Mike Mictlan – Hella Frreal

4 out of 5

Label: Doomtree

Produced by: Various, Lazerbeak (executive produced by)

While arguably one of the Doomtree crew’s strongest M.C.s, Mike Mictlan’s solo output has also been less frequent – three albums stretched across 6 years, with a 4 year gap between the two – and the artist has also struggled a bit more with carving out his own identity. SNAXXX! was an incredibly fun outing, but it lost some of the intention of debut Hand Over Fist; somewhere between those two approaches lived something that could stand out as an all-timer. And Hella Frreal gets really close to that.

Lyrically, Mictlan brings the best two aspects of those albums together- H.O.F.’s messaging and SNAXXX’s inventiveness – and applies them to a more emotional, personal template, still making room for occasional party tracks, but even then managing to dust them with a sense of maturity. While there’re sometimes some limitations to Mictlan’s observations – the line between story-telling and commentary gets a little grey, meaning it could be said that Mike gives the impression he’s saying more than he is – the words almost all have a sense of purpose, not just making rhymes to keep a meter, even though he definitely maintains flow throughout. Standouts on this are when Mictlan goes into mixed-up American heritage – Super’Merica – and a take on street life, with closer Clapp’d; slightly less successful are when the tone of the songs turns softer: Less’ Talk and Sell Out’s feel lighter-weight than probably intended.

This follows on to the only hitch of the album: that musically, Mictlan is still occasionally led by his producers instead of acting the lead with musical support, and this tends to make the M.C. sound like a Doomtree-hangeron instead of one of his leaders. After a strong run of intro tracks, Tha Brink and Junior Blind are very P.O.S.-y; the words are good but there’s just an element of uniqueness (amongst the DT crew) that’s missing.

However, the overall impression of Hella Frreal definitely blows past these minor bumps, which are, at worst, good songs, just not the best Mictlan proves he can offer, and which he does on the vast majority of the disc.