Crafting his mixtapes from an abstract, almost collage-like aesthetic, Queens-based rapper MIKE melded introspective lyrical flows to brief, floating beats. Chopped samples had long been imperative to rap production, but MIKE took sample deconstruction to new levels, zooming into the granular elements of fragmented soul songs and mincing the results until they were unrecognizable. His woozy style on early mixtapes was adopted by bigger-named collaborator Earl Sweatshirt on his acclaimed 2018 album Some Rap Songs, and much like that record creates a consistent mood out of abstract miniatures, MIKE's tears of joy is a dreamlike meditation on sorrow and grief brought on by his mother's death. Muted instrumental samples sound submerged in oily puddles throughout the album, beginning with a melancholic looped flute on album opener "Scarred Lungs Vol. 1 & 2." This short intro melts into an also short second half, where a broken jazz sample supports MIKE's lyrics of solitary pain as he processes his mother's death. The grief-stricken song is an introduction to the raw nerves that comprise tears of joy. The song ends with a sample of spoken dialogue stating "the rest of the world is coming apart in slow motion," and that's exactly what it sounds like. "Goin' Truuu" has more discernible drums and shattered soul samples in a jagged time signature as MIKE's flow picks up energy. The album's various textures take the form of only slightly more traditional beats on tracks like the dark "Big Smoke" and the humid, hypnotic wash of "It's Like Basketball." MIKE addresses his mother repeatedly as the album goes on, touching also on themes of anxiety, depression, and struggles outside of the emotional realm. Otherworldly production makes it hard to immediately locate the album's emotional currents or catch both the heaviness and lightness one track at a time. Taken as a whole, however, tears of joy is an immersive and painfully beautiful listening experience with MIKE's vulnerability the main force moving the songs.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas