(Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )

May God Bless Your Hustle (2017), 6.5/10
Black Soap (2018), 7.5/10 (EP)
Renaissance Man (2018), 6/10
War in My Pen (2018), 5/10
Tears of Joy (2019), 6.5/10
Weight of the World (2020), 5/10
Disco (2021), 5.5/10
Beware of the Monkey (2022), 5/10

New York's Michael Bonema, the teenager behind both rapper Mike and producer DJ Blackpower, debuted with several EPs (Belgium Butter, 2015; Crimson, 2015; RAFA, 2015; Jungle Boy, 2016; The Ones Who Were Made By Time, 2016; Tonight With You , 2016) and mixtapes (Winter New York, 2015; Longest Day Shortest Night, 2016). He also founded the online hip-hop collective Slums.

His main period began (when he was still a teenager) with the EP By the Water (2017) and with the concept album May God Bless Your Hustle (2017) that analyzed in mumbled, dreamlike phrasing his own depression using psychedelic and jazzy soundscapes inspired by lo-fi "cloud rap". Bonema mostly self-produced it as DJ Blackpower, but got help from the likes of Ade "Sixpress" Sayyed and Sage "Navy Blue" Elsesser. Bonema's hip-hop stands out for mainly two techniques: it breaks down songs into sub-songs that can be significantly different; it sandwiches and buries a second voice inside the main voice (Mike's baritone), a kind of polyphonic call-and-response technique. So we get schizophrenic songs like the dub-tinged Greedy, whose second half is a casual hypnotic instrumental with field recordings, Years/ Alone, with a lethargic and psychedelic first half that segues into an angelic female sample with alto sax and trotting beat, Somebody Please, with a chaotic electronic introduction, the radio-friendly Pigeonfeet, with a first half of quasi-singing and a second half of electronic dance, and especially the six-minute Forever Find Flight (produced by Sixpress), which abandons the structure of the first part and changes style not once but twice; and we get polyphonic raps like the same Greedy, that has a warped second voice repeating "I'm going crazy", and the same Forever Find Flight, in which Mike's nursery rhyme duets with a second voice that sings and almost whispers deep inside. The duets are a less subtle implementation of the same strategy: Standout, a duet between two philosophizing males produced by Tony Seltzer aka Yung Gutted with a skeletal neurotic beat, and Victory Lab, a duet with a neosoul female singer over a sample that sounds like the fanfare of a New Orleans street band. There are countless production tricks to inject a second or third life into a song: the sampladelic Hunger, the chopped sample turned into a beat Armour (produced by Navy Blue), the pitch-shifted psychedelic guitar of Greed, the buzzing saxophone background of Awalkingharlem, etc.

The EP Resistance Man (2018) contains three songs and two instrumentals.

Bonema collaborated with Gio Escobar's ensemble Standing on the Corner for the seven-song mini-album Black Soap (Lex, 2018) of abstract hip-hop. The result is one of the most creative works of hip-hop of the time, with the industrial Ministry, the distorted Of Home, the cacophonous Time Ain't Enough and the sampladelic God Save The Queen, all drenched in a murky, lethargic, psychedelic atmosphere.

He further raised the stakes of his abstract hip-hop with Renaissance Man (2018), 12 brief raps drenched in drowsy, surrealistic and noir atmosphere and perhaps influenced by vaporwave. He was becoming a more creative producer than rapper: witness the bubbling cosmic nebula of Decision Tower and the distorted industrial beat of Why I'm Here? (whose lyrics are found conversations). This album's art is one of casual and lazy conversations in creative aural settings, like Negro World, Sidewalk Soldier and Investigate311investigate311investigate311, and often over beats so lethargic that they represent the exact opposite of hip-hop's original hyper-kinetic model, and often through a psychedelic fog, like in Goliath and the second half of Peace Offering. The highlight is perhaps the warped and disorienting industrial-psychedelic soundscape of For The Nation. Mike is often complacent and sometimes lets the music flow unedited, but combine Renaissance Man and Black Soap and you'd get one of hip-hop's greatest albums.

War in My Pen (2018), his fourth release in one year, contains more conventional material like the single Grabba, Prayers w/ Medhane and especially Like My Mama, produced by Navy Blue and sung like a nursery rhyme. The collaborations don't always work and several pieces feel like fodder. Smoke is the "stoned" zenith of the album: hip-hop music doesn't get any more lethargic. For You is its jazzy counterpart and would be memorable if it didn't end abruptly after one minute. The highlights, as usual, are the glitchy chopped-up sampledelic beatscapes, notably NeverKnocked and Rottweiler.

Tears of Joy (2019) was a tribute to his recently departed mother, and, literarily speaking, his most personal and direct work yet. Far from being dejected, the music is frequently fast-paced, like in Whole Wide World and Parks. As usual, Mike excels at creative use of samples: witness the blues chant inside Goin' Truuu, the dizzying vortex of Gr8ful 2k19, the soul song (the Moments's Look What You've Done) interspersed in Take Crowns, or the way an old gospel song of 1969 (Ain't No Love Like Jesus Love by Roscoe Robinson and the New Heavenly Wonders) pops up and interrupts Ain't No Love. As usual, the highlights are the otherworldly psychedelic soundscapes of Summer 17 and #Memories. His delivery has the chameleon property of a consummate actor, for example how it changes from drama into trance in Sleepwalk. Emotionally, the peak comes with the moving Navy Blue-produced closer Stargazer Pt 3 that ends with his own mother's voice. As usual, the songs are brief, like passing thoughts that don't deserve further investigation. The line "Somebody playing with my mind/ I hope it's not God" is probably the best summary of this album's concept.

The rather mediocre Weight of the World (2020), also inspired by his mother's death, contains Allstar and little else of substance.

Disco (10K, 2021) was almost a baroque effort by his lo-fi standards. Evil Eye (another tribute to his mother) is one of his typical duets with an old (sampled) song, in this case one of 1970s fusion jazz (John Lee & Gerry Brown's Talkin' Bout the Right One). The jazz element is generally more prominent (see also Center City, Aww Zaza, World Market and Spiral/Disco Outro). Intriguing productions include the glitchy cubism of Big Love, the ominous atmosphere of Frogville (Mk Ultra), and especially the ghostly instrumental At Thirst Sight by Assia (sampled vocals only, no rapping), The bombastic production is a mixed blessing: more quantity does not correspond to more quality. The production is frequently just a loop of a great (sample-based) idea, an idea that keeps repeated throughout the song. Instead of chopping up and remixing and warping the sample, here Mike mostly uses the original as it was. The result is his most accessible, radio-friendly album yet.

Beware of the Monkey (2022) delivers the same kind of mantra-like "loop rap" like in Nuthin I can do is Wrng, but also the unusually intricate samples of Ipari Park. The sedated Light is almost drained of emotions, while on the contrary What do I do? and Stop Worry contain strong pop melodies.

(Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )