I won’t pretend that I went into the first listening of White Mike’s new “Famous” unbiased. By the time I got through his ridiculous name (which, by the way, is absent of any much-needed irony), bio and CD cover art, I had quite a picture: Mike grew up in an “upper-middle class community” in the Bay Area of Cali (although, his family was poorer than the other residents there). He played sports, until a football injury forced him to concentrate solely on music (which he’s been doing for five whole years!). Apparently, he’s one hell of a freestyler, but his first album didn’t hit so well. And, he’s got a busted-ass car that he still loves. Finally, he enjoys wearing white jeans and fuzzy white Kangol bucket hats (although, I got the promo CD without the finished artwork – let’s hope they change it). So yes, all these are mildly interesting factoids that Mike’s girlfriend or mother would be delighted to hear about. But does this picture build up a charismatic personality of a rapper I’d be interested in hearing? Hardly. So even before popping in the joint, I had almost wished I had been listening instead to Big Mike, maybe, or at least some DJ Mike Smooth (big up Lord Finesse); hell, even Mike Jackson. If that’s unfair, so be it. I really did want my negative stereotypes about a straightforward white rapper from a gated community to be flipped. Unfortunately, I was right on point about having reservations.
It’s appropriate that White Mike’s sophomore release, “Famous,” opens with the generic “Lose Yourself” knock-off “The Time Is Now” for a number of reasons. First, it tells you right away what you’re going to get on the disc, chiefly, competent re-workings of a few well-established rap styles over cookie-cutter beats, with a handful of artists getting blatantly bitten. In this case, it happens to be the inspirational banger and Eminem, respectively. Other times, White Mike tries his best to get club-love, sounding like he’s either doing his best impression of Audio Two and/or Snoop doing his best impression of Slick Rick, a la “Lodi Dodi” (especially on the party jam lite vibe of “Getcha Hands High,” where his voice mysteriously hovers about two octaves higher than usual). How about a “Fuck the Police” sentiment? Think a white rapper from Pleasanton complaining about unfair police treatment might sound a little ridiculous? Well, he’s got that too. Although he apparently did receive a beatdown from the boys in blue in ’04, thereby justifying “Take Your Badge Off” and retaining a little credibility – but only a little. White Mike can do a pretty good Gravediggaz impression too, except without the gorehound shock humor or wink-wink satire that made them so good. Peep “Sav’d Out” for some great psychopath babble, where about the most horrifying thing White Mike does is take a three-hour lunchbreak. Badass! And when he’s not getting the party started or tough talking, Mike gets raw with songs like “The Real World,” with a vocal delivery similar to Uncle L in “I Need Love,” pleading that “it’s madness attending classes/ walking to the train station/ taking public transit/ to campus.” Listen man, I didn’t have a car in college either and I still don’t – it’s OK.
More no-so-highlights include “Pleasanton,” an ode to his rich hometown that strives for satire in an “American Beauty” type of tone (this perfect little community isn’t so perfect after all!) but ended up just making me annoyed and, well, jealous. Did he really think he’d get sympathy by describing things such as “Everyone drives a Beamer/lives in an estate,” families sharing Sundays at the county fair, and the endless problems he has to face, such as the fact that “there ain’t no sluts” and all those trees make his allergies stuck? Fuck, I hate stuffy noses too. Or, perhaps my least favorite, “Suburban Terrorism,” which starts with these memorably unmenacing lines: “We keep it live in P-town/ kids gather ’round/ go get your notebooks/ see how it’s going down.” This terrorism doesn’t involve bombs or ideologies, but stuff like sneaking into movies (every week!), sleeping with soccer moms (after eating their dinner, of course), and cutting summer school to jump on trampolines and eat lunch meats, because the parents aren’t home. It’s like listening to Xzibit’s gravelly voice describing the exploits of some bad-ass 3rd grader.
On the whole disc, White Mike’s hitting the rhythms, but it definitely sounds forced; likewise, he occasionally uses impressive rhyme triplets (and even double triplets, especially when he’s aping Slim Shady), but it’s obvious a word rhyming book was used in their creation, with words chosen solely because they sound, not because of any meaning or context they may have. The beats barely distinguished themselves or made me notice. Despite his perhaps more privileged past, White Mike puts in a grind for this music, so it’s not so much a credibility issue I have with him; it’s more of a talent issue. To be fair, the last third of the album was more entertaining (or at least tolerable), but maybe that’s just because my expectations were just low enough by then. I do admire White Mike’s desire and his candor, but without significant and fresh talent, personae or attitude to his credit, it’s gonna be a hard sell. In short, White Mike might become “Famous” one day, but I damn sure hope it’s not through rapping. Prove me wrong next time, kid.