MIKE Wants to Be Present Without Bearing the Weight of the World

The New York rapper talks to collaborator Sideshow about finding clarity through the current haze.

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On last year’s Tears of Joy, Brooklyn rapper MIKE mourned the loss of his mother. His latest full-length project Weight of the World is still pensive and heavy — a grief-stricken album that finds the 21-year-old, born Michael Jordan Bonema, maneuvering through a reality propelled off its axis by her passing. A year later, he’s had more time to work through the haziness of it all, sifting through memories and depression to provide listeners with just enough of his hero’s journey to make his pain palpable.

“A lot of the project was bringing myself back to life because a lot of times I was working on it, I feel like I was not really being transparent with myself — not really paying attention to my feelings,” he told HYPEBEAST. “When you’re not being honest with other people you’re low-key numbing parts of yourself you feel me? That sh*t eats at certain parts of your growth. A lot of it was me trying to be present in this world.”

MIKE deals from his stream-of-consciousness and in abstractions, his bars built on samples so warped from different eras that you cannot immediately identify the backing instruments. His production as his alter-ego DJ Blackpower delves through crates dusty enough to warrant a Claritin, thinking outside of the box with loops reminiscent of MF DOOM and shades of Madlib’s otherworldly eccentricity.

It’s become the signature aesthetic of his [sLums] collective, a group of six artists united through MIKE’s moves between Brooklyn and The Bronx. His early work caught the ear of Earl Sweatshirt; their subsequent friendship and work together morphed Earl’s sound with evidence of the [sLums]’ fingerprints all over his prescient third studio project, Some Rap Songs. Before MIKE entered his twenties he had helped cultivate a community full of quixotic and soulful artists like Navy Blue, Medhane, Jadasea and others.

“I want to be able to feel more comfortable in this world… I’m trying to experience life without that weight.”

Family is a recurring theme throughout Weight of the World. MIKE reveals personality traits passed down from his mother: “I got my mother’s laugh, grinnin’ through a bunch of bad sh*t,” he raps on “Love Supremacy.” He waxes about suppressing emotions with substances and his father’s reliance on religion on “222”: “Believe I got the nerve, seein’ mommy with the burden/ Had to hit the curb, papa told me hit the churches/ Thinkin’ got me hurt, got me emptyin’ the bourbon.” Bars later he reminisces on seeing his mother for the last time, “Walked her out the Earth, just me, a couple nurses.” Weight of the World’s insular and distant qualities, where demons lurk around every corner, finds MIKE balancing the Libra scales between the weight of loss and the light of love. There’s pain in his present, but the growth is the point.

Even while attempting to lift the burdensome grief at the center of the album, MIKE still finds the light. His laugh is hearty and addicting, its bass echoing off the walls and filling an entire space with warmth.

A lot of that laughter can be attributed to up-and-coming rapper Sideshow putting on his official interviewer’s hat for HYPEBEAST as they catch up on the phone across time zones and coasts. Sideshow has already put out two projects this year, the nostalgic West Coast-infused Farley and Asked Amlak to Wash My Hands, a quick-hitting offering where he experiments with flows to match the eclectic samples throughout. MIKE and Sideshow’s “Vrrydrrty_2” collaboration alongside resident veteran Zelooperz was an ineffable standout from the album, each laidback verse sure to bring a smile to your face.

Continue onward as MIKE and Sideshow talk about the heaviness behind Weight of the World, creating a space to empower female artists and planning for the future in uncertain times.

Sideshow: All right, n*gga (laughs). So Mikee T6 man, Michael Jordan. How you doing?

MIKE: Yo, my man Sideshow, how you doing?

I’m cool, bro. Just figuring out life post COVID-19 America.

This sh*t is crazy. Just mad sh*t coming to light. It’s a lot of information you feel me?

I feel that. And it’s a great time to just listen. You’re a member of the Black race, right? And of the Black race you’re a member of the male community. And within the male community you’re a member of the heterosexual community. So how do you think all that right there affects your place in these times, with what you got to do and with what you gotta say?

I think one thing for sure is that n*ggas have a lot of learning to do and a lot of un-learning to do at the same time. One thing I feel about us is like, putting your ego aside so you can be able to learn from people that may not look like you or be in your situation. My main sh*t has been just trying to learn and figure out new ways, every day. But I know that there’s always more that you can do.

How do you think your African heritage and your background affects you?

It’s a complex structure. Just being on Western land changes everything. The curse of being on Western land, I feel like personally will forever be there ‘cause they have built that structure. Well, maybe not forever but for a while. Being African and being from Nigeria you see things from a different perspective because your parents are on some, “We need to make money, go to college, make sure your family’s straight.” My parents also started feeling the struggles of what it was like being a Black person in America. So they were trying to keep up this traditional image of what you’re supposed to hold but actually going through the struggle of being Black in America.

