by Mike Scarfo
Western, MA hip-hop artist mikeyblackkk is no stranger to speaking on important issues within his music. His first viral single “Black Twitter” in 2017 with Chicago staple Mick Jenkins, referenced the toxicity of politicians and their mindset as it relates to the black community in the United States. More recently, 2020’s satirical single “Black Fox News” shifted the similar mentality towards the conservative media’s excusing of police brutality towards Black people in America. In essence, mikeyblackkk refuses to shy away from who he is and what he believes in, and listeners are able to dive even deeper into his psyche on his latest EP Manhattan.
The “mind-blowing” cover art of Manhattan is enough to draw one’s attention, but the message behind its imagery is rooted within the music itself, giving the cover an entirely deeper, more complex meaning by the end of its 5 track, 15 minute runtime. The EP’s opener “20/20” is a layered double-entendre as mikeyblackkk reflects on 2020 in hindsight:
“but now I’m doing bigger shit than last year / but let me drop a bomb homie this could be our last year / it’s an ice age coming if we last here / the world looked better from the moon when I crashed here / aliens hopping borders and shit / I built the wall by myself / so now I’m cornered and shit”
Mikeyblackkk unpacks numerous societal issues that have become heightened as a result of 2020, such as climate change, immigration, and threats of nuclear war. What’s most impressive is mikeyblackkk’s ability to transition from each subject seamlessly through clever, memorable rhymes, providing an entry point to many of these issues. His flows and delivery are effortless over a colorfully off-kilter instrumental.
Phoenix Rios, whom many of you know as the co-host of our podcast, is the EP’s lone feature as he delivers a catchy, relatable hook, the tongue-in-cheek line “do you need a re-do because me too / hope in 2022 I get to see you” being the most memorable. Phoenix’s accessible hook contrasts brilliantly with mikeyblackkk’s more serious delivery, and starts the EP on a high note.
The next track in the listing, “Terror”, highlights the introspective thoughts of Black people in America as they still are treated with terror and ridicule throughout our society. Mikeyblackkk’s cadence is particularly noticeable, as he delivers this track with such palpable pain and emotion over an atmospheric beat. That agony continues tenfold as “Terror” blends into the warped, lo-fi “Smile”, a clear disparity in mood from the previous two tracks. “Smile” is contradictory in that mikeyblackkk talks about everything except smiling; he touches upon feelings of distress, hope, and even the state of his mental health. Mikeyblackkk is at most vulnerable on this one, he acknowledges being “too serious” all the time as a problem, offering this EP as welcoming those to “the Mikeyblackkk experience” in an attempt for listeners to understand him on a deeper level than they have before.
“Manhattan” is fittingly the EP’s most climactic track, littered with dark synths and mikeyblackkk’s most aggressive showcase of flows and vocal delivery of the entire project. He uses the Manhattan atom bomb project during World War II as a metaphor for his own music career, expressing his desire to blow up, but in reality he often feels misunderstood and even invisible. He continues his commentary on violence and discrimination towards the Black community, bringing the song full circle by its end.
The EP’s final track, “Alien Nation” again references the metaphor of aliens as immigrants, as well as the recent reports of actual UFO’s and aliens being spotted. The concept of the song is also relative to our society as a whole being nearly unlivable and unrecognizable, and how it can even appear foreign nowadays to everyday citizens. Mikeyblackkk refers to us focusing on the wrong things as a whole, conveying that “the airs all polluted” but at least “the music slaps”. “Alien Nation” acts as almost a “what if”, suggesting that if we continue on the path we are on, humanity will be destined for impending doom. It’s very in-your-face, raw, and honest, leaving the audience to consider willful ignorance as the main root of the problem for all of these aforementioned issues.
Mikeyblackkk’s transparency of larger societal issues as well as himself throughout Manhattan is what sets this project apart. He reflects a major urgency in our attention to social dilemmas of racism and discrimination, climate change, and mental health. If nothing else, Manhattan acts as a vital springboard to create an open dialogue, succeeding in its cause with thorough lyricism and metaphorical commentary.
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