This past week, Mike Posner released an EP called “The Truth.” Most know Mike Posner as the artist behind the hit song “Cooler Than Me,” which made it all the way to #6 on Billboard Top 100. He’s also the co-writer of Maroon 5’s hit song “Sugar,” which has made it to #2 on the same list. But there’s a lot that people don’t know about Mike Posner, and he’s written that story for us in this latest EP, which he plans to turn into a full album. For now, the 4 songs on this EP can be streamed for free below. They’ll be available for purchase on iTunes on June 22nd.
If you’ve followed Sunset closely or long enough, you’ll likely know that Mike and I were friends in college and you can assume that this EP is a really groundbreaking one in my mind. To fill everybody in and to give clear context around my thoughts on the EP, I have to tell the story of Mike’s and my friendship. [Hit the jump after the audio player to continue reading.]
Mike and I met when he was a freshman in college. I was a sophomore, and I had recently read an article in the Duke Magazine about a freshman who was writing and recording hip hop songs in his freshman dorm room. I was really into music, so I was intrigued about this guy and his music. We eventually became friends and I loved his music. He was this white guy from Detroit making hip hop music and writing really honest stories about himself and putting them out there for anybody to hear who was willing to listen. I heard some really sad stories in his lyrics, and I was amazed by his ability to be so honest in his songwriting.
Our friendship continued, and there was one summer when I dabbled in making music. Looking back on it, it was a really silly attempt to make a form of art that I loved so much. I was hanging out with Mike one night and I told him that I was doing this, and that I was going to make it big and that he would too. I remember him looking at me and saying that he was happy and excited for me, but that he didn’t want to make it big like that. His goal was just to make really great music. That moment has really stuck with me over the years.
Mike started making music with a few other friends of mine on campus under the name Mike Posner and the Brain Trust. I loved everything this group did and put out. I was always asking Mike to share his music with me. I was front row at his shows at Duke. When he released his mixtape, I was one of the many who made the artwork my Facebook profile picture. I realized something truly special was happening and I was one of his biggest fans.
The group wrote and released “Cooler Than Me,” which was gaining Mike more and more fans around the world. He eventually got signed to a record label and I couldn’t have been prouder of him. I remember reading an article about him in the New York Times and his opportunity to sit across the table from Jay Z. I could hardly believe that this was a buddy of mine.
Shortly afterwards, things started to take a turn. After “Cooler Than Me,” he started making some music that I just couldn’t get behind. As a music blogger, I put my honest opinion on the Internet about his music. I especially tore about his song “Bow Chicka Wow Wow,” and my friends would get in touch with me and ask why I was being so hard on him, particularly when he wrote this song that Lil Wayne just remixed. Wasn’t I supposed to be proud of him? And I was supposed to be proud of him, but I was just expressing a personal feeling that I didn’t think this was the music Mike was meant to be making. It didn’t feel like him. It just felt like he was trying to impress the label, and that’s not the Mike I know. It felt like he was allowing himself to be changed by the industry, and because I remember that conversation we had when he said he didn’t want to make it big, it made me sad for him.
To be honest with you guys, I could have been a bit more professional in my criticism, but I wasn’t. I tore the music apart. So naturally, it created a bit of a rift between the two of us during which we weren’t speaking. Looking back, I’m sure my words hurt him. Sometimes people forget that artists who become famous are still humans, even when they’re friends of yours. It may seem they’ve become less malleable with the fame, but if you listen to Mike’s latest lyrics, you can hear how alone he’s felt throughout this process. And while I stand by where my opinions were coming from, I do feel bad about how the words were delivered.
With time, Mike started to fall off the radar a bit (the best way to get filled in on this part of the story is to read Mike’s personal version of it here). Long story short, with these releases he was putting out, he wasn’t recreating the success of Cooler Than Me, so his label was shelving him.
More time went by, and I started to hear from Mike again. He was making some singles that sounded different than his attempt at new pop hits that I couldn’t get behind, and he would send them to me to ask for my feedback and help promoting them. There were some that I liked, which I would write about. There were others I didn’t like, so I didn’t post about them. It was an honest relationship. What stood out the most to me was that it felt like we were friends again, and I was proud of the path he was on. I could tell he was struggling with the label relationship, but it was evident that he was being perseverant and trying to find himself again.
And then there was a period of silence again. I didn’t hear from Mike for months. I got a text from a friend who went to one of this shows and she said he was killing it at the show and his sound had completely changed. I was intrigued and did a bit of research. I read a couple of his blog posts and was happy to see that he was being so honest with his fans. Fast forward to a couple days ago: I heard through the grapevine that he had released a new EP (and also that he might have given me a shoutout on it – that was exciting too!). So that was the day when I listened to the EP, and since then, I haven’t stopped listening to these four songs on repeat.
That should set the stage for the excitement I have to hear Mike being true to himself again through his music. I listen to these songs and I hear the same songwriter who wrote hip hop songs back in Detroit. Though the sound is completely different, the honest and impressive nature of his storytelling capability is what makes his songs so special. In my opinion, Mike’s best songs always told his most personal stories, but those songs often weren’t the ones garnering public attention. One of my favorite songs of his is “Speed of Sound” from his One Foot Out The Door mixtape. Mike wrote a line in the hook that said ‘I remember this time last year, I was all alone, I felt like I was two feet tall / Now there’s a hundred million numbers inside of my phone, but I still got no one to call.’ That line has resonated with me for years, because it’s personal, relatable and honest. There’s an immediate connection one can feel with somebody when you know they’re being honest with you, and that’s what I’ve been craving in his music since I knew from day one that he possessed that skill.
Lucky for me, Mike has once again found that ability to be confessional and honest in his music. In the blog post mentioned above, Mike wrote that “success can be the enemy of growth. Failing to replicate my early success gave me the time to improve as a writer, a musician, and a man. Failing made me remember why I make music: to share my gifts with others and to connect. Failing made me realize that fame and money are just side-effects of people liking my music, not a separate goal to pursued. Failing gave me time to play the piano…alone…for long periods of time. […] I’ve been writing about the things I’d been scared to write about for years.”
Which takes us to The Truth. I love all four songs on the EP. I think he opens it beautifully with “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” with that line “I took a pill in Ibiza, to show Avicii I was cool/ And when I finally got sober, felt 10 years older, but fuck it, it was something to do.” You can hear a vulnerable side of Mike in his story about trying to prove himself – be it through his experience with Avicii or his million-dollar hit single – but he tells us that at the end of the day, he’s still alone and unhappy despite the money and fame.
To me, “Buried in Detroit” is Mike’s way of saying thank you to his hometown. Much of who I know him to be is built from his roots in Detroit. That’s obviously where he was born and raised, but it’s also where he met his best friend in the industry, Big Sean, who has been a partner and confidant for Mike all along. They created songs together in high school, Big Sean would come perform at Duke alongside Mike, and to this day they’re collaborating on music together. This song, to me, is a metaphor for staying grounded and true to who you are.
“Not That Simple” is the sonically catchiest song on the EP. With that simple piano pattern comes a sweet and sad story about a girl Mike met at Duke who left him when he got famous. I’m blown away by his ability to tell such a big story in so few words. The difficulty of that is something people may not realize until they try to write a song; it takes a really good writer to be able to tell a story with such clarity, and it takes even more talent to make it into such a beautiful and catchy song. But most of all, what strikes me here is Mike’s ability to be honest about himself. To man up and put into writing that his girl left him because of who he became when his song was on the radio is a really brave thing to do. But that’s what this EP is all about.
My favorite song on the EP is “Be As You Are.” This song does the same thing I just mentioned – telling a big story in so few words. Mike tells of his struggles from high school to college to today. I can’t help but hear the history of our friendship in this song. The entire time, I’ve loved Mike for who he is underneath it all, and as a music critic, I’ve been waiting for him to be as he is. This entire EP embodies that in its fullest, and clearly this song sends that message.
There’s a line “Be As You Are” it that says “If I’m speaking truthfully, I’m not who I used to be, and I know some people might laugh/ cause my music doesn’t sound the same, and my head’s no longer shaved, I’m worried if I’m on the right path.” It’s the perfect ending for this beautiful EP in which he told his most personal stories that I’ve heard from him in years. The truth is, he’s still a vulnerable human. Releasing something this honest is a risk. It may or may not land with people. For me, I think it’s the most beautiful work I’ve ever heard from Mike. It’s beautiful sonically, it’s beautiful in its honesty, and it’s a beautiful testament to Mike’s storytelling capabilities. In just four songs, he has summarized so many emotions and experiences he has been through in the past 15+ years. While I personally resonate to so many of these stories because I’ve known Mike for many of those years and have felt the ups and downs, I am confident that this will appeal to a much larger audience who want to hear the true story of Mike’s life.
Mike, I can’t thank you enough for making this music. The guilt I’ve carried from writing some pretty harsh words about your earlier music has weighed on my over the years. But with this release, I can only hope that the baseline message was helpful in convincing you to be who you are. Your songs in this collection have hit home with me, and I know they will for so many others as well. Thank you for taking this risk and for being as you are. The one thing I think you got wrong in this project is in the line where you say you’re not who you used to be. Material things may change (you may not be wearing sweats and flip flops every day), but I think you’re the same honest guy you portrayed in your songs from high school. If what you’re looking to do is create beautiful music and seek happiness through that experience, you’re on the right path. Keep telling your story, keep making art, keep being you, and you’ll do wonders.