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Aaron May doesn’t make or break in a sold-out show


On a hot Memorial Day weekend in New York City, a crowd of hundreds queued up around Irving Place and East 16th St to wait to get into Irving Plaza. That night’s entertainment was a collection of rappers from Houston’s M.I.A (or Move in the AM – named for their wake-up and grind mentality) headlined by their powerhouse, Aaron May. The doors for the show were set to open at 7 pm and while there is no official word as to when the headliner would play, the buzz in the line was that he should come out somewhere around 9 pm While the spring breeze cooled the sultry evening air and the die-hard-fans took pictures in front of the matte purple SUV parked in front of the venue that has become a symbol for May (the rapper not the month) the line continued to grow for the half hour I stood watching, waiting for doors and stretched long around the corner and down the block. The sold-out crowd came prepared to stand and wait for however long to see their favorite artist.

Doors at the venue opened promptly at 7 pm and the staff moved everyone in quickly and efficiently while holding the sanctity of the line, something every New Yorker cherishes in a security staff. The woman checking IDs in my line had a compliment for everyone whose IDs she checked and she sent each of us off with a genuine “Have a great show!” As I walked in, I found the pit filled to the brim but the bar area felt like a ghost town. Having parked there I glanced up to the second-floor balcony that rimmed and overlooked the pit and saw security looking down from their makeshift panopticon with blinding flashlight beams lighting up anyone who was sparking a lighter. Another team member would follow the beam of light and throw out the culprits. Later in the evening, the DJ made an announcement that the show would be shut down if the crowd didn’t stop smoking inside. The added security, the empty bar line, and the harsh no-smoking protocols seemed to all point to the younger audience in the crowd.

The Houston-based Rapper and Producer came to fame on the back of the Music Video for his song “Ride”. The song and video came out when May was just 17 years old living in Houston’s Alief neighborhood. His music has a spiritual connection to youth and identity which seems to resonate with his primarily younger crowd. Traditionally his beats have avoided stereotypical trap sounds and have had a more instrumental and melodic focus. His flow resembles that of J. Cole who uses a lot of pattern-based rhyme schemes that give more focus to vocals and emphasize the final words of each line. May’s sound is beginning to evolve as his most recent single “My Bad” showcases. One audience member described the change in his sound as becoming more “mainstream”. Regardless of how you might feel about his musical evolution, his change in sound, the dropping of his most recent single, and completing a North American tour (which saw him sell out nearly half of his shows) could be a sign of a new album to come, first since 2022.

May came out at around 9:15 pm after an hour-long opening set from their touring DJ and a few