AS THE SKIES OF DETROIT OPEN AND THE STRINGS OF SPACE-TIME CONVULSE, MIKE FINDS HIMSELF ORBITING SATURN…
Two years ago, while filming the Detroit installment of our documentary series for Viceland, Danny Brown pointed us in the direction of a repurposed warehouse turned music venue in the middle of nowhere. There, an unusual artist named Mike Melinoe and some of his pals toiled in secret, cooking up nice tracks and trying to change the world. They had flamethrowers, and before we knew it Mike had been sucked into a wormhole that transported him to Saturn's moon Titan and back to Earth all in approximately one minute and 32 seconds. See the video premiere of "Phase Face Moonlight" above for context; these are strange memories from Detroit.
Since that incident, Mike has relocated to Austin, Texas. "People in Detroit know I'm dope. I just don't make the bounce music," Melinoe said on a recent Skype call. He added, "If I can't get you all's attention now, I will away from the city and bring it back times ten." He's since traveled to Prague twice to perform, and now he's got his sights set on the coasts. He's also taken up painting, which has informed his music. He's gleaned particular inspiration from Jean-Michel Basquiat. On the track "Addict Venture," Mike rapped (of himself) "Basquiat: extemporize with his collars cocked." He now says he wants to embody the artist sonically.
"I'm beyond confident, man," Mike told me after a quick virtual tour of his sunny Austin apartment, strewn with dozens of his paintings in various stages of completion, "I just feel comfortable." Back in 2015 when he recorded "Phase Face Moonlight" as part of one of his earliest mixtapes, called "Natures of PropeR Element$," Mike was dealing with various outside interference, like fundraising (by himself), fundstealing (by others), evictions, family issues, and other run-of-the-mill growing pains an aspiring hip-hop artist from Detroit might face. He was just a kid, and that's what we see in this video: Mike and friends having a good time, confidently lighting shit on fire.
The Niles Mack-produced beat for "Phase Face Moonlight" is bass-heavy and at times frenetic. The build-up is slow and steady under the diptych verses. The piano roll-like progressions of minor synth tones color the mood throughout, all converging to form a spooky and satisfying metronome for Mike's words. The spindly rapper, turned up to the point of being frustrated, spits: "Been a slave since nines deported / pork on porches killing organs / Distort your corpse with war I'm force." You can already see the graphic urgency of the message, but there is a lot going on here. You have to deconstruct every word and intonation of Mike's poetry to understand what he's trying to say, but even then, the true intentions and meaning will, like Basquiat's, probably always be up for interpretation.
Then again, Mike is more concerned with accurate expression than with accessibility. When I asked him if he feared that his work was too abstract for a mainstream audience, he replied "I don't really give a damn." His mom and grandma, who still live in Detroit, have seen him on TV and in magazines, he said, and that's more than good enough for him. Everything else is icing.
Alex Dorman is a producer at VICE.