You think views on respectability have anything to do with that?

When you say respectability…

What I’ve always thought when they talk about respectability, they talk about the young man Elijah [McClain], right? A young man who got killed by the police and they talk about, “Oh, he played the violin. He was so nice to everybody.” Now I’m saying they talk about you. This guy MIKE, he’s an able-bodied young man and he towers over you in height. He got wild dreads, he got a scraggly beard. They might try to play with your respectability, your public perception.

I feel that, yeah. A lot of that sh*t is just fake. That’s what the realization was with my parents. I feel like they still in the process of realizing how fake it is. Even my sister, she’s like big Christian, like she’s a crazy genre of Christian (laughs). She hit me yelling on some sh*t like, “Yo, I need to get armed. I need to be able to defend myself.” Then my dad called me and was like, “I’m proud of Cindy for thinking like that.” Christian people will always be like, “God will protect us.” Well, if somebody just decides to walk into your crib, you have to protect yourself first.

I think these times are also changing us as straight Black men. I think it’s changing the way we approach a lot of things and communities that we used to overlook. But it’s that Weight of the World. You’re really feeling the weight of the world right now?

Low-key bro, that’s like my whole bag. I be feeling very heavy, especially in my chest.

I notice that with the homies, you can tell how a n*gga’s feeling by how spicy his spliff is, how much tobacco you put in the spliff.

For real, bro. You know when the homie roll up mad clean and then one day he pull up and just roll some…

Something dirty. The harsher the joint, the harder the times. So why do you feel like that? Do you feel responsible for n*ggas? You feel responsible for things around you?

I feel a lot of what’s going around me. Sometimes I don’t have the language to speak about it or process it, so it builds up. When it builds up it becomes complex — it turns into different sh*t. I don’t want to put that responsibility on other people because that’s my choice. That’s on me, you feel me? That’s just part of this journey, figuring out ways to communicate and have these different types of relationships with people.

Where do you think your headspace is now compared to your previous tapes?

Let me hear your perspective first.

Remember what I told you the first time we met and really kicked it? It was at that Airbnb and I was like, “Bro why you look so sad?” (Laughs). You was looking all sad but you had a big old smile like you was chilling. So maybe in your older songs you was chilling a little bit more. I’m not even speaking on if stuff is harder. But this time around I noticed a little more urgency, not in the way of, “Oh f*ck I’m late to the bus,” but in the sense of you’re in an argument, right? And someone starts to speak over you and then when somebody is usually the quiet person in the room is like, “Hey bruh, nah n*gga, I gotta say this real quick.” I liked the approach this time around. You sounded more awake, more alive.

Facts. It’s crazy that you say that sh*t ‘cause that’s really how I felt. A lot of the project was bringing myself back to life because a lot of times I was working on it, I feel like I was not really being transparent with myself — not really paying attention to my feelings. Once I started being honest with myself and the people around me it made me want to be more alive. When you’re not being honest with other people you’re low-key numbing parts of yourself you feel me? That sh*t eats at certain parts of your growth. A lot of it was me trying to be present in this world.

How do you think you’ve accomplished that in your life right now? You’ve told me you started jogging. You think that’s been affecting the raps or you finished rapping now?

I’m still committed to that sh*t. I started cooking. I’m in the middle of this move out the crib. I’m just on some big new beginning sh*t.

I’m on my interviewer sh*t. I’m acting like I don’t even know you n*gga. Like we don’t talk every day. “Oh you about to move, I didn’t even know that.” They gotta know my n*gga MIKE really an adult. I hope they paid attention to the “What’s Home?” video. You was watering plants. Grown man things, taking care of plants.

One of my main sh*ts as of recent is doing two good things a day that you do for yourself. Do something for yourself. Because a lot of times we don’t really be thinking about the sh*t we’re doing every day. A part of being alive again was remembering like, yo, I still exist whether in relationship to anybody else, I’m still here. Doing something good for myself reminds me of that.

How has your relationship to New York been? Because you’ve moved around a lot growing up.

It’s been pretty fire. I moved out here with my dad. I went to high school out here in Bushwick. That’s where I met a lot of the homies that I be f*cking with today.

That’s where y’all n*ggas came up with [sLums]?

Kinda. I had moved to The Bronx to live with my auntie ‘cause my dad and his ex had already split up or whatever. I was just tired of moving schools and sh*t so my auntie let me live with her. That’s when I found out Adé [Hakim] lived like 10 minutes away from me. Me and Darryl already had the idea for [sLums] but once we linked with Adé that’s when it came to life.

