Dominic Fike Wants to Refocus, Not Reinvent

Surrounded by sensationalized stories and sudden success, 24-year-old Dominic Fike wants to block out the noise. What could possibly go wrong?

dominic fike

Photo by Daniel Prakopcyk, design by Sho Hanafusa

dominic fike

Dominic Fike’s deep voice vibrates through my cell phone speaker, punctuated by not-so-sneaky bites of his breakfast taco. Despite being limited to a cross country phone call in the midst of a pandemic, I can see him in my mind. Fike’s aura is magnetic, transcending the walls of Hollywood’s Conway Recording Studios into my suburban apartment. Whatever you might have heard about Dominic Fike, one conversation with him would make even the most skeptical person recognize the intensity and dedication with which he views his craft. Alas, Fike can’t seem to escape the narrative and mystique surrounding him, both of which he cannot control. 

The story goes: Fike recorded his Don’t Forget About Me, Demos EP in 2017 while on house arrest for battery of a police officer. While in jail for violating the terms of his house arrest, his EP was released on SoundCloud and he garnered enough attention to create a bidding war amongst labels, subsequently signing with Columbia Records. 

Fike hates the term “bidding war,” and the dialogue it sparked surrounding his roots in the Florida SoundCloud rap scene. “It wasn't as fucking plotted as people on the internet say,” he tells me, exasperated, but with a small chuckle at the end. The price tag affixed to his name, which led some to suspect he was an industry plant, is not something the now 24-year-old Fike kept front of mind while recording his album What Could Possibly Go Wrong. “I really only think about the major backing part when the internet makes me,” he says. “I only feel that when I'm online. When I'm here making the music, it’s me and the same people.”

The resulting record is a hypnotic indie pop and rap debut album that invokes a synesthetic experience that encompasses all the senses. It’s reminiscent of a night drive in Fike’s home state of Florida, making stops for takeout and ending in a cozy motel for the night. On the song “Chicken Tenders,” Fike ruminates on a perfect night of love making with a side of chicken tenders in bed (although he has gone on the record to say he prefers chicken nuggets instead). These charming snapshots of his humbly boyish desires are juxtaposed with psychological self-analysis on songs like “Good Game,” which has a hook of, “Don’t you become your daddy.”

Fike’s relaxed demeanor is almost deceiving. Despite being portrayed as a shy and goofy prodigal son of the scene he was once a part of, there is depth and intention in everything he says and does. His first expense upon landing a record deal was securing proper legal aid for his mother, who served two years in jail. Upon learning of the death of George Floyd, Fike made the decision to delay his release out of respect. Even in our conversation, he briefly reflects on his old music from a place of love with a hint of embarrassment. Such self awareness and maturity comes from growing up quickly in an environment without much stability, and Fike sees this self improvement as an ongoing process. 

A lot has changed for Dominic Fike since 2017, and he hopes that the conversation surrounding him can change too.

How are you? What has it been like preparing to release an album with the current state of the world?
Hectic. It's been pretty hectic. I didn't realize it until yesterday, but I think I've been recording the entire time, or at least I've been trying to. I've been in the studio, but I deviate from the clock frequently. It's happening more and more. I don't really know what's been going on. But, I'm good! I had a crazy talk yesterday that put everything into perspective. Me and Reed [my manager] talked about the state of my brain at the moment, how I've been carrying things, the way I've been treating people. Things like that.

You’d think that quarantine, with all this alone time, would be easier on the mind but instead it’s doing the opposite. 
For sure. Since I was a kid, there's a bunch of things I knew I had to improve on. Things I'll find every once in a while, and this is one of them. The way that people think of me—this is something that I'm about to change. I feel it gets so hard right before it shifts. Shit like that. I feel I'm getting over that right now and that's going to lead me to the next point in my life where I'm going to find something else to do.

What do you mean exactly by how people think of you? Can it be scary sometimes, not having control of yourself at a certain point when so many people feel like they know you? 
I think stuff like that is really heavy right now for me. It's the only thing I think about all day now. I feel like it's about to change. I feel like I'm finally about to overcome that. You have to. The place that I'm at in life, I have to, or else I'm going to be thinking about it forever.

