by Big Flowers
The symmetry behind MIKE’s “Disco!”
Ever since my first exposure to MIKE’s work, with his project BY THE WATER almost four years ago, the young creative’s work has continued to amaze me. There are infinite angles by which I could elaborate, but I don’t want to represent MIKE in an acute way, nor an obtuse one. To me, the 90-degree way to look at his career is through the lens of structure, foundation. Within geometry, especially the sacred kind, sound structure is often obtained through design symmetry. In the building of a sonic career, the sort of sound structure MIKE is crafting towards leans into this idea of symmetry. As long as I’ve been listening, it’s been expected that a release will be coming every year within the periphery of June 21st. Starting with longest day, shortest night, the emcee would fill a calendar with releases in the years to follow, always memorializing the date of 06/21. Since some sort of spotlight started to chase MIKE, the releases have become less frequent, now almost exclusively on MIKE DAY (which I am proposing to be informally recognized as such). For introspective reasons, the brilliant young mind continues to stud a release schedule annually, seemingly shrouding himself socially the more his abbreviated name gains gravity. This cycle of release builds towards an explosion of black excellence at the top of every summer, and in retrospect, imagining time on a linear plot, confined to two dimensions, the years begin to look symmetrical. In a time where more major (though genuinely just more funded) releases are incomplete and celebrated for such, to reject the idea of celebrity for the pursuit of wholesome dedication to the sound itself, MIKE’s career begins and persists with a structure, foundation, and symmetry in what is sacred.
This year, a few months ago, we received MIKE’s 6th installment on the annual plan. Glittering in a chaotic way, that you couldn’t trace along the wall if you tried, Disco! dances with you, not at you. In ways this is sonically one of MIKE’s more unrefined pieces, but don’t let that be read with negative overtones. When something is less refined, there is a raw element to it, a crackle in his oh so human voice every now and then, softly reminding you that this industry is not sport. Within songs like Zaza!, you learn how to dance in a new way, a revolutionary two-step, something pre-linguistic, serene and sanguine, guiding you to a higher self (no pun intended).
Each release has brimmed, overflown with sentiment, intimacy and introspection, somehow Disco! still seems like the closest MIKE has ever been to your headphones, nesting more and more of himself within the confines of his yearly exhibit. Where this album explicitly shines through to me is the burgeoning progression of his production alias, dj blackpower. It was almost three years ago with War in my Pen that we got our last taste of a fully self-produced MIKE album (with additional credit to Red Lee). Since then, there has been plenty of representation of dj blackpower beats on releases like WEIGHT OF THE WORLD, but there is something infinitely special about digesting a body of work front to back that is a pure crumb of singular intention. In “Disco!” it’s evident that dj blackpower has made developments even since 2020. Following the point of symmetry from prior though, to me what makes this career special is not how diverse and progressive MIKE/dj blackpower can be, but his commitment to progression, by the self-imbued limitation of a perennial bloom. If he is to be releasing something every year, he is creating a symmetrical measure of time that slightly intersects our social understanding of such. It’s understood that under this framework, album to album, there will not likely be genre-breaking developments each year. With artists that recede indefinitely into creative hermitage, there is an illusion of awe in how different one sound is relative to the last offering. Voodoo is significantly different than Brown Sugar, and Black Messiah is a whole different world. D’angelo achieved that legacy of innovation with hiatus, sabbatical, and the ever-lingering notion that we are not guaranteed another album. With MIKE, it seems like an overlooked privilege that we get to witness this progress. I confidently make the claim that MIKE is as important to music at large as D’angelo. If MIKE decided to take the 5 years that D’angelo took between Brown Sugar and Voodoo, I would argue that the next project he dropped would have a similar effect on our understanding of hip-hop as a population, not even going to imagine what the following 15 year silence could potentialize. These are fantasies though, we will likely never see 2 years without a MIKE release. Since he started, there hasn’t even been one year absent.
MIKE is as reclusive as he chooses to be, he doesn’t need to stop sharing his music to achieve that. Thus, we stumble upon on the ever-blazing grand conclusion of breadcrumbing. In a very direct way, MIKE is leaving a trail. Every album he releases gains more and more of a following, and he is giving new listeners an opportunity to witness his climb to the made-from-moleskin-bound-paper mountain he occupies in the middle of NYC. Not every artist guarantees this process, and the more recognized the artist, the less likely you receive something this often. MIKE is undoubtedly a generational talent, but this is still not sport, this is the weaving of a sacred geometry. We don’t have the full shape yet, but when we do, we will also have the formula to explain it, and that is the uniquity of MIKE. Where most artists drop curtains, MIKE briefly lets you peek into his studio, and see the honest account of what’s going on. Though it’s still under construction, as the big apple will eternally be, MIKE’s career is foundationally secure, a fort made on the blacktop for a volunteer’s compensation. The structure he has provided himself has given the illusion of predictability. “Disco!” again proves that you don’t know what to expect from MIKE, with the smoke stained halls of every space he’s ever danced in coming back to tell you a most compelling story. This is why it’s paramount not to look too closely: if the house is stable you shouldn’t spend too long inspecting what’s load-bearing and what’s not. If we let MIKE build, it will come, or it won’t (though there’s no evidence to point to the latter, I would never even colloquially impose or imply a deadline on a creative body of work). Either way I celebrate on June 21st, not for the changing of seasons, but for the steady march of a man on fire. White hot, in passing, it almost looked like all the world’s black light reflecting off of a sacredly symmetrical disco ball. We saw ourselves for a moment, dancing.
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