Dominic Fike
Fike, who has landed a major label contract and is best buds with Brockhampton, might just be getting started. (Illustration by Eunhye Cho, Laguna College of Art and Design)

As far as mugshots go, Dominic Fike’s turned out alright. Naturally, he looks a little haggard, but it’s still easy to see some of the qualities that have helped him become one of the most buzzed-about musicians of 2019. He’s handsome, with large brown eyes set above boyish features, which are offset by facial tattoos. One is an apple, his sister’s namesake, that sits just beneath his right eye where a teardrop would traditionally be. The other is tucked beneath his hairline, spelling out the initials of Lame Boy Entertainment, a rap group Fike helped to found.

Incredibly, just a year after the picture was taken, Fike would be releasing his debut EP, “Don’t Forget About Me, Demos” through a major label as a part of his multimillion dollar contract. Anchored by the breezy hit “3 Nights,” the music has drawn celebrity endorsements, high-profile collaborations and a debate about how much potential the young artist truly has.

Fike was born and raised in Naples, Florida, a coastal city the artist has described as quiet. This atmosphere didn’t translate to Fike’s home life, however. The child of an absent father and a mother who was in and out of jail, he spent time living with family friends and relatives, in circumstances that were often just as unstable. In high school, Fike fell in with a group of hard-partying kids who would gather at one member’s guest house, a spot nicknamed “Backhouse.”

It was here that Fike began rapping, freestyling with friends at parties. He had always loved music, and played the guitar since he was young, inspired by pop punk and rock acts like Blink-182 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But, it was with the rap collective, born from these freestyle sessions, that Fike would begin earning some local attention.

Named “Backhouse” in honor of their original meeting place, the group snagged invitations to Rolling Loud and South by Southwest, and was becoming a regional name, when Fike was placed under house arrest for battery of a police officer. It’s an event he’s remained tight-lipped about, telling Complex it was just a wrong place, wrong time. Fike would use this time to begin work on “Don’t Forget About Me.” Ditching the heavier, trappier sound he was known for as a member of “Backhouse” and “Lame Boy Entertainment,” the new project presented a blend of influences and genre-defying flexibility.

Fike had planned to make “Don’t Forget About Me” a feature length album, but only a fraction of this work was done when he landed in jail for violating the terms of his house arrest. Eventually, Fike and his manager decided to release a six song demo of the material, an unpolished collection of about 15 minutes of music. And suddenly, things began taking off.

Somehow, the project found its way into the hands of several major record labels, who were impressed by what they heard. The mixture of Fike’s poppy guitar, with his ability to freely flow between rapping and singing, was reminiscent of genre-melding artists like Post Malone, and while Fike sat in jail, a bidding war broke out. A few months after his release it was announced he had signed to Columbia Records for a reported $4 million. Not bad, for an artist who had released so little music and hardly had an audience.

Soon, the music Fike had previously posted online, including “Don’t Forget About Me,” disappeared. It was a calculated move, intended to boost the mystique surrounding an unknown artist who had landed a major label contract. It paid off, and by the time “Don’t Forget About Me” was re-released in October of 2018, a serious buzz had built around the EP. When DJ Khaled posted a picture of the album’s cover to his Instagram on the day of its release, Fike’s stock went through the roof.

Fike received another high-profile endorsement in April, when hip-hop group Brockhampton posted a YouTube video titled, “This is Dominic Fike.” It serves as an informal counterpart to the official music video for “3 Nights,” which was posted on the same day. The video, which consists of little more than Fike attempting several flips while jogging through the streets of a California suburb, can be credited to directer and group leader, Kevin Abstract. Fike would also be featured on Abstract’s “Peach,” a single from his most recent solo project “Arizona Baby.”

Following this collaboration, Fike went quiet. Other than a smattering of performances early this year, he hasn’t made many live appearances, and at the time this was written no future shows had been announced. The lack of material and visibility has prompted skepticism amongst some critics, who wonder if the artist is really worth his hefty contract. The comparisons with artists like Post Malone haven’t always been favorable, and some have attacked Fike’s music for being vapid and bland.

These criticisms aren’t baseless: while “Don’t Forget About Me” has its standout moments, tracks like “Babydoll” and “Westcoast Collective,” which clock in at under two minutes apiece, feel halfway done. The things Fike sings about — longing for or pushing away a girl, experiencing new levels of success as an artist, his ambitions for the future — are well-worn territory, and not necessarily being presented in distinctive ways.

But it would be unfortunate to dismiss someone with Fike’s raw talent on the basis of a single EP, especially when the project is only a fragment of a larger work. A full length album is reportedly on the way, and a pair of singles, likely attached to this project, were released earlier this month. “Acai Bowl” is a mixture of mellow acoustic guitar and autotuned crooning and rapping, clearly inspired by the same formula as “3 Nights.” But the other track, “Rollerblades,” with its glossy keys and lush harmonies, reaches into new, more atmospheric territory.

The songwriting, while still not show-stopping, is a bit more deft as well: reminiscing about a past relationship, Fike hopes, “one day my watch works like a VCR,” and promises “if history repeats I’ll be right here in your reach.” The track shows an artistic maturation still in process, one that will hopefully be on display throughout the forthcoming album.

Fike still has a lot to prove. The hype surrounding his rapid ascent has helped carry him this far, but that force won’t be able to sustain his career. The project expected later this year is one of the most anticipated pop releases of 2019, and its success could help establish the artist as part of the genre’s future. If his most recent material is any indication, that future is looking bright.

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