You delayed the album release following the George Floyd protests, which I greatly respect. How did that feel for you seeing everything unfold and releasing your statement? What has the response been like?
I was amazed that the conversation was happening, to be honest with you. It came out of nowhere. It was a surprise to me, a good one! I felt we had to talk about it, obviously. I’ve always said the shit that’s in that statement. Whoever I talked to, I have to explain these things to them before I fucking explain why I am the way I am, or where I'm at, or why things are the way they are around me.

As for the statement, I'm trying to read less Instagram comments. By 2021, I will not have Instagram.

Do you think it is public figures’ responsibility to be speaking up at this time? 
I don't know, because sometimes those really disingenuous ones are the fucking worst. Maybe shut the fuck up at this time. Maybe if that's the one thing you haven't done, shut the fuck up!

You have a very minimal social media presence. Tell me a little bit about your relationship with all of it. Do you wish you didn’t have to rely on it?
It sucks. I obviously understand the importance. It's not even that I hate it. The way I see the younger generation use the internet, like my little sister... She's five and she uses that shit like a window. It's odd. The way that she uses the phone, it freaks me the fuck out. For real though! All day, chatting with other kids and things like that. She was playing Roblox, but on the screen she was watching someone play Roblox. It was like voyeur Roblox. What's going on? We need to check that out! Somebody needs to regulate that.

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How did you use and navigate the Internet when you were younger?  
I still remember the other methods of music being passed around like MTV. I would literally watch MTV all day on weekends while eating cereal. Then my mom's CD case in the car was where I would find new things.

I didn't use Walkmans, but then I started to get into iPods and I'd travel around with that. When the internet first hit, I had a Facebook and a Club Penguin. I don't remember how young I was. It definitely wasn't always this crazy. I feel like an old head saying that, but when I was a kid, I remember LimeWire.

I don't remember a lot of shit from my childhood, but I do remember there was a point where I felt like I snapped into sentience and realized I had the internet at my disposal. The way that I would look through music was like someone that had just discovered porn! The way I would navigate it was seamless. It wasn't a scary climate. I would move through the fucking internet. It was huge for me obviously. I found out I could put songs from the internet on my phone and download them! It was insane.

That's why I stay away from it. I honestly stay away from my phone all day. I hate the way that I use it. Sometimes my eyes are drawn to the apps. If my phone’s open, my thumb swipes up randomly, types in my password, without me even doing it. Next thing, it hits Instagram or hits whatever, the internet, I don't know. Before I know it, I’m in wormholes. It was like that before, but everything wasn't as negative. That's shit's a window, like I said! 

What wormholes do you get into? I sometimes watch carpet cleaning compilations.
All types of stuff. I think the sad part is it isn't even me, I need to control my shit. It'll be a Post Malone tour video. Some animation, some anime shit, a mashup or something with an X song in the background...

What did you discover once you learned how to navigate the Internet for music? I remember those MP3 converters.
Dude, I remember being able to watch Odd Future really closely and that was so dope. The way they used it was really sick. It happened when I started writing. I could look through YouTube beats endlessly and like you said, use the YouTube to MP3 converter. I abused that shit. I found  [Japanese producer and DJ] Nujabes when I would listen to instrumental albums and find things to sample when I started making music. It really helped me develop the versatility that I have, the ability to listen to anything. Even if I don't like a song and would never listen to it again, I could probably make a version of it, but in the way I like. The fact that I can literally listen to anything means I can make anything. It's nice.

One of your more surprising influences is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I feel they get such unnecessary hate. 
For sure. I don't understand people's hate for the Chili Peppers. I always ask, "Why do people hate them?" and people say, "Because they're popular." Somebody called them corny. I was like Jesus Christ, dude. That's the last thing, have you read that book Scar Tissue? That shit is not corny. I'm a bitch when I read that shit. People haven't done enough diving, or maybe they genuinely don't like the music. I think Anthony Kiedis' voice is fucking the best thing ever. Literally my favorite rapper. He's so much more, but he's also my favorite rapper.

Somebody sent me a meme today of SpongeBob sweating. It was like, "The Red Hot Chili Peppers trying to write a song without California in it." California's tight though. I think I talk about hotels in every song, as people have pointed out. I realized it. Honestly, I lived in hotels for six years with my parents. That's probably why I'm talking about it.

