Mike Dreams was deferred.
The Minneapolis rapper seemed to be at the height of his powers after dropping the 2012 LP Millennial, an affirmative collection of songs anchored on the gracious anthem “Everything’s Good." But before the buzz of that album fully percolated, he was gone. His name disappeared from show posters. His close friends lost touch. Even his father worried.
The rap scene moved on, broiled over in a few beefs, and reconciled, all while one of its brightest stars of the young decade was nowhere to be found.
That’s what made it all the more jarring last December, when Dreams suddenly re-emerged, dropping a new freestyle titled “City Pages.” While doing press for the song, he talked about celebrating 100 days of sobriety. He hinted at a forthcoming album. On the track, talked about losing his faith and wanting to die.
“I knew if I came back to music, it’d be disingenuous to pretend that everything’s good,” Dreams tells City Pages. “When I made Millennial, that year was a turning point for me as a human being, and I didn’t reflect that in my music.”
This Saturday at 7th St. Entry, almost a year to the day after breaking his self-imposed hermitude, Dreams will celebrate the release of his comeback album, Pardon My Vices. Spanning 17 tracks, the record is a sometimes somber retrospective that details the depression and substance abuse behind Dreams’ hiatus.
Though he's past those trials now, Dreams knew that he couldn’t put up another front like he did on his last LP. Pardon My Vices had to be made and released so that Dreams could tell the full story of his trajectory as an artist.
“To keep it 100, when I made [2010’s] Dreamer’s Poetry, I was this 420-pound kid,” Dreams says. “I was reclusive, just always workin’ on stuff.”
After getting gastric bypass, Dreams shed hundreds of pounds. The newfound confidence coupled with his burgeoning rap career turned out to be a toxic combination, though. Without ever being primed for the party lifestyle, Dreams was sucked in.
“If you haven’t done all that, sometimes you go too hard when you do,” he says. “Eventually, you turn get to a turning point where everything’s not good, and you’re like, ‘Oh snap, how did I end up here?’”
Dreams documents the darkest moment of this spell on “Just a Little More,” a moody, ludic look back where he details his own rock bottom, wondering whether he’d be the next to join Robert Johnson and Janis Joplin in the 27 club. In the second verse, he finds himself in a motel room drunk and on pills, wondering if he should end his life.
Then, he raps the fatal bar: “What was going through my mind when I was goin’ through it / Same thing that was on Cobain’s before the bullet.”
It’s a stark picture of just how far Dreams had come from diffident rap booster to a man crying out for help. Those three years taught him his optimism wasn’t Teflon. And it took a phone call from a friend to realize that he did not have to die by his vices. He could choose to be redeemed. Pardon My Vices is not the story of an optimist conquered by demons. It’s a forum for Dreams to unburden his soul so that he can move on and reclaim the person he was.
“That was the bottom of the bottom,” Dreams says. “I had to talk about that on the record. In conversations in the future, I want it to be less taboo for me -- or for rappers or for black men -- to talk about mental health. I wasn’t gonna be super dark, but that was gonna be my example. That conversation starter.”
Pardon My Vices is an album that goes through moods. Much of the album plays homage to the indulgent, extravagant hip-hop of Dreams’ youth. Everything from Houston Screw jams (“Like It’s 1998” and “Redlight”) to flashy new jack R&B (“She Got Game”) to classic gangsta boom bap (“Change Up”). There are those dark interludes, but through it all, Dreams’ youthful hope persists.
“I operate more in dreams and fantasy than I do reality,” Dreams says. “I don’t ever wanna be that old guy telling the kids, ‘Don’t be dreamin’ about that, you gotta go work.’ There’s a certain youthful element of dreams and aspirations, and you have to keep that. It’s like a treasure.”
Where “Just a Little Bit” plumbs the depths of Dreams’ depression, standout track “Dreamers Only” shows the heights of his determination. With an emotional, synth-driven instrumental provided by Cody Daze, Dreams retreats to the isolation that bore his early work. Only instead of falling victim to despair, he finds strength. He finds love -- something he’d been missing in that motel room.
“A big thing I learned was that I’m not as different as I thought from other people,” Dreams says. “When you get into these pity-party-type modes and you think you’ve done it and you’re scum, it’s just because it fits the rhetoric of being depressed. Being around people, you realize it’s just everyday stuff people go through all the time, and they still here.”
Though it begins with “Vices (Intro),” Dreams didn’t write the album solely to showcase where he was. Pardon My Vices is Dreams’ therapy. He enters with his darkest self in full view, but by the close he’s processed those lessons into redemption. On the closing song “Virtues,” he raps absolved -- the sadness and fear of the past three years transformed into ambition.
“It’s always about triumph over trial,” Dreams says. “This had to be a real uncut who I am. Now that I’ve done this, my next stuff can go back to making those inspirational anthems.”
With: Muja Messiah, Destiny Roberts, Dwynell Roland, Juice Lord, and Ashley Dubose. Hosted by Mr. Peter Parker
Where: 7th St. Entry
When: 9 p.m. Sat., Dec. 17
Tickets: $8; more info here