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As the album’s title might suggest, MICHAEL—the first release from DMV MC/producer Mike of Doom since 2016’s rattling NO BULLSHIT EP—is centered in one subject: Mike of Doom, himself. There’s an honesty to the decision to make overtly self-centered music. Modern lyrics, be they cased in pop, rock, or hip-hop, are largely personal and confessional, but the subject of the creator’s self is often shrouded by generalities and modesty. That’s not the case on MICHAEL, where Mike and friends—including Heems, Ciscero, Andy McMann, Kasey Jones, and Sugg Savage—unabashedly spit about themselves and everything within, to varying degrees of success.

Sonically, MICHAEL is diverse and exciting. Showcasing some his first and finest production work since 2012’s Of Doom, MICHAEL finds Mike of Doom taking influence from sounds as wide as crank, house, punk, future bass, R&B, new wave, trap, bounce, and industrial. MICHAEL weaves through styles effortlessly, always excited to flip the beat and take the track in a new direction. “Overtime” opens as a groovy electro-bounce jam that crumbles to down-sampled dust at around the one-minute mark, only to resurrect as a fuzzed-out post-Yeezus minimal beat. This method is applied to “DIVA” as well, where he steers a few jazz chords from hip-hop to progressive house, his un-compromised flow smoothly adapting to the new rhythm.

Some of the album’s more abrasive moments show Mike’s wild side, a facet of his personality that’s louder—literally and figuratively—than on the album’s early tracks. The album’s superior second half opens with “Thot the Pain Away,” an acid-blues freakout about the self-centered joys of being reluctantly single, and the first time the record flirts with rock styles (he revisits them on “MONA LISA,” “The Fool,” and “ENERGY”). After a minute-and-a-half of distorted guitars and near-scream vocals, the track switches to a hip-hop beat, trap hi-hats blaring for about three seconds, before snapping back, all while the track’s irreverent hook continues. It’s Mike’s way of winking at the listener, as if he’s saying: “This is how this song could have turned out, if MICHAEL were someone else.”

The album’s peak is the one-two punch of “Scattered Thoughts” and the following “Stolen from a Holy Land.” The former features Mike and his 3-0 WHOP-affiliate Ciscero, as well as Kasey Jones and Sugg Savage, going code red over a bruising drum-and-bass beat. Without a discernible central message, the song lives up to its title and is effective in serving the album’s overall theme: Even when he’s at a loss of thesis, MICHAEL has still got shit to say. 

This is contrasted by “Stolen from a Holy Land,” which features the most potent messages of the record: “Land of the free/ home if you’re my kind/where we could get shot/ wrong place, wrong time.”

This all begs the question: is Mike and his self-worth enough to be the centerpiece of his own record? Kinda, sorta, yeah. Within the context of MICHAEL’s central subject, the schizophrenic production presents Mike as a hip-hop artist unafraid to show his many sides. He’s one of a few MCs in town who would even consider rapping over these beats, let alone compose them and stamp their Christian name on the cover. That said, the lyrical content is lacking. For every song that features an improved-and-alive Mike on the mic (“DIVA,” “MONA LISA,” “Stolen from a Holy Land,” “FREE”), there’s another that slips into well-trodden subject matter and non-surprising revelations (“BAD,” “Overtime,” “Need Space”).

MICHAEL is overall encouraging for Mike of Doom’s future. This is certainly an enigmatic record, and it’s exciting to hear a DMV hip-hop mainstay take time to craft his own niche. No one else could have made MICHAEL, that’s for sure.