"I don't remember a lot of shit from my childhood, but I do remember there was a point where I felt like I snapped into sentience and realized I had the internet at my disposal."

Going into your songwriting process, how has that changed since getting signed, if at all? With more resources at your disposal, has anything shifted?
I'm still a hundred percent hands-on. I'm in the studio alone right now. The studios got bigger and we have runners now, but apparently they're not here and there's no fucking breakfast tacos. [Laughs] It's changed, it's definitely changed. Sometimes I'm too mechanical and I find myself thinking about what other people will think. That needs to stop, if you do that, you always lose. Somebody said that. Rick Rubin said that.

What do you mean by that? How you think people will view the song before it comes out?
Yeah. I guess when I didn't have as much support, it was bad. The things I would say, I did not think about. Some of the shit I would say was vile. I did not think about anything. I miss that. That's a part of music though. That's part of growth. I'm a people person. I meet so many people and change people and I feel that's what I'm here for. I didn't think about it as much back then. That is the biggest thing that has changed. I think there are other little changes, but I think they're all a ripple effect of that thing.

You talk a little bit about how in your old music, there's some stuff that you said that was thoughtless. Was that the reason you deleted everything upon getting signed? 
It wasn't as crazy as everyone thinks it is. I think that's why it made such little progress in the long time that I was in my hometown, because I would literally put my music up and go back and be like, “I fucking hate this,” and take it down. When people would come over to my house, they would always ask me where certain songs had gone and tell me they missed them.

I guess I've always done this. I'm a self-loather. It wasn't as plotted as people on the internet say. Everyone is like, "Oh my God, they took it down strategically, started a bidding war." I don't even want to use that word, but yeah, it wasn't calculated like that. I'd just be taking songs down because I hate myself.

You’ve said in previous interviews that you want to reintroduce yourself to audiences. Do you think the album is a good reintroduction?
Not really. I'm trying to follow up with more stuff and really build. The narrative has been that I have six songs and I'm just mysterious or whatever. I'm not trying to be like that. I'm trying to have like a shit load of songs like Drizzy [Drake]. 

You seem frustrated with this narrative created around you as this mysterious guy.
I guess it works. It makes it interesting, but it's not on purpose. It goes back to me being bad at the internet. I can't use it. It's not natural when I get on it. I am so bad at being honest with my phone. I don't know. I'd rather just talk to people.

I'll literally see news articles written and then I'll see another blog which will have the same fucking article, the same information, the same writing. It's so weird. It's a product of that happening, people just ripping the story and spreading it. The people that create the narrative and then the people that rip the narrative spread it and it just spread so fast. Negative shit spreads super fast lately.

Not only that, but social media breeds this entitlement since everyone is a click away from popping up on their favorite celebrity’s phone. It doesn’t make sense for a public figure to not be public. They can’t handle- 
The silence.

Exactly. It seems for you, as you said, it's not necessarily even intentional. It's just not you.
Yeah. And you're right. It has bred an entitlement. You're not supposed to know all this information about people. The fact that there’s [an expectation] that you will be online talking to people every day and sharing and trying as best you can to express yourself through whatever internet medium you're using—that's nuts. 

The music doesn't hit as hard. When you know that much about the person, you over analyze things. I mean that shit can break you to be honest. I try to stay away from that. That can really mess up your music, and push the people around you away.

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What musical influences did you pick up from living in Florida? Are you still closely tied to those scenes as you've gotten bigger?
I'm definitely tied to it. I've been in my own world for a little bit, pretty selfishly. I felt pretty absorbed in this whole thing, but all my friends from Naples that I made music with, I still talk to them every day. I miss the music scene though.

Being from Florida, there's anthems that they have down there for sure. It's a different type of radio. I think the radio is great, it's super cool. Florida has these songs that they play for tourists like “Margaritaville” or “Dancing in the Moonlight.” It’s a classic rock place. It's on the water, people are relaxed. It's not like Miami, I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about Everglades shit. Really calm beaches and golf. That kind of music is super prominent. I guess I was listening to that when I was out on boats, because it was literally boat music. There are songs that you hear at the beach—surfer shit, like Jack Johnson. 

But then when I was really making music, Florida rap started happening with X and Robb Banks, artists like that. That was definitely a Florida sound. It's so sick. I love being in Florida honestly, even though we're crazy right now. I followed that rap movement closely. I actually did shows with a bunch of them and worked with random rap producers around that time. That's why I was making that vile music. It was like punk.

