Noname in an orange shirt
Photo Credit: Kaushik Kalidindi for Okayplayer

MIKE's Young World III Was a Haven for Every Era of Rap Fan

Featuring performances from Noname, Earl Sweatshirt, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and more, MIKE's annual Young World festival did an excellent job bridging and binding disparate communities, histories, and styles of creative expression.

Bed-Stuy’s Von King Park, like so many of the public green spaces dotting New York City’s map, serves an endless breadth of ever-evolving community needs. Most mornings, it’s a watering hole for the caffeine dependent, a micro-track for the seven or so bearded white men getting their steps in, and an open-air living room for greying locals with a joint and some time to spare. At the moment, it’s a pretty verdant satellite office, lending me a bench and stone table with an embedded chessboard in a sitting area along Greene Ave to curl over my laptop and attempt to describe what this precise frame of my memory looked like not 36 hours ago, when this block-wide sprawl of natural and concrete recreational grounds managed its latest, and arguably grandest, act of malleability yet.

On Saturday, July 15th, thousands of bodies filled the main lawn of the central-ish Brooklyn park for Young World, an annual summer music festival curated and organized by Harlem rapper MIKE. For the festival’s third installment, the 25-year-old wrangled heavyweights of rap’s sub-terrain, ranging from local upstarts like AKAI SOLO and Jay Critch to elastic, regionally-embraced imports like 454 and MAVI to foremothers of experimental R&B like Georgia Anne Muldrow, and a direct spiritual disciple in Noname.

Mavi holding a mic

Photo Credit: Kaushik Kalidindi for Okayplayer

The perimeter of the lawn was lined with vendors slinging loaded fries and sausages, screen-printers quick-pressing primary-colored logos onto pristine white tees, a Nigerian fashion archivist selling early-aughts ephemera and obscure DVDs, as well as a pair of tents towards the back of the make-shift outdoor venue tossing free tallboys of Yerba Mate and your pick of flat or carbonated Liquid Death, which I learned is, in fact, just water in a can. Access to the unpurchasable amenities lasted maybe an hour or two before supplies were depleted, but locals stepped in (as they always do) to fill the void with on-the-spot margaritas, knockout packs of “Mike Tyson” weed, and fresh-off-the-grill burgers.

Some Rap Songs in the Park

Earl Sweatshirt and MIKE

Photo Credit: Kaushik Kalidindi for Okayplayer

AKAI SOLO broke the seal with DJ and collaborator, ibliss spinning at his flank. Battling through criminal levels of humidity, the duo marathoned through selections from their joint and respective catalogs.Members of SOLO’s Tase Grip crew peppered a swelling and sweating crowd, calling back to shoutouts and starting chants unsolicited. After an increasingly needed and necessary hydration break, 454 stormed the stage with a distinctively southern strain, trilling whispery hooks over needly synth scapes and frigid 808s.

Finally, MIKE, the man of the evening and the spiritual and curatorial center of Young World, enters from stage left with a microphone already gripped. He welcomes his congregants to a self-made rap chapel, where friends, fans, and artistic influences all carry equal import, and feel wholly embraced by a community they may not have known they were a part of. After a few on his own, MIKE brings out rappers El Cousteau and Niontay as back-to-back special guests. But the surprise we should have seen coming was an unannounced appearance from Earl Sweatshirt, the one-time golden child of underground rapper, who now observes subsequent generations as a wise and wary elder. “Brooklyn, look at y’all baby, man. Look at what he doin’, man,” Earl smiled, looking back at MIKE after performing his recent single “Making The Band.” Storms almost brought MIKE’s set to an early close. But after a brief pause, the rapper returned to sign off with gratitude and a beaming signature smile.

Next up was Jay Critch, who kept it light with a handful of impossibly catchy earworms and a natural connection to a crowd gathered just a few blocks from his old Brooklyn haunts. MAVI, of course, struck a different tone as thunder, lightning, and some light rain began to set in. The Charlotte rapper, who was the youngest performer at Young World, was a half-open wound, treating a now soaked stage as a place to heal and recover through testimony.

Bridging Communities

Georgia Anne Muldrow wearing pink

Photo Credit: Kaushik Kalidindi for Okayplayer

The final two performers at Young World were also its most practiced. Georgia Anne Muldrow didn’t so much take the stage as occupy every molecule in, around, and above it, casting entrancing waves of funk, soul, and beat-forward improv, out on to a dome of smoke and umbrellas. And just as the clouds began to clear a bit, a setting sun pushed through slate clouds on the western corner of the park as if it were personally welcoming Noname to the stage. Backed by an air-tight band with no shortage of gospel and jazz flourishes, the Chicago rapper performed cherished catalog cuts like “Reality Check” and “Blaxploitation,” and worked through a pair of new songs from her upcoming album, Sundial.

Once Noname’s band took its bow, there was no field-clearing mass exodus. Like many nights in Von King, the lawn remained caked with remaining attendees lolling on blankets, passing around self-spun blunts, and basking in the afterglow of a heart-filling evening. Some of those faces were still spry. Others were a little worn, weathered, and approaching a threshold. But there was a ton of love between them. And though it was billed with a generational spin, it didn’t take much more than a scan of who remained on the battered lawn to see how Young World created a haven for every era of rap fandom Saturday night, seamlessly bridging and binding disparate communities, histories, and styles of creative expression under the spotty canopies of a treasured neighborhood park and the expert curation of one of rap’s most gracious and collectively-minded figures.