So what is [sLums]? I never officially asked you. This isn’t even me capping like I don’t know you. Spell it out for n*ggas.

[sLums] really started off as a group of friends from different backgrounds and sh*t. At the time we was all in crazy situations, at least at the times because we was young. We really just helped each other out. It was six homies — me, Ruben, Darryl, King, Adé and the homie Mason and we would really just create sh*t. I feel like we introduced a new energy. Low-key just on some love sh*t in the city — I’m not gonna cap, before that I feel like everybody was tryna be a cool guy. It was weird. We low-key made n*ggas loosen up in the hood.

Why the name [sLums]?

It felt like we was a part of this big area of sh*t that wasn’t built yet. We was just making the best out of this situation. But we was actually making like heat, you feel me? This sh*t doesn’t even make sense to be honest. We were really just hustling.

“Sometimes you gotta forfeit the money to see the real purpose behind it.”

That’s one thing they always say, on some funny sh*t, that New York spirit. There’s always hustlers in the city. You think the motion of the city affected y’all?

For sure. The city is fast paced and there’s also a lot of history to it. Even with the music sh*t — I was talking to homie the other day. No rapper really in New York, not even on some local sh*t, was like yo, do shows here or…

Nobody showed you the ropes.

Yeah bro, the only n*gga who had really pulled up on us was the one homie Joygill who was curating art shows and sh*t. We saw the art gallery as an entry into doing shows and being in those spaces. It’s crazy that it was the one n*gga that don’t even do music…

They were the one giving you that platform. You did that Young World festival so you think you’re going to be the one to do that for others where you’re from?

That’s one of my goals, to give a space to n*ggas who are about to do this sh*t after us. I want to help them do they sh*t because I would hate to do what other n*ggas did to me.

That’s the thing about older n*ggas in the industry — I won’t even say industry but older n*ggas in the realm of things be like, “Oh I don’t like how youngins is doing this, I don’t like how youngins is doing that.” But bro, we ain’t have no guidance.

The reason why they don’t like that sh*t is because they know their sh*t is corrupt. We moving with this sh*t in a way more pure way so it makes sense that they wouldn’t f*ck with us.

You and KeiyaA have a special friendship, man.

The first time I saw KeiyaA was like two years ago but I feel like we really became friends last year and we locked in on some music sh*t. The energy of the music we was creating was, maybe not even similar but just complimented each other. Honestly she’s one of my favorites. Sometimes I don’t even want to make beats around her because I’m like, “Yo, you might as well take the wheel, no cap.”

KeiyaA’s not much older than us but I treat her like such an elder with her wisdom, you know?

I think who she is as a person and her music as well helps people view their emotions in a different light and from a different perspective. That’s one thing that I love about music is the juxtaposition of emotional sh*t and how it plays into how people make their music. That really means a lot to me.

In order to make other people feel good through your music, you have to be feeling, at a certain level, good about yourself. So in order to translate that through song, through whatever medium you’re doing, it can genuinely be bringing joy to people. I feel like you got to have a certain joy within yourself.

Or you even have the want to give other people joy, you feel me?

How old are you, 21? What’s your five year goals? I don’t even mean music bro, but life-wise.

I’m definitely trying to work on a script for a movie. I want to do a lot of creative sh*t like build spaces for younger n*ggas to do sh*t and spaces for Black people to occupy. Get all the homies to do therapy. This life sh*t comes when it comes. There’s always going to be a different goal for us to achieve. We’re really moving on the world’s timing.

So you’ll really have a different set of goals in the next few months.

Really like low-key tomorrow. I want to be able to feel more comfortable in this world. Even when talking about the weight of the world, I’m trying to experience life without that weight. And not comfortable like I’m not worrying about sh*t because there will always be things to worry about, but I want to be present in those situations.

Your next album gonna be called Weightless, n*gga. You’re floating, floating through the sky. “Do not disturb: I’m chilling.”

I’m dead. That sh*t’s hilarious. N*ggas be trying to pretend that we not out here. The power that we have is so crazy. N*ggas be sleep and that’s when they be trying to force us to do the most. If n*ggas want to just put out some light sh*t, like some jams, I ain’t even gotta call it nothing — it’s just for the flex you know? N*ggas will respect it. Those are the sh*ts that the big n*ggas be biting from and respect on the same caliber.

“A part of being alive again was remembering like, yo, I still exist. Whether in relationship to anybody else, I’m still here.”

How do you feel about the current state of music?

It’s hella exciting. I’m anticipating everyone’s growth. To me that’s so beautiful. I always talk about the future, when kids are calling us uncle. Culture is generational and it’s going to be passed down by us. A lot of the time we don’t realize what we’re building and the power of what we’re doing. A lot of these older n*ggas really missed out on being able to create something for themselves and a positive world for people — their fans. That’s one of the reasons I f*ck with DOOM. He really created a world for his fans to live in. He inspired a lot of people to do their own sh*t. Artists like Madlib were able to create their own world and were willing to open their minds for people. Imagine being the first n*gga in a metal mask…

N*ggas was probably clowning. That’s what you were talking about earlier — the whole traditional route with African parents, do the college thing, the scholarship thing. N*ggas kind of do that with rapping. They take the safe route in rap.

There’s mad respectability politics in this sh*t and that’s what I’m trying to steer away from to create our own path. I don’t think nobody’s really done it like how we’ve done it. Building new pathways. A lot of this don’t even be about money. Sometimes you gotta forfeit the money to see the real purpose behind it. The money always comes back. That’s the f*cked up part about being African — we big capitalists. I’m trying to find ways to move away from that sh*t but if I know I’m able to make money then I want to figure out how to redistribute it and put it back into places that need the sh*t to help the community that I’m a part of.

Is there anybody that you would want to work with?

I been thinking about this O.D. for like a week. I would work with Azealia Banks. She hard, bro. Besides that though, I don’t really f*ck with too many people, just the homies. I really just work with the n*ggas that are very close to me. I just be hype about the relationships we building through music. For sure working with Thebe [Earl Sweatshirt] was a crazy moment because he inspired a lot of my sh*t. He was coming in as a more mature version of myself, even past the “All-Star” track on the new one. Working with KeiyaA as well is so fire. She really be knowing how to bring the drip out of a beat for real.

The music you and KeiyaA got — she did the “Get Rich Quick Scheme” joint right? When you would play that on the tour out in Europe n*gga, I’d be smacked and ask you, “Bro, what song is that?” Every night. What instrument is being played? The bagpipe? An accordion?

I’m not even sure, bro. It’s some brass sh*t. Amerie sampled… Nah, nah, we’re not even about to get into it.

You about to get on your snitching sh*t n*gga, relax. You already said too much.

I’m trying to work with Maassai, she’s a rapper from Brooklyn. Very, very hard, bro. She just dropped some sh*t recently, n*ggas should tag that in the post.

“There are so many women coming at this sh*t different and haven’t been given the opportunity to shine because of how f*cked up society is.”

I’m noticing the majority of the artists you hope to work with are ladies. Why?

It’s naturally because of their talent. Even with saying Azealia Banks, she’s one of the most fire rappers. American society hates Black women, especially a Black woman like that. They really violated her sh*t and ruined so much music. I listen and wow, what she could have made, what she still can make because I’m not aware of what her situation is. But she’s a dark skinned Black woman that’s outspoken. I know she got so much fire music. There are so many women coming at this sh*t different and haven’t been given the opportunity to shine how they supposed to because of how f*cked up society is.

How many sisters do you have?

I have two full-blood sisters. I have two twin half-sisters born like two years ago. I have another two other sisters, Egypt and Myola, that’s six already. I got my other sister Titi, that’s seven, and my other sister Brianna, that’s eight. Yeah, I have eight sisters.

One of the alternate covers to Weight of the World, on Bandcamp, that’s your sister, right?

Yeah, that’s my sister Vicky. She plays a big part in a lot of my music. We was alway partners in crime.

How many brothers you got?

None (laughs).

That’s what I’m saying. How do you think that’s affected you?

There’a a lot of work I had to do to understand that sh*t. There were times where my mother wasn’t able to be there because of the situation she was going through and my sisters took care of me. A lot of learning I did through them. I had to process those relationships and understand that they were doing a lot of work that they wasn’t supposed to do because of poverty. They had to be in a position that they shouldn’t have been. Learning how to cope with that sh*t, I grew up trying to be supportive but when you’re young, you want to hold onto that masculinity sh*t — trying to be the grown man of the house. But there’s so much more I could’ve learned from my sisters and my mom had I just submitted to them.

Hardheadedness is definitely one of America’s biggest weaknesses.

I look at my younger sisters and I’m like, “Y’all are about to grow into something crazy.” Vicky, she’s very outspoken and she’s not afraid to defend herself. It be scary because people really target people like that and prey on people like that. N*ggas really gotta tighten up on some community sh*t, on some family sh*t — protect them and be there how we can, for real for real.

How you feel about these recent times and the current state of attitudes toward women with what society’s been showing us?

N*ggas gotta listen bro. They gotta hear women out and start figuring out what’s triggering them to harm women in the first place. Just being responsible and holding themselves accountable. It’s really time to listen and inform yourself, especially if you have any want to be a part of this movement of people trying to free themselves. We all have privileges that we benefit from and n*ggas gotta work through that with compassion and go through this together.

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