words • Pedro Gonzalez
photos • Nino Lenzini
I’m sitting inside Monster Mike’s apartment on the west side of Pilsen a few weeks removed from the release of his seven-song EP, For The Sport. With the original Pokemon series playing in the background while we catch up over tacos, in what immediately feels like a welcoming environment, I attempt to untangle and better understand an individual who’s been extremely hard to decipher over the years.
As an artist, Mike has been arguably one of the most talented rappers out of the burgeoning local scene in terms of mic presence, raw ability and references for at least six years. He started rapping for “that moment when you say something and someone fucks with it” and cites Lil Wayne as an early influence.
Listening to Mike’s music is to immerse yourself in a world of debauchery, stains and substance abuse, but it’s also about connecting with somebody who’s outstandingly witty and brutally honest at all times.Conversely, he’s also been one of the most frustrating acts to follow as a fan. Whether it was via a scene-stealing guest verse or a great solo record, every time his music gained traction he seemed to disappear only to sporadically upload random loosies months later hinting at a full-length project that never to seemed to drop.
When the mixtapes finally arrived –2016’s Known As Lil Sleezy and Welcome to HDUB–they felt like sparring bouts rather than a debut heavyweight fight. Utilizing the medium to try different jabs and styles that often landed with a strong enough punch to remind fans why they expected so much from him but ultimately failing at becoming the definitive next step in his career.
When asked about said expectations and if they affected his creative process, Mike attributes the standard set on himself as the main factor behind his irregular release schedule and the drive to continue creating.
“What I want to achieve makes me not want to stop rapping,” he shares. “I’ll drop shit and people will tell me it’s hard and I’ll tell them that’s what I wanted to do. I could’ve dropped more shit but it’s not really what I wanted to do at that time.”
There’s a palpable dualism to Mike, who somehow manages to teeter the line between an affable, good-natured personality and a love for stains and finessing.
Even his upbringing was marked by two opposites sides of the city. “My dad lived on the Northside and my mom lived on the Southside, so growing up I was always going back and forth,” Mike says as he reflects on his unique situation and the hardships from both ends. “The Northside has this stigma that people think it’s sweet as hell, but that’s because they’ve never been in or seen a bad situation.”
Mike’s candidly aware that his choices have stalled his career, but in the process, he’s also maintained his artistic integrity and freedom.
“Until I get where I want to be I’m not really going feel like I did some shit,” explains Mike. “People tell me to act a certain way because of who I am and they are kind of right, but at the same time, I don’t really feel it. It’s weird, I see myself as decent but not perfect and I’m trying to be perfect.”
Those high aspirations lead to a lot of material to collect dust on hard drives and e-mails. “For my sound, it’s hard to find people who can make that and sometimes I feel I’m boxed in,” Mike says. “Even when that’s not the case, I’m still reserved on what I rap on.”
His mindset only changed after a conversation with a close friend this past Christmas convinced him to put more music out. “Kendel told me I have to drop shit and make more, instead of making shit and holding it back.”
Shortly after, he began to flood his Soundcloud again. A few days before the new year, he released the 1-1-2018 and followed it up with two collaborations with producer Cangelos (“.zip,” alongside Qari, and “feel”). But it was February’s, For The Sport, that truly set a new benchmark for the D-Block emcee.
Inspired by a line on Netflix’s Peeky Blinders, a show about three brothers in the early 20’s “hitting hella stains, fixing horse races and stealing machine guns, but always with their family,” the title fits Mike and his music on several levels. The EP not only documents Mike’s love for sports but more importantly deep dives into his life’s balancing act of disquieting and enrapturing moments.
On “Oh Yeah” he wrestles with the fact that some of his friends “almost died off the xan shit” while the following song attributes a really good summer to his mix of the pharmaceutical tranquilizer and wine. It’s raw and gritty, but earnestly Mike.
Entirely produced by Luke Almighty, Mike credits the rising producer for helping him create his favorite project to date. The two possess a palpable synergy as Luke gets the best out of Mike with songs built on mesmerizing synths and rattling hi-hats.
“I think our shit works well together,” he says “I wasn’t going for a particular sound as much as trying to fuck with somebody I can mesh well. Other people send me beats and I can’t rap on them right away, I have to be there with them. With Luke, most of his shit I can rap to it right away.”
As our conversations come to an end, Mike shares that he’s heading over to Los Angeles soon. The plan is to work on new music alongside old pals Kembe X and Adamn Killa while he’s out there. And while it is still uncertain what will happen in the upcoming months, it seems he’s now set on allowing a bigger audience to interpret his work.
“In 2018, I want to get myself ready for 2019. You already know that’s my favorite number. You can never predict the future but I want to do everything I can now to see what I can do next year.”