By: Miguel Gonzales


Christmas came early on March 9th, as the natural white LED lights wrapped around several trees on Mass Ave and the bubbly, giddy crowd waiting in line to see New York rapper MIKE’s sold-out show set the mood for a busy yet buzzing night at The Middle East. The anticipation was massive for the right reasons, as this was the first show kicking off MIKE’s North American Ipari Park tour. 


MIKE has been on a steady roll releasing full-length albums and mixtapes back-to-back on his Bandcamp since 2015, who is currently coming off from his last year’s critically acclaimed album, Beware of the Monkey


Opening for artists like Freddie Gibbs and Earl Sweatshirt, MIKE has become a prominent figure in the underground hip-hop scene over time. His brand of stream-of-conscious rap that taps into his up-front vulnerability paired with beats that are abstractly collaged together with sample chops ranging from R&B, soul and jazz kept listeners keeping an eye on MIKE over the years. The large turn-out and overwhelming positivity for the show is concrete proof of that.


There was already a lot happening in the line, and the show had not even started. Young, enthusiastic rapheads from their teens to mid-twenties were wrapped around in line sporting streetwear clothing like Stray Rats and Golf le Fleur, chattering about topics like their favorite East Coast rappers and favorite cereal. 


A surprise appearance from Roxbury legend Uncle Rick saw him rapping to those who were waiting by the entrance keeping the crowd engaged, performing one of his originals called “Tick Tock.” Even old guys in their mid-50s still wearing studded leather jackets looked confused when they ended up in the wrong line, trying to justify to an employee they were in the right line and to “search up the location of the show on the Facebook search engine.” (Rotting Christ was playing downstairs at The Middle East the same night.)


Even with the puzzled metalheads trying to find the right show and a delayed 45-minute start to fit everyone in the very compact and dim venue, the patient crowd did not mind one bit.


Opening for the night’s show at around 8:50 PM was Kissimmee, Florida rapper Niontay, performing a brief 20-minute set that had the crowd bobbing their heads in unison and getting them to chant multiple “ooh yeahs” when performing “BlitzBerg” and multiple “run aways” for “Runaway.” Niontay also played unreleased material during the set.


It was difficult to hear his vocals at times as the volume for the microphone was low, but his playful attitude was so engrossing that it made his performance worthwhile. His entertaining bars felt so in-character with the fast-paced and uniquely futuristic Detroit trap beats he had in store, playing them using Ableton on his MacBook Air, his on-stage banter making his set a hilarious time.


“Shoutout to Ableton,” Niontay said. 


Niontay’s stage presence had everyone thrilled, setting up the continuous positive aura for New York-via-Florida rapper and producer 454 who performed after Niontay. Jogging around the small stage with high-energy alongside Atelye Marc who was on DJ decks amplified the crowd much further, some of the audience forming a mosh pit in the middle. 


It’s understandable too, as 454’s production is dream-like and psychedelic leaving you in ethereal bliss. He opened his set with songs like “ANDRETTI”, a fan favorite where his choruses and delivery are infectious enough to leave you with a sweet tooth. (I still can’t get “we can square it out right in the middle of the deli” out of my head.) 


Cuts like “ICE AGE” from his 2022 mixtape FAST TRAX 3 captured the crowd at its most energetic, building up the momentum with a 10-second Y2K-esque atmospheric jungle break that sounds like it came straight from a PS2 game. The break transitioned flawlessly into the chorus along with a poppy, bubbly trap beat where the crowd screamed the lyrics word-for-word. It was so hype that the floor was reverberating from everyone jumping–almost like a miniature earthquake that erupted.


At around 9:45 PM, the final set began when MIKE slowly walked up on stage, immediately greeted by a roar of applause giving him a warm welcome to Boston. New York producer Taka was handling the DJ decks for his set, casually sipping on a tall boy of Heineken while MIKE is blowing kisses and showing his appreciation to the audience’s love and openers, a guy in response shouting out “big fuckin’ MIKE” twice. 


Facial expressions from the audience saw them already immersed by his presence, as he kicked off the start of his set with songs from Beware of the Monkey such as “As 4 Me”, rapping effortlessly where he exercises his confidence with a sense of urgency underneath a looped soul sample. His introspective musings come alive–his lyricism is compelling and emotionally charged that has the power to hit you deep, not only in his songs but through his bold conviction when rapping and the small gestures he makes during his live performance as well.    


He transitions into “World Market (Mo’ Money)” from his 2021 album Disco!, where he asks the audience to spell “M-O-M-O-N-E-Y” out loud before he jumps into the verse. The energy from the audience keeps consistent throughout the show as he continues playing his recent material. MIKE finally introduces himself after three songs, but only does it briefly. 


“Hey, my name is MIKE. It’s a blessing to meet all of you,” he said.


What really captivated me was his performance of “fortune teller”, as the delivery of impactful bars like “How you find yourself and end up on the opp side?/Too many demons grew with me, let a lot die” are said with all his chest–eyes closed, squatting down and grasping his right fist tightly while doing so. The outro of the song left way for a temporary silence in the audience with barely much chatter, as the chopped loop of a female singer stuttering and reversing throughout kept the audience mesmerized, even without lyrics.


It gave space to create a beautifully intimate moment with the audience and performer. This was the moment where I knew MIKE had us in good hands.


MIKE began to conclude the set with a surprise encore the audience was cheering on for, along with words of encouragement for the young crowd to have “fire in their heart.” Niontay hopped on stage during “No Curse Lifted (rivers of love)” who was straight-up vibing with him, rapping MIKE’s verses at the same time while he was performing. 


The last song “GOD’S WITH ME” from his 2017 EP BY THE WATER made for a powerful closer, a raw confessional that carried great weight on the crowd. MIKE had the audience raising their arms high until their belly-buttons showed, as he put it, before he began the song. It uplifted the crowd by encouraging them to rise up even through the hardest times–a core theme of the song. 


MIKE’s optimistic attitude throughout the show resonated with the audience after they dispersed, the smiles on the crowd’s faces affirming it. His supportive nature and humbleness that MIKE channeled drew everyone in. His passionate performance and phenomenal lyricism, along with the openers that put on great sets as well.   


You could just feel the love transmitting throughout the night.