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Mic Stew: Your Favorite Rapper’s Favorite Rapper.

May 30, 2012

Text by Sofiya Ballin. Images by Michael Bucher.

Michael Stewart starts his day with prayer, coffee and a cigarette. In that order.

“God puts me in perspective, humbles me,” he says as he takes a drag.

Known as Mic Stew, he’s your favorite Philly rapper’s favorite rapper and there isn’t a mic in the surrounding area he hasn’t touched. Stewart has recorded more than 120 songs and released six projects, with more coming soon.

Today he’s hosting a block party sponsored by Red Bull. There’s an open mic for freestyling but he’s often asked for free drinks rather than to take the mic. He watches a basketball game going on while the DJ spins for a small crowd.

“Music in general is very rehearsed, very packaged, especially commercial hip hop,” Stewart says “Not as many people grow up actually loving to rap. I want to create something people can grow up with.”

Born and raised in Royersford, Pennsylvania, Stewart has been rapping since he was 12.

“I would walk down the street and start free styling in my head,” he says.

He moved to Philly in 2008 to attend Temple University. He’s since won accolades and numerous battles in the city, including the 2011 Red Bull EmSee competition. That gave him  the right to compete in front of Eminem.

He’s working on two projects, one of which is a yet untitled EP due out this summer.

“It’s specifically written for people to have a good time,” he says. “Everything feels good.”

His impending debut full-length album, All Good Things, takes on a darker tone.

“It chronicles struggles that I go through personally,” Stewart explains. “It’s me ranting about things that make me unhappy, being cynical and critical of both myself and my environment.”

It’s getting windy and a small cypher begins to form. Stewart sits on the bench and watches. Just a few days ago, he opened for Raekwon at The Blockley.

“Raekwon is one of the most badass people alive, so calm and so honest with his work,” Stewart says. “Sitting in a room with him, I felt very nervous. I felt like a child, so humbling. Onstage, it was a blast and it was a bigger honor and bigger experience than expected.”

Stewart jumps up mid-sentence and grabs the mic. His hair is pulled back in a low ponytail so you know he’s serious. Mic Stew begins to flow with a bouncy cadence and high energy that his performances are known for.

After a few minutes, he sits back down, slightly breathless but smiling broadly.

“I let my excitement spill into the crowd,” he says. “It’s kind of like high school dances. A few brave souls will dance and encourage the others to dance. As an MC, I look at myself as the first person on the dance floor.”

As a Temple student, he originated the Friday afternoon Bell Tower cypher that continues today. Other Philly artists have cited the cypher as their starting point and Stew as source of encouragement.

“The fact that people come out and say that is surprising,” he says. “It means a lot. It’s an honor to be able to help people in that way.”

He freestyles and writes everyday when he’s not making phone calls, booking gigs, promoting, cross-promoting or recording in the studio. He manages his own career, which is a hassle, but he has a large support system behind him, especially his family.

“They promote when I come home or have big ticket out in Philly,” Stewart says. “My little brother knows every lyric to every song. My big brother just told me that he’s proud of me and that he finds me inspiring. My dad gives me tips on what he thinks people would want to hear and how I can get my foot in different doors. My mom, she’s always pulling strings. I have my whole hometown pulling for me.”

As people begin to leave the Red Bull event, Mic Stew raps even when there is virtually no audience. His head bobs to the beat and his hand moves rapidly, punctuating the words coming out his mouth.

“My rhymes are an extension of myself, so to ask me to rhyme is like asking me to go out to lunch or asking me to breathe,” he says. “It’s fully integrated into who I am. It’s natural, it feels good.”

All Good Things will portray him as a realist, maybe even a pessimist, but his unwavering belief that all good things will come is evident in his persona, and it reveals his inner optimist.

“Try to eat three square meals, get plenty of sleep, make sure your shoes are on the right feet,” he says. “Feed your pets, brush your teeth, when possible buy a sandwich and water for the homeless.”

He pauses for a moment.

“If you like what I’m doing,” he adds, “share my music.”

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