In just under two minutes, MIKE has said what he needs to. The New York rapper only needs that much time to rattle through his new Darryl Johnson-produced single “Time Will Tell,” which percussively tics and taps under a warm bed of organ-like keys. It’s one of those songs that grapples with a sense of belonging, but folds that soul-searching in the winding and metaphorical lyrics that typify the 19-year-old’s style.
“It’s supposed to represent an internal journey,” MIKE says, “and how as a black artist our societal job, but also our personal job, is to reflect.” He’s speaking specifically about the visuals for “Time Will Tell,” which he says were shot in his Brooklyn flat in Bed-Stuy this year (and we’re premiering here). Like so much of what this young, prolific and accomplished rapper does, the video plays with a visual murkiness.
It looks a bit like a home video you might have made on a family camcorder, messing about in a sibling’s bedroom in the hours that stretched between lunchtime and dinnertime on a weekend in winter. At points, Darryl's head pokes out from under patterned sheets, then at others MIKE looks as though he’s peering at you from inside a kaleidoscope. This all backgrounds him rapping lines like: “Hold me to it, I’mma make it if I could / Sleepy in the church, my auntie chased me with a book / that’ll purify my curses, rearrange the way I look at you now.”
For all its visual trippiness, MIKE says he hopes the video “brings focus – not necessarily on myself, but just the way things are going” more broadly in the world. “I hope it brings peace and draws people to come together.” Having met him in London last year, I can attest to how much MIKE’s outlook on the world, heard in his music and in his belly laugh, is based on having moved around as a child and learned to observe things as a bit of an outsider. So when he talks about ‘drawing people together,’ he’s not doing so with vague kumbaya, ‘gather round the campfire’ naivety: he’s instead eager to beam out some positivity at a time when both of his past homes – the US and UK – could do with political empathy.
Though he’s based in New York now, New Jersey-born MIKE moved to Essex when he was about five years old, and was living there with his mother. After a few years, he moved back to the US – but she had to stay behind, due to issues with her papers. For years they were separated, and in 2017 as well as earlier this year, MIKE spent extended visits in the UK, reconnecting with her (and maybe with his memories of Channel U as well). Of this time, he says:” Going from the UK back to NY really gave me a new perspective – getting out of the cursed land is good for one's brain. Being with my mum has been a growing experience. It's helped me learn more about how to manoeuvre through our world.” Those are the sorts of feelings and experiences that he’s pouring into tracks like “Time Will Tell.”
He repeats the refrain “truth is on its way” towards the end of the song. And that feels like a mantra for perseverance. It’s a whispered reminder to yourself that even though life may be tough, or presidents may be inept or people may be denying that their country’s history is riddled with traumas, the truth will soon come to wash that all away. And all that in under three minutes to boot.
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