MIKE‘s a lot of things—innovative, introspective, imaginative, meditative—but it’s a rare occasion in which he’d be described as a party rapper. There’s an insular aspect to much of his albums and mixtapes, which in the last couple years have found the New York emcee and producer both grieving and attempting to navigate the path forward after the death of his mother. In titling his latest record Disco!, complete with exclamation point, Michael Jordan Bonema seems to contradict these darker chapters at least on a surface level, and the bright and buoyant sounds of the 17 tracks on his eighth full-length suggest that while the celebration is still often bittersweet, there are plenty of good times to be had.
Released on June 21 (the first day of summer in 2021—just like May God Bless Your Hustle was in 2017, Tears of Joy was in 2019, and Weight of the World was in 2020), Disco! acts in much the same way MIKE’s prior albums did, like an annual status report. But for the first time it actually feels like a proper summertime album, one that retains the laid-back sensibility of his woozy and immersive productions but makes plenty of room for a warm, accessible jazz-rap production aesthetic. Entirely self-produced under MIKE’s dj blackpower alias, Disco! is endearingly lo-fi, from its crackly samples to MIKE’s microphone sibilance, yet the low-tech approach only enhances the hazy, homespun party vibe that permeates the album.
It’s not that MIKE’s done grieving on Disco!, necessarily, he’s just learned to carry it gracefully, and with a generous share of positivity to pass along. On a track like “Crystal Ball,” MIKE sounds at once relaxed and invigorated, reminiscing about dreams of making it big over a bright and flashy soul sample: “I dreamt about a big house lowkey on the daily, Remember we would sit out, showed me where they paid green.” He gradually speeds up a bed of jazz fusion on “World Market (Mo’ Money)”, and sounds simultaneously determined and defiant while invoking his mother’s memory (“It’s for my momma when I make raps dummy, when I pray/Because I know she gonna pray back for me“) against a John Lee and Gerry Brown groove. The sequence of tracks on Disco! moves fast and zig-zags through a gauntlet of emotions, never shying away from vulnerability even when it bends toward rejoicing.
It’s also incredibly fun to listen to, even when MIKE takes a detour through some of the aching feelings that occasionally interrupt the low-key party vibe. The BPMs rarely escalate but Disco! moves fast, at times transitioning through smoked-out beat movements like vintage Flying Lotus LPs more than an archetypal rap album, allowing a little less than three minutes for standouts like “alarmed!” to leave their mark. But no track here is pure atmosphere or window dressing, instead offering MIKE the opportunity to carry his own story forward, to give listeners a chance to hear him progress as a rapper, a producer and a person. Maybe this isn’t quite the party album its title would suggest, but it does feel like a step outside, into the sunlight.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.