Almost no one had heard of Dominic Fike when Columbia Records signed a whopping four million dollar record deal in 2018 with the Florida native. Virtually a ghost online, with no music out on any platform, Fike had industry giants enter the ring for a dirty, no–stops bidding war on what was a risky—and pricey—record deal.

The rebellious charisma of Fike’s genre–bending music caught the attention of multiple major labels while Fike was serving a jail sentence in 2017. Feeling trapped by the threat of obscurity, Fike asked his friend to release his in–progress demos, a decision that would kickstart his explosive entrance into the music scene. In his aptly titled EP, Don’t Forget About Me, Demos, Fike fearlessly leaps from pop to alternative rock and rap to position himself on the precipice of greatness. “3 Nights,” his first attempt at pop, became a breakout hit for its tropical, youthful feel, an optimism that almost conceals frustrated rap lyrics about relationships. With a spectrum of strong tracks on Don’t Forget About Me, Demos, Fike spotlighted himself as the one to watch, with the world waiting with bated breath to see if this young artist could live up to exacting expectations.

To understand Fike’s history is to understand his music. As a scrappy kid living in the small city of Naples, Florida, he once had to sell his guitar just so he could afford to buy food for himself. A far cry from his current situation, his whirlwind career has opened doors for him in more ways than one.

“I eat crazy foods and I cover people’s rents. I take care of people. Never done that—like people have always taken care of me,” says Fike as he wipes away tears in the New York Times episode ‘Are You Up on Dominic Fike Yet?

Specifically, family is embedded into the core of Fike’s music. In his EP, he croons about growing up with a single mother over smooth guitar riffs in “Babydoll.” In his debut album, What Could Possibly Go Wrong, references range from wanting to be with his relatives to feeling the need to look after them. Even Fike’s stint in jail stemmed from protecting his family as he became a felon for pushing a police officer who was in pursuit of his brother. Themes of familial loyalty forged from the unforgiving “Miami concrete” saturate his colorful discography, packaged in low–key tracks reminiscent of long–past “surf-bro rock” with a modern hip–hop twist.

In a whiplash–inducing change from his humble beginnings,  Fike’s What Could Possibly Go Wrong, explores the mounting pressures of being plucked from general obscurity, a stark contrast to the pleading release of Don’t Forget About Me, Demos. In “Vampire,” he likens himself to “food for the bloodsuckers,” a money–making machine for the industry executives who likely see Fike as a highly marketable artist. The antagonistic stream–of–consciousness verses in “Cancel Me” explore the schisms his career has created between himself and his old life, half–hoping he’ll be released from his meteoric rise to fame so he can take his mask off and be with his family.

Fike understands all too well the importance of his record deal: not only does he have people to support, but he must also produce that $4 million back for Columbia Records before he ever sees profit from his work. He admits, “You’re pretty much put on a treadmill right there… you have to pay them back you know…” 

Critics have made it clear there’s no guarantee he will become a star big enough to meet sky–high expectations. Joe Coscarelli, who saw Fike live in the nascent stages of his career, thought “he has a long way to go to prove that he can live up to this record deal.” Rolling Stone wrote that Fike’s “inoffensive” songs seem to be made by an artist who “doesn’t seem too keen on the product he’s selling.” But even with mounting pressure from juggling his mammoth record deal, family, and completely new life, Fike seems to understand the power he holds and is adjusting well. A fresh face who refuses to promise himself to one genre alone, Fike is confident in his talent and possesses the grit to put it to good use. 

What Could Possibly Go Wrong maintains the thrilling, fresh appeal of Fike’s range: “Florida” seamlessly transitions from a soothing piano track to a spirited rap about his success story. A solid first product of his record deal, Fike’s debut album wards off any suspicion of a bad bet with its self–assured creativity and eclectic tracklist. For all the criticism of Dominic Fike, there is something particularly satisfying about knowing where the neon–haired artist came from and wondering what he will accomplish next.