That was around the time when things were really uncertain. Everything I was doing was uncertain. Every step was a shot in the dark. So that was an outlet, for lack of a better word. It was a way to release all that horrible energy that builds up. It was really special to me and I dove into it and it changed my music.

When I'm out here [Los Angeles] talking to people and they say dumb ass, plastic things, I just remember where I started from and that whole era that changed me. I was doing a lot of shows around that time and living on my own. I was not in school anymore because I dropped out and started doing all this shit. With my family situation, it was fine to just leave. It didn't really matter at that time. So I did. I didn't know I was going to do music professionally at that time. That's when it started though, when that whole scene happened and it shifted my music and it helped me realize that this was what I was meant to be. Pretty sick.

You allude to your unorthodox and at times tumultuous childhood a lot in your music. What was it like growing up? 
Yeah. It's different compared to the people around me. I don't know. Naples is a pretty rich town. It's like a resort. But when I went home, it was different. I was self-conscious about all that. My mom did her best and Lord knows what's going on with my dad. I feel him. You gotta do what you got to do. He was different for sure, just different.

Luckily, me and my brother and my mom and now my little sister are so tight knit. That helped me so much. I knew love the whole time. So I didn't have a bad time. I think I was good at being happy about anything that happened to me. No matter where we stayed, I was fine, because I had those people. My childhood was good.

There's a lyric on “Good Game” where you say, "Don't you become your daddy.” What does that mean for you?
My dad had a reputation, not a good one. He was into doing fucked up shit and being a scumbag from what people always told me. But, he was also a very interesting, intricate, caring person who was musically inclined and creative. He just thought differently. I knew that when I met him.

He walked up to me when I was like 10, and I was cursing. He said, "You guys have dirty minds," or some shit like that. I was like, "Who the fuck are you?” He said, "I'm your dad.” I didn't believe him. And then when we got back to my house, he came in. That was the first time I met the dude. He taught me how to play the guitar for a year, but then he fucked my mom over. He does that to everyone. People thought I was going to be like that maybe.

Whenever something bad would happen, that's when it would get brought up. It seemed like that would happen frequently. It's like I was just supposed to figure shit out, and I was a menace. That's when it really started to annoy the fuck out of me.

Tell me a little bit, if at all, about the intersections of your identity as a Black and Filipino man growing up. 
I didn't really focus on it too much because I really couldn't find anyone that looked like me. I still got along with people. I had a good time, I had girlfriends and things like that, so I didn't really think about it that much. But I started to think about it more and more once I started to try to get jobs. Racism is a huge thing in the South, man. It's like that old racism, that fucking "under the Southern sun" racism. That got really annoying. It wasn't a huge thing for me though. I didn't think about race that much until recently. You could find diversity, but it was pretty white, it's definitely really white. It's a rich-ass place, a rich old people place.

Why did you decide to release an album during quarantine? It seems like many people thought music would come to a halt, but instead we’ve gotten a lot of new releases. 
Yeah, I thought about it a lot, and then one night I was having a conversation with my best friends and somebody asked, "Does the world really need more music right now?" I think it just clicked for me. The world always needs more music, if you think about it, maybe now more than ever. You definitely need it now more than ever.

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What have you been listening to or watching to pass the time during quarantine?
When I wasn't trying to work on the album, I would just endlessly watch movies. I watched The Royal Tenenbaums a million times. I’m trying to watch every Christopher Nolan movie because I just got off Wes Anderson. I fuck with him. 

I've been watching a shit load of anime lately. Literally, there's an anime where God is a robot. I need to get back to that. Not really though because it's about cops, which I realized halfway through. It was not that dope. Demon Slayer was sick. I re-watched The Promised Neverland with the kids that get eaten by fucking big ass monsters and suck your brains out. Then there’s Mob Psycho. That was the one that I watched recently that I fucked with. 

It seems like you're more into the anime that's about monsters and fantasy type stuff.
Yeah. I think that shit's tight. I think anime is the only place where you can get crazy ideas off like that.

You’re subs over dubs?
Dubs are trash.

