Mic Check, a student group that showcases campus hip-hop and R&B artists—specifically Black performers—held its one-year anniversary concert on Saturday, Feb. 11 in the Daniel Family Commons. The group has organized seven concerts the first Mic Check took place on Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. The eighth Mic Check, to be held on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, will continue the anniversary celebration with a line-up of rap battles, as well as three performances from student artists listed as DJ Doublea, Kailer, and Lorwood.
Abbi Abraham ’23, an event coordinator for The Shed, a student group that provides space for student musicians to showcase their work, first came up with the idea for Mic Check as a hip-hop and R&B-focused concert after witnessing the success of an all-acoustic concert hosted by The Shed. She explained that this event helped her realize how, despite the limitations of categorizing by genre, genre-centered performances can help give platforms to artists who are looked over.
“If you curate a selection of artists who are working within the same or similar genres, the audience has accurate expectations as to what they’re coming to,” Abraham said. “Feeling neglected on stage is a very alienating feeling. If your art isn’t received in the way that it ought to [be], that can be detrimental for someone’s artistic growth. After having conversations with Leevon [Matthews ’23] and recognizing the neglect of the hip-hop scene, I really pushed for my group[’s] next event to be [what became] Mic Check.”
Abraham reached out to Matthews because she wanted to receive input from a hip-hop artist on campus to make sure the show was curated thoughtfully. Matthews was eager to jump on board, helping to organize the lineup of artists, find an emcee, and coordinate the rap battle that closed out the event.
“I felt, as a recording artist, that my work in [the] regular music circuit of Wesleyan wasn’t being prioritized,” Matthews said. “There wasn’t really any spaces where hip-hop culture and artists could flourish and perform their work. You would see a lot of the same types of artists perform that I feel didn’t completely represent what Wesleyan was all about. Once I discovered how many other [hip-hop] artists there were last year, that’s when I was like, ‘It’s not just about me anymore.’”
Abraham explained that she was nervous before the first Mic Check because she wasn’t sure if people would show up, but her worries were quickly assuaged. Held on the top floor of Albritton, the inaugural Mic Check featured blue and red lights that swept out of windows that were papered over by cardboard that students had decorated with spray paint, concealing the movement of bodies in an overflowing crowd. Another notable aspect of the event was the line for entry, as students queued down four flights of stairs.
“It felt particularly ambitious also because [it] is a known fact that Black artists are neglected on this campus,” Abraham said. “ I wasn’t a hundred percent confident that people would show out for Black music…just because of the trends that I had seen in terms of concert-going…. I had a lot of hope…but I didn’t think we would have a line going from the fourth floor to the first floor…so I was definitely really pleasantly surprised.”
Matthews was similarly moved by the massive turnout for the first Mic Check and recalled that the energy in the room was electric. He remembered his rap battle with Milton Espinosa ’22, which was an especially high point of the night.
“After I went in the first round and he went, he had this line that shook the building,” Matthews said. “I just remember that being the first time someone ever in a rap battle said something really crazy against me and the whole crowd erupted. I just remember never feeling an energy like that at Wesleyan, never being in a room where people were having that much fun and it was genuine and it was created through hip-hop.”
After the first Mic Check, Matthews took sole responsibility for planning and hosting the following shows. As more Mic Checks took place, the performances never lost their emotional importance to Matthews.
“It was the fifth or fourth [Mic Check],” Matthews said. “I worked the event until maybe 2:00 a.m. When I laid down, the moment my back touched the bed, I started crying a lot. I got super emotional, and it was happiness. It was that feeling when you’ve given something everything, and you finally feel the release of that. It was a very cathartic experience.”
Performing in the original Mic Check as a first-year, Nolan Lewis ’25 has been around to witness how Mic Check has evolved since its inception. He explained that though Mic Check originally began as a platform purely for hip-hop and R&B, it has expanded to include other genres while maintaining its focus on new artists.
“The introduction of battle rap to Mic Check…[is] something that should be introduced just ’cause it’s so cool,” Lewis said. “Also, [Mic Check] started out as purely [musical] performance and the introduction of spoken word was necessary…. It’s just fun to showcase…lyricism and poetry…. Mic Check originally started out as hip-hop and R&B, but at the same time it’s always been a form for new artists.”
By creating a space dedicated to placing voices that people may not otherwise hear front and center, Mic Check has undoubtedly changed the University’s music scene, especially where hip-hop is involved.
“The fact that Leevon was able to create a space like this for us really just shows a dedication to opening everyone’s minds about what music can be and what creativity looks like,” Brianna Johnson ’24 said. “Then it unintentionally gave students of color a space on this campus to make music and showcase their talent. Since Mic Check, we had so many new student-of-color groups come forward and artists of color come out with new things…. It’s really inspiring.”
Tyler Jenkins ’22 recalled that the hip-hop scene was largely scattered for his first three years at the University, but Mic Check provided a space for collaboration among student rap artists.
“The hip-hop scene before Mic Check was more individualized,” Jenkins wrote in an email to The Argus. “I worked with a few student artists but at the time there weren’t as many rappers as there are now. There weren’t any collaborative rap shows purely for students. Mic Check filled that gap for student rap/R&B performers. It gave the platform to more students who wanted to explore and experience that sound in a welcoming environment.”
Lewis also pointed to the impact that Mic Check has had on him personally as an artist.
“I am, at my core, a rapper, but I do pop-rap,” Lewis said. “I’m more in the Nicki [Minaj], Doja [Cat] realm, which some could argue is adhering to a non-black audience, which made me feel a little bit invalid as an artist [and] a rapper. So just to be shown that none of that mattered and people just want to hear good music and that they also think I make good music felt great.”
As Matthews graduates at the end of the Spring 2023 semester, Mic Check will soon fall into new hands. However, Matthews explained that by registering Mic Check as an official student group and building a team of people who care about the longevity of the concert series, it will have the support it needs to continue being part of the University long after he graduates.
“I’m trying to elect another person within the group to essentially take my spot,” Matthews said. “I think as long as that person care[s] and they deeply love it and it’s their first priority, I think Mic Check will last a very long time. I think one problem a lot of groups have on campus is that people only invite their friends and their social groups and they don’t realize that things are bigger than them and they’re about the entire community as a whole. And I think if we always remember that, we’ll do great.”
Kat Struhar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.