You walk in and they’re working. Dominic Fike, who just turned 23 and who was recently given several million dollars by a major record label, is sitting on a leather couch in a nearly empty room. A song is playing, loudly. It isn’t finished. There’s a microphone surrounded by portable soundproof padding. A few friends sit cross-legged on the floor or in computer chairs, cradling laptops and squinting into the middle distance. Fike is lanky and wearing a heathered Elvis Costello shirt. The neighbor to the west, they say, owns a record label and a pizza place. He’s cool; he hasn’t complained about the noise yet. Another neighbor has. This is Hollywood — technically on the southern edge of the Hills, but it’s as close to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! as it is to the real mansions.
It’s possible that you haven’t heard of Dominic Fike, but that will change soon. That’s a testament not so much to his talent — though he is talented — but to the will of Columbia Records, which gave the Florida native that contract, breathlessly reported by the trades as being in the $4 million range. When rumors about the deal started circulating it was difficult, and then impossible, to find any of his music online. Neither the EP that got him signed (Don’t Forget About Me, Demos, which sounds like it was made by the world’s coolest lounge singer) nor the rap music that he thought would make him Florida’s next SoundCloud star could be streamed or purchased. They were scrubbed by Fike’s manager, who realized unreleased music was good leverage. People on the internet sometimes refer to him as an industry plant. That doesn’t bother him (“I smile at it every time”). He’s young and online enough that he understands the stakes and syntax of comment sections.
Fike grew up in Naples, where he often had to look after his two younger siblings, and where his mom (who was away for some stints in jail) introduced him to the likes of Usher, Mariah Carey’s Christmas album, and Lil Kim’s Hard Core. Fike describes the city as very small and “real calm,” with one nagging complication: “There are a lot of police there, and they’re real mean.” That came to a head when he was arrested and charged with battery of a police officer, for which he served time on house arrest, then time in jail after he violated those terms. He describes house arrest as “lonely as fuck” and alludes to heavy drug use during that time, but also says that the judge, in being punitive, might have salvaged his career. “He was trying to fuck me,” Fike says. “He was trying to give me a felony and make it so I couldn’t ever get a job. But everybody else was cool with me getting fucked up and not doing anything. The judge was the only reason I ended up making that tape.” If it wasn’t for him, Fike “would still be getting drunk on someone’s couch.”
Instead, he made Don’t Forget About Me — or, really, he began to make it. The songs shimmer; they’re broad enough to soundtrack proms and specific enough that every kid there will think they’re the only one who really gets it. “3 Nights” breezes through emotional crises at a comfortable clip and has become a breakout hit.
By the time Fike had to report to Collier County Jail, the record was still only partially finished, and Fike waffled on whether or not he wanted to put it out. But as soon as he did, he found himself prepping for meetings with high-powered executives while behind bars, rehearsing label auditions with his bunkmate. Signing with a major was not a priority, he says, but Columbia gave him the resources he was looking for — including the ability to hire better attorneys for his mom, whom he had to drive to jail to begin serving a two-year sentence on drug charges the day of the EP’s re-release.
One thing you notice about Fike is that he looks nothing like his own mugshot. That picture — which I should note I am accessing on a site where it has been “TAGGED AS CELEBRITY” — finds him looking fallow (understandable) and bleached blonde (less so), handsome in the way that he might end up on one of those Hot Mugshot Instagram accounts but not in the way that Columbia would feel comfortable putting him on Fallon. Now his hair is brown and wavy and long enough to obscure the tattoos along his hairline. Sometimes he brushes it out of the way when he talks. It softens him. I ask if anybody from the label has made suggestions or given him notes on his style. He grins and says no. “I think they think I’m cool.”
The new songs, even in their unfinished state, are more sophisticated than those on Don’t Forget About Me without being indulgent or overwrought. Fike is unconcerned with how the label feels — when I ask if they’ve given feedback he says “I’m pretty sure they fucking love it.” He has a couple fears about getting famous (“getting shot, for sure”), but on the whole seems eager to get going on what might feel, by this point, inevitable. “I be wearing my own merch outside, trying to get more famous,” he says, laughing. He won’t have to for very long.