It can be difficult to feel like a tourist in your own city. In booming metropolises like New York, the pace of transformation is often unnerving. That is, unless you’re the musician Mike, whose perceptive and patient raps seem unmoored from worldly concerns. The 22-year-old Brooklyn rapper and producer started uploading music to Bandcamp in 2015, and has by now amassed a devoted fanbase that’s reminiscent of a different era in hip-hop. His raps possess an impossible serenity, even as he unfurls pain and growth with unflinching precision. As a producer, Mike whips together samples from disparate corners of music to guide sensation. On his latest single, “Crystal Ball,” which he produced under his pseudonym DJ Blackpower, he flips a soul sample to create his breeziest song yet.
Mike’s most recent album, last year’s Weight of the World, found the MC navigating the grief of losing his mother and the trials of young adulthood. On “Crystal Ball,” from his upcoming followup, Disco!, you get the sense that all of that introspection paid off. Mike floats over the beat, playfully interpolating Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” to rap out his own name. “Don’t forget the K-E,” he reminds us. “Money where I reside, don’t forget to pay me.”
The accompanying video, directed by Ryosuke Tanzawa, finds him taking a trip around New York City atop a double-decker tourist bus. It’s a fitting metaphor. The emotional heft and clarity of his work can seem like it’s from another planet or, more fittingly, another realm of the spirit. Mike has forged a compelling path in hip-hop: He’s at once removed from the cycles of internet fame and deeply connected to the current moment. At under two minutes, “Crystal Ball” fits neatly alongside the kinds of earworm viral hits that have come to define modern rap. Mike earned a name for himself serving thoughtful dispatches from the heart. Now, it seems, he’s ready to let loose.
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