Tonight’s show comes with three 15 minute support slots, before an hour with the big man. Slightly odd choice, but with young, fairly unknown rappers it’s maybe a safe bet not to risk over-exposure. However, the decision – seemingly made on the fly – to start late and just run everything back-to-back is even stranger, meaning that it’s a fairly full-on experience.
First up is Bristol’s Jadasea, a great prospect for non-grime British rap (see also: Kip C, MC Salum). He’s a little nervy, but settles into his flow nicely, letting the excellent samples flourish and letting his subtle style gently ride atop the beat. Voldy Moyo (from Wakefield, of ‘Walt Disney is a Nazi’ fame) is up next, bringing a bit more urgency and energy, but he’s a little too reliant on backing tracks which obscure his talent.
The most haphazard set comes from Sideshow, a frequent Mike collaborator. Admittedly, he starts out by saying he isn’t feeling 100%, but there are a lot of false starts and a couple of abandoned songs. The accompanying video footage of Tigray Defence Forces dancing with guns is a little jarring without any context, but its joyful nature is nice and occasionally marries up well with the given song.
Whether it’s nerves or bravado or whatever, all three support acts come off a little self-serious, not necessarily a bad thing, but it was constantly being offset by Mike’s frequent dancing just off-stage. His exuberance continues as he makes his entrance dancing and singing along to Ghanaian highlife. It quickly sets the tone of playfulness and joy that permeates the set as a whole. Mike is plainly unflappable – he chats with the crowd, saunters around the stage without a care and invites collaborators up willy-nilly.
But his rapping is always on point, whether it needs to be hard and purposeful or his typical laidback, mumbly approach. The room is only half full at best (strange booking choice for a relatively small artist – Broadcast may have been more suitable), but everyone pushes towards the front with plenty of dancing and evening singing along for hits like ‘Evil Eye’.
The music comes across much more polished than it does on record, which occasionally veers into what sounds like slipshod improvising. That someone who just turned 24 has such a vast catalogue is impressive enough, but tonight’s show demonstrates that there’s a real thought and artistry behind his music, as well as a wealth of talent.