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How a Rising Brooklyn Rapper Created a Free Rap Festival That ‘Makes Sense’

The font size on many music festival lineups has been shrinking lately, as new events, jam-packed with megastars (who sometimes don’t even show up) have cropped up in the time since pandemic restrictions have eased around the world. For fans, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. Rappers starting their own festivals, by now, seems like a natural part of the game. Everyone from Tyler the Creator to Drake to Travis Scott to Pharrell have put on some version of a multi-artist music festival, featuring a dizzying slate of acts who, likely, are playing the next week somewhere else.

For the Brooklyn rapper Mike, it still feels like something is missing.  “There’s not much events that are dedicated to rap music,” he says over the phone. “There is shit that’s for rap. But, like, not shit that makes sense.”

The City Parks Foundation, a nonprofit focused on civic engagement with New York City’s public parks, approached the 23-year-old MC last year to perform as part of its long-running SummerStage series. He decided instead to put on Young World, which he thought of as a music festival for regular people: a free show in the park, in the daytime, featuring talented young acts. The lineup for this year’s Young World 2, which takes place July 21 at Herbert Von King Park in Brooklyn, includes the Houston-based rap experimentalist TisaKorean, New York’s Junglepussy, Brooklyn-based Maasai, and more. There’s also a legendary headliner: hip-hop icon Slick Rick. 

“When I came up with the idea for Young World, that’s one of the things that I thought,” recalls Mike, who counts Slick Rick — who, like him, moved from the U.K. to the East Coast when he was young — as one of his early inspirations. “Like, the craziest Young World would be the one that he performs at. It’s crazy to have that for the second one.”

Young World began last year as a multi-day event in Manhattan. The idea from the start, Mike says, was to find a way to celebrate the more localized worlds that young artists share with their fans. “I always thought about artists who have the ability to create their own world, and build that from scratch or from nothing,” he says. “When I think about basically all the artists that are on the bill, it’s people that have created those types of worlds with music and shit, at least to me.”

Mike, who recently finished a tour alongside Freddie Gibbs, and has worked with the likes of Earl Sweatshirt and Alchemist, has himself built a fanbase in line with the current generation’s impulse for independence. “Young World is basically the idea of you building your own world that you can allow people to come into,” he says.

So what’s it look like in Mike’s world? “I just want people to be allowed to enjoy good shit,” he says. “You shouldn’t have to pay mad bread for a good experience.”

Last year’s event sold tickets on a sliding scale, and this year the festival is open to the public. The venue, a staple of Bedford Stuyvesant, is part of Mike’s everyday life. “We bike past that park all the time, it’s crazy how life shit comes full circle like that,” he says. “I’m just grateful to be able to be putting that to use. It feels like I’m doing something for the people around me.” 

Mike would like to see more events in the city for young people to be able to enjoy the space around them safely and inexpensively. Like a growing number of New Yorkers, he doesn’t like the current mayor Eric Adams, who is known to pop up at youthful buzzy hotspots all the while leading a government increasingly hostile towards young people of color. “But if he pulls up to this shit,” Mike says, “that would be funny as fuck.”

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