Back to your growth since being signed, did you have any hesitations signing a big deal?
I'm just trying to get this music off, that's it. I really only think about the major backing part when the internet makes me. I only feel that when I'm online. When I'm here making the music, it’s me and the same people. Me and my homie Cruz, my homie Reed, who manages me as well. We just be making this shit.

I see people from the label in my sessions and things, and when I do talk to them it's always awesome, cordial, it’s fine. It's not weird. But then when the internet's bringing up the word “record deal” and things, when they put it in articles and talk about the amount of money and things like that, I'm reminded that I’m working for a corporation. I just be talking to them like the homies.

That's why I try to make the music shine through. At least that's why I focus solely on the music, because if I don't, that whole narrative will control me and it'll be fucked.

I saw a description of you which said despite being a major label artist with fans from all over, you can still safely walk down the street without being recognized. Is that still true a year later?
Yeah, I fuck with that. I can still walk around in LA and do stuff. People don't bother me, even if they do [recognize me]. I think that people who do know me respect that, because they like me for who I am, because of my fucking weird ass interviews and intimate ass ones. So they don't really walk up on me. Some do, some people come and follow me. The TMZ shit would be so awful, like paparazzi, Kanye shit. That’d be so sad. I couldn't deal with that.


You said you had a fear of being shot while performing. Do you fear anything else?
I worry about my liver and I worry about my pancreas a lot. Dude, I don’t know whether it was a margarita binge or something in Florida. Some Florida shit. I bent over to pick up a shoe and my pancreas went crazy. I also am on medication now for the acidity of my stomach because I used to throw up a lot. I was sick because of the Florida diet. I would drink a shit load of orange juice, eat spicy ass foods. You know what I mean? My stomach is so fucked, but now I take this acid reducer and I can eat anything I want. I can eat pizza again. I’m invincible!

What has changed within you that has made you more receptive to these sort of things that you were initially uncomfortable with?
Experience. Just doing it every night. Repetition.

For many people, their introduction to you was through Brockhampton. Do you feel like you’ve learned anything from your relationship with them? 
I guess how to just really get into it. They pull up anywhere and it's like 13 of them. There’ll be like four of them doing one thing, making a song. Before the song is done, someone's fucking shooting a video for it. And before the video is done, somebody's coloring it. Somebody else is having a conversation about what happens after it and how this fits into the tape that hasn't been talked about yet. They're just constantly moving. When I went to Shangri-La with them, they turned it into their house. They had shit all over the floor and there’s kids that are sleeping. They're awesome. I've learned to just get into this lifestyle. This is your work. This is what you do, explore it. They're just like a little factory that rolls around in expensive shit.

They have been dealing with the more prominent, mainstream side of the industry for a bit longer than you. Do you guys talk about your experiences and fears?
They would just clear my thoughts. I feel like they had already been through all the shit that I was worried about. I would ask them all the time. I would go to Ian’s [Kevin Abstract] house and just be like, “Yo, I just want to talk.” And then he'd be like, “Can we film this?” And that's how those things happen. But I'd literally just go there to talk to them about all this stuff. 

I can't really talk to a lot of people about what I’m going through. It's hard to get advice nowadays, that's not bullshit. Maybe because I live in LA. Maybe I should get the fuck out of here.

Seems like you want a mentor.
Definitely want a mentor. It'd be dope if I had one of those. I'm just saying, I feel like that's a good thing. I should put an ad up trying to find a mentor. That might be the move actually. I've just been thinking about it because I know a lot of successful ass stories start with that. Just somebody, I don't know. Maybe I'm going to put an ad up. That might be the tightest shit I've ever done.

How have you been trying to care for yourself?
Do more recording. Feel like that's the best thing for me. This is better than a lot of the other things I could be doing, obsessing about.

Do you talk to anybody? 
I'm working on that. I'm working on talking to people recently. I don't know about a therapist. Sounds crazy. There's this term they use, “pussy footer.” It's like people that just tiptoe around the bush and don't really explain. They don't really connect with the therapist. There's some therapists that'd be like, "I can't work with this client." I feel like I'd be one of them. They would get angry and not like me.

Where do you think that fear comes from? 
I don't know. That's a therapy question. And I'm pussy footing right now.

It’s always good to talk to someone who doesn’t know you.
Maybe some therapy with God.

Or with a robot.
God or a robot. God is a robot.