Beware of the Monkey, the seventh album from Bronx-via-London rapper MIKE, takes its title from a horoscope the rapper read in a Chinese restaurant. A warning for those born in the Year of the Tiger, the title’s message resonates between 1998 and 2022. These astrological meanings are nothing new to MIKE. Since his 2017 release, May God Bless Your Hustle, he’s scheduled his albums — which he’s released on his own label, 10K — to drop on the winter or summer solstices. The gap between Beware of the Monkey and June 2021’s Disco! is actually the first time in 5 years that both solstices passed without him dropping a project.
MIKE’s deft, reflective style is always reaching across time. Whether crate-diving for stirring samples as his producer alter-ego, DJ Blackpower, or meditating on his childhood in his raps, the echoes of the past give his music the sort of timelessness seen in the discographies of icons like J Dilla and MF DOOM. In his earlier releases, these forays into days gone by were rooted in grief, mourning the loss of his mother on 2019’s tears of joy and its follow-up, 2020’s Weight of the World. But even as he lived in his grief, his artistic voice continued to develop into one of the foremost acts of a burgeoning rap underground.
On Beware of the Monkey, MIKE showcases the layered, effortless lyricism that earned him cosigns and collaborations from the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, the Alchemist and fellow avant-garde artists Navy Blue, Maxo, and MAVI. “I peeped your struggle and your pain, ma. I know my team. I wear your number when it’s game time,” he raps on single “Stop Worry!” featuring dancehall singer and DJ Sister Nancy. Across the album, he aligns these tributes to his mother and the difficulties of his childhood with motivation and confidence in his craft. “This my only chance to prove to y’all that I’m the best rapper in the world,” he swaggers on the intro to “As 4 Me.”
As the conviction of his verses grows throughout the album, so does the scope of its production. Building on the more upbeat instrumentals of last year’s Disco!, MIKE continues to expand his musical palette on production, adding dancehall, bossa nova and more to his signature slowed vocal loops. The result is some of his most uplifting songs yet. On lead single “nuthin i can do is wrng,” the song’s titular vocal sample loops like an affirming mantra. On “Ipari park” (featuring South London singer-songwriter Klein), he opens with a standout verse that dances between pride and grief. “Dog we don’t really know your lyrics like Lebron James,” he boasts, then rhymes with “Me and my momma gettin’ nearer when we on stage.”
Coming off a North American tour alongside Freddie Gibbs, with another of his own already announced for next spring, MIKE is poised to take the next step in his young career, and he sounds more than ready to do it.