“Life Only Gets More Confusing” MIKE Interviewed

“I feel like I learned a magic trick that’s turning nothing into something.”

“I’m just grateful,” MIKE says. He sits back in his chair in Lower East Side’s uluh, a Chinese restaurant the New York City emcee has been to many times and it’s the meeting place he chooses to talk to CLASH about his latest project. “I feel like I learned a magic trick that’s turning nothing into something.”

The 24-year-old rapper born Michael Jordan Bonema doesn’t eat meat. So at uluh, he orders sweet and sour fish, black truffle fried rice, vegetable soup dumplings, and two osmanthus oolong cocktails — the second round of which he shares a taste with everyone at the table. Funnily enough, there are no health or environmental reasons MIKE is a pescatarian. “I went to England and the homies were like ‘All the OGs out here are either vegan or pescatarian.’ And these are all the real gangsters in London. I was like ‘Yo, that’s so hard!’… Yeah, I’m done eating chicken,” he explains, laughing.

Whatever the reason MIKE does what he does, he’s always intentional. We eat in a Chinese restaurant ten hours before the release of his newest album, ‘Beware Of The Monkey,’ out today via his own 10k imprint, because the theme of the record is in reference to the Chinese zodiac. 

Bonema was born in 1998, the year of the tiger. Those born in his birthyear, specifically, are earth tigers, who are known for their wit, ambition, reliability, and generosity. According to his horoscope, 2022 signifies a year of substantial change and career development. This year, MIKE went on a spring tour, released the ‘One More’ EP in collaboration with Wiki and The Alchemist, and is now releasing his most self-assured project to date. While ‘Beware Of The Monkey’ could have been ready in the summertime, he says, “I was trying to stop worrying about the gluttonous stuff that comes with releasing a project and [instead] worrying about whether the music sounds cohesive.” He adds, “December 21 is also supposed to be the coldest day of the year.”

While adoration from fans and the instant gratification of validation would have been nice, MIKE is also learning the value of patience. The timing of the drop ends up working perfectly, too. “Lowkey this is the longest I ever worked on a project,” he says.

“The weather aspect just represents the emotion. I felt a lot of emotional attachment to it. I kind of get this heavy feeling, too.”

The rapper is known to be regularly vulnerable in his work, delivering verbose storytelling through his breathy bars over soul vocal samples. In ‘Beware Of The Monkey,’ MIKE’s streams of consciousness exude a self-awareness that exemplifies the duality of human nature. He basks in his success, but strives to stay grounded (“Said enough the with the comparing / A lotta love I couldn’t cherish / Through the tunnel seen a glare, all that cluster isn’t karats”). He processes the weight of the world while also allowing himself to enjoy life (“It’s still peace with my early mans / Some cut, still grieve, I deserve to dance / To feel the breeze, feel the earth expand / Feel debris where my burden stand / Some love still leeching in deserted land”). And he’s the most confident he’s ever been, but is completely open to learning and making mistakes. (“It’s big MIKE had to crawl ‘fore I really jumped”).

“One hundred percent, I’m a lot more stable,” he confirms when asked if he feels a lot happier since releasing his 2020 ‘weight of the world’ LP. “But life only gets more confusing. Even through the happiest moments, shit just be getting more confusing to me.”

It wasn’t until MIKE was 21 years old that he got to sleep in his own bed. Now, the rapper has his own apartment in Brooklyn and he just adopted a puppy. The two-month-old Boston terrier named Mezcal was the reason he was late to lunch, and we even stop for a brief moment to be made aware that she peed on his friend’s floor. 

Despite being a new dog dad, he expresses, “I feel like I still don’t want to be responsible for anybody. But lowkey I do eventually want to be a mentor.” Patience isn’t just something he had to learn for the release of this record and it’s not just something he’s learning to do while training Mezcal, but it’s also something he needs to learn to be ready to guide the next generation of rappers. “I just want to make sure I can be the best mentor I can be. Being a mentor to somebody is such a real relationship thing. You have to be careful because you can easily turn somebody off the shit that they love by directing them in the wrong way.”

Earl Sweatshirt has historically been credited as MIKE’s mentor. The shoutout Earl gave MIKE in ‘Some Rap Songs’ brought attention to the New York City lyricist in a way he hadn’t gotten before. “That was my favourite rapper,” MIKE declares. “So going from making shit on my laptop or at the homie’s crib to meeting my favourite rapper immediately, it was just like cool – we’re going in the right steps.”

Next year stamps five years of ‘Some Rap Songs’ and in turn, five years since MIKE has been in the limelight. In March, MIKE will be going on his 28-date North American Ipari Park Tour, starting in Boston and ending in his home city of Brooklyn. 

Not only the seventh song on ‘Beware Of The Monkey,’ Ipari Park is also a universe MIKE created. “It’s a 24/7 family reunion cookout kind of vibe. It’s definitely in Nigeria. Definitely has palm trees,” he elaborates. The musician first noticed the words “Ipari Park” on a sign while traveling in Budapest and was shocked to see a Yoruba word in the Hungarian capital. Since then, he’s brought his own personal meaning to Ipari Park. “I feel like when I make music and make certain terms, I just be trying to build small worlds or characters.” Where MIKE fits into those worlds? “I don’t always have to be in the same place — I can help divide [myself] by creating really simple roads.”

‘Beware Of The Monkey’ is out now.

Words: Arielle Lana LeJarde // @ArielleNYC
Photos: Cooly.fooly

Follow Clash

Buy Clash Magazine