Florida’s Dominic Fike sounds like no other artist today – but he epitomises a movement. The Gen Z singer, rapper and instrumentalist has achieved virality by pursuing individualistic and transgressive creativity, as with Tyler, The Creator, Billie Eilish and his buddies BROCKHAMPTON.
The 24-year-old is defiantly post-genre. Fike combines a hip-hop sensibility with alt-rock – and his music is ultra-rhythmic. As such, his bold debut album, What Could Possibly Go Wrong (WCPGW), is an aesthetic as much as a personal manifesto.
Fike grew up biracial (African-American and Filipino), negotiating social dislocation in affluent, predominantly white Naples, Florida. Fike’s father is absent from any biographical narratives and his mum struggled with drug dependency, serving jail time. Reliant on family and friends, Fike partied early. But he found an outlet in music, picking up the guitar at 10 and later rapping and singing. His oft-cited influences are the Red Hot Chili Peppers and surfy singer/songwriter Jack Johnson. Still, Fike joined a hip-hop crew that gained local kudos – South Florida renowned for cloud rap.
Things came seriously unstuck when Fike was charged with assaulting a police officer, facing house arrest before heading to jail in 2017. Yet, during this period, Fike, now rap-singing, tracked and aired a buzz cyber EP, Don’t Forget About Me, Demos. He attracted label overtures, signing to Columbia Records. Alas, because the musician expunged the Internet of his old material, conspiracists wondered if he was an industry plant. The label repackaged Fike’s EP – and ‘3 Nights’ blew up, the anthem now certified multi-platinum here in Australia. Fike then issued successive loosies, including last July’s semi-rapped hit ‘Phone Numbers’, co-produced by Kenny Beats. And he collaborated with Kevin Abstract, Omar Apollo and Halsey. Fike toured Australia, surprising punters with the hard rock dynamics of his shows (he was also billed for Spotify’s sold-out branded playlist event, Front Left Live, in Melbourne). Fike stopped by triple j to perform on Like A Version, donning a wig for a memorable rendition of Clairo’s ‘Bags’.
In June, Fike delayed WCPGW‘s roll-out, so as to not distract from the vital messaging of the Black Lives Matter protests. Significantly, he shared a powerful statement about his own encounters with the police and systemic racism.
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Fike has followed an idiosyncratic approach to promoting WCPGW. Having already conveyed his sardonic humour with the album title, the fearless king presented a film of himself skydiving, FIGHT OR FLIGHT – rivalled for commitment only by Chicago rapper Towkio’s travelling into space in a helium balloon to launch WWW.
Fike hasn’t worked with obvious studio-types on WCPGW. Instead, he’s self-produced and collaborates extensively with The Roommates. Plus he’s eschewed features – riding on talent over clout, which should finally convince sceptics of his precociousness.
At any rate, Fike doesn’t mess around with WCPGW; the album is short and succinct. The imploring opener ‘Come Here’ – more grunge than pop-punk with heavy guitar – is a mere minute-long.
Fike’s lyrics have an emo orientation – the vocalist often expressing anxiety, doubt and existentialist ennui. But, here, he’s closer to the introspective Brit indie-soulster Rex Orange County than the overwhelmingly sad Lil Peep. Fike writes about his experience of Hollywood, fame, insincere people and estrangement as well as romantic relationships.
Fike again reveals a dark comic flair on ‘Cancel Me’ as, feeling weary of celebrity and yearning for home, he contemplates self-sabotage: “I hope they crucify me (Why?)/I hope they put me down, I hope they euthanise me.” Elsewhere, Fike addresses his destructive impulses. In the apparently prosaic ‘What’s For Dinner?’ – a softer number with Johnson-style acoustic guitar – Fike casually mentions his gastroenterologist (he developed stomach sensitivities from past cocaine use).
Fike can be cryptic, but he avoids pretence. His composition even takes an observational turn with ‘Why’ – a bit Tom Petty-mode heartland rock. The lead single, ‘Chicken Tenders’ is an especially accessible song, with wry, albeit playful, memories about sex in a hotel room and a synth-rock pulse.
In 2013, soon after he dropped the electro-punk Yeezus, Kanye West became fascinated by the UK garage band Drenge, both acts performing on Later… With Jools Holland. However, Fike may have perfected cloud garage. ‘Joe Blazey’ recalls when KiD CuDi pivoted to grunge on 2015’s rudimentary Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven with its reverb effects.
WCPGW does have introspective, or mellower, songs that are no less intense. The transitory ’10x Stronger’ is gorgeously melodic with strings and Fike’s delicate harmonies, while ‘Good Game’ is an unexpectedly blunted blend of Amy Winehouse’s doo-wop and Mazzy Star’s shoegaze.
Mind, the most compelling track is the post-trap ‘Politics & Violence’, which, helmed by The Roommates and Julian Cruz, has figurative lyrics, an epic beat switch, more strings, choral elements, and a propulsive groove. Travis Scott should be jealous.
Fike rarely references his background on WCPGW. But in the woozy ‘Florida’, which notably Kenny Beats produced, Fike returns to his roots – and senses a disconnection with old acquaintances as he progresses in a dream career. Fike examines old scars, rapping, “Shoulda told the judge before they locked me up/It ain’t shit in the universe that could stop me, bruh.” In fact, WCPGW is an album about Fike’s transformation into a pop star, with its pleasures, pains and empowerment.