disco!”, and is exemplary of his creative genius.
“Nuthin I can do is Wrng” kicks the album off with a gorgeous looped vocal soul sample, with a colourful soundscape that gives MIKE the ability to rap effortlessly, speaking on his growth as a person and as an artist and sounding as inspired as ever doing so. Despite his young age, he raps as if he’s experienced it all, with a wisdom that seems decades ahead of everyone else his age. It’s an inspiring opener that sets the tone for the album. It flows perfectly into “As 4 Me”, another soulful cut that again speaks to his growth and maturity. Where on previous releases the mixing was a bit rough, often due to his murky experimental production, the clarity in sound is more defined on this project. “Light (if you can’t see)” with Jadasea is a highlight with a subtle, moody beat that gives both emcees a soothing, smooth soundscape to rap effortlessly over. “Ipari Park” featuring Klein is another highlight, while “Swoosh 23” and “Tapestry” include some of the best production I’ve heard him compose in a very long time. Having the album entirely produced by himself as dj blackpower should also be mentioned, as he really is one of the most creative and unique producers working today. The most triumphant moment on the album is “Stop Worry!” with Sister Nancy. The fact the Jamaican dancehall legend is featured on a MIKE track is a testament to his influence and impact within hip-hop, bringing his Jamaican heritage front and centre, with an empowering verse, opening with “There’s too much buzz around my name now to stay discreet / How I’m the one who bring the fame ’round when I couldn’t speak?” Seeing his growth as an artist over the last 5 years or so is just so beautiful, and seeing it culminate in this kind of collaboration just shows what kind of special talent MIKE is, and how much his music has made an impact on the world so far.
The soulful and crisp production, combined with his usually vulnerable and intricate raps, make MIKE’s album Beware of the Monkey one of his most complete projects to date, and if it had been released a few weeks prior, it would have landed firmly in my favourite albums of the year list. Listen to the album below and don’t forget to support!