Dominic Fike’s Twisted Debut ‘What Could Possibly Go Wrong’ Is Dark-Pop Pathos

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Face tattoos and hip-hop inflected beats led some observers to instinctually associate Domini Fike with the “Soundcloud rap” movement, but despite the shocking impact and relative importance of that trend, Fike is a phenomenon all his own. After some early rap-centric material, and a handful of loosie tracks later rebundled together into the early EP, Don’t Forget About Me, Demos, Fike has emerged in the midst of global chaos with a debut album that both reflects and deflects the pandemonium going on around us.

Yes, he’s been to jail — though national awareness of how much his heritage as a young, poor mixed Filipino and Black American tips the scales of justice against him is stronger than ever — and yes, he can drop bars better than plenty of those who insist they are in fact, capital R rappers. But Fike’s music is much more akin to strains of pop-punk and even, the occasional mainstream folk musician, than hip-hop. It’s no wonder label execs were so taken with Fike’s pensive songwriting and multi-genre sound that his EP reportedly sparked a bidding war and multi-million dollar deal.

Now signed to Columbia Records, who re-released the Demos EP, Fike has the resources to make an ambitious full-length record, and it just happens to be one of 2020’s best pop records. What Could Possibly Go Wrong is the tongue-in-cheek title of his excellent debut, a record that reflects the same dark sense of humor as his Apple logo tattoo inked in the place where a teardrop traditionally goes. But then, a tender bait-and-switch operates a level above all that — the symbol is actually a tribute to his sister, Apple, not a commentary on the death-grip of techno capitalistic progress.

These kinds of left turns lurk all over his twisted dark-pop debut, too, like on the sardonic “Cancel Me,” where he wishes to get canceled… strictly so he can rest and go see his family. “Chicken Tenders” reimagines the trope of hotel sex and decadence through the lens of a childhood culinary decadence. Getting a bit deeper on “Good Game,” Fike reflects on the transition from a rough life in a small town to the intense levels of success he’s attained now, skillfully bridging the gap between the two worlds in conversational rhetorical questions. His songwriting incorporates pathos without ever falling into corny or dreary — a rare feat for a young writer.

Post-genre gets thrown around a lot since the advent of laptop production and social media leveled the playing field for creativity and increased conglomeration of sounds, but it might be the most apt description of the way Fike mixes guitar, pop, rap, and even folk inclinations into his own swampy sound. Picking up the guitar at the tender age of ten, and steeped in the music of Jack Johnson, Blink-182, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fike was simultaneously freestyling and forming a de facto rap collective with his similarly unsupervised crew of friends growing up wild in Naples, Florida.

The only listeners who might possibly be disappointed are those hoping Fike tucked a few rap-focused songs on the record — there aren’t any. But given the prevalence of hip-hop in pop culture and pop music over the last decade, in my opinion it’s actually really refreshing to hear an album that strays so far outside that sound. Hearing rock folded back into the mainstream is going to excite a lot of listeners who have been missing the popularity of guitars, but it’s also done in such a way that it doesn’t alienate listeners raised on rap and beat-driven pop. It seems clear that Fike can venture into the rap realm if he ever has the itch, and his emphasis on melody and lyrics with a hint of the percussion and beat-driven sound tucked into the fabric of the songs evokes auteurs like Frank Ocean and Billie Eilish more than other MCs.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t moments when Fike exercises his flow. For an artist who is just starting to get his bearings, Fike has settled into the pocket of his sound immediately, like on the standout “Vampire,” where he flips a Latin-flecked guitar lick into the backdrop for some quick-lipped verses about a party full of social climbers. Or there’s another early single off the record, “Politics & Violence,” a slower, murkier reflection on the realities of growing into celebrity status and how it can divide or shift relationships. Earlier hits like “3 Nights” and “Phone Numbers” are noticeably absent from the full-length, with no attempt at stacking his numbers with older streaming successes — because there’s no need to rely on his initial hits when the record is packed with so many apparent new ones.

Soundcloud rap, he is not. Dominic Fike will be around much longer than that.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong is out now via Columbia Records. Get it here.