Teaming two veterans of the east coast indie rap scene, “Mike & The Fatman LP” features the liquid-tongued MCing of iCON and the assured boardwork of Chum, a pairing that seems to arise more out of shared creative sensibility than shrewd marketing tactics. These two know how to craft solid songs, both musically and thematically, and they also know not to take themselves too seriously. Although the end product isn’t spectacular in any way, it never suffers from wackness either; by keeping the LP relatively short (eight proper songs, two skits and two “bonus” tracks), the duo have created the equivalent of a single-story comic book, one which may pass in and out of your conscious quickly, but will also have more than a few readers wanting it extended into a series.
The loose thematic element of the film noir-ish good cop/bad cop that pops up in the cover art and skits is largely extraneous to the larger motifs found on “Mike & The Fatman,” which by and large stay within the standard themes of the current indie scene: heart-on-sleeve confessionals of lost love and pervasive cynicism, wack-rapper dissing, acrobatic verbal displays for their own sake and larger-than-life braggadocio. Despite being in well-worn territory, iCON has the skill and flashes of originality to make things consistently interesting, even if the end result of his verbal output never quite gels into a completely charismatic character. His pedigreed past as a battle rapper is evident in his flow, often wanting to cram in as much as he can in each line before impeccably hitting that familiar end rhyme scheme. Unorthodox but not unpleasant, it is reminiscent of Kweli and Wildchild, with a rhyme structure sounding alternately advanced and scattershot. Thematically, I found iCON’s ontology problematic, if only slightly, even if his technical skills remain assured. With lines like “I lost control today and threw my soul away” and “I’m faking suicide/creating new divides/by exploding the mobile home and killing those inside,” iCON seems to be reaching for Slim Shady-esque discontent and illness for its own sake. While much of his verbal and emotional gymnastics are appealing and relatable, upon closer examination they lack a certain nuance. His discontent is well-documented but its origins aren’t; by blaming his pissy attitude on vague concepts such as bad karma and “being rubbed the wrong way,” Mike makes it easy for emo-rap kids to instantly relate to his angst (much as suburban thugs recite Pac’s venom in their dad’s Tahoe), but he cheats those feelings of deeper meaning by not giving them solid enough foundations. This isn’t always the case, though, as he delves deep into a painful love lost on “On Hold,” for example, by revealing such potentially-emasculating details as this being the eighth song he’s written about the same woman who he hasn’t been with for over two years.
There’s no doubt this cat could rap circles around most million selling rappers, but potential doesn’t always translate into its fullest manifestation; for example, on the title track “Mike” reveals a dazzling display of storytelling, akin to Ghost’s recent epic “Shakey Dog” in its attention to quirky detail, but this is essentially the only chance we get to hear those skills on the entire release. Finally, except for the heartfelt confessionals aforementioned, the presence of women on the project is alternately disturbing (including a tongue-in-cheek skit akin to “The Chronic”s “The Doctor’s Office” and a cover that features a nearly-nude Lora Croft wannabe, both of which fail to subvert hip-hop’s misogyny) and non-existent (after all, there’s hardly room for females in the hyper-masculine world of rap battles).
Musically, the project is steady and satisfying, although only a few moments reach transcendence. Chum is most effective when mastering the percussion, often creating playful and jazzy basslines that seem to maintain a dialogue with the various drum patterns they accompany. He’s not shy with vocal samples, using lots of classic rap snippets (instantly recognizable by heads, guaranteed to elicit hype feelings), as well as movie clips that avoid annoyance by illuminating the tracks rather than overpowering them. Chum handles the album proper, while both bonus tracks are produced competently by Styalz Fuego and feature Wu-Tang second teamers Blue Raspberry and Killah Priest, respectively. These last tow do feel a little tagged on, but no one will complain about iCON doing his best Jedi Mind style impression of biblical violence and epic symbolism as Killah tags along with his familiar venom.
What we have in “Mike & The Fatman LP” is a solidly crafted product from two staples of indie rap, with all that that statement conveys, no more or less. Although no great revelations will be found, fans of the sub-genre will find plenty to like here. Even if it probably won’t make any year end top-ten lists (feeling a tad slight at only ten songs), it’s sure to satisfy for at least a half-dozen spins, with only the skits having skip-potential. And at the end of the day, you can’t really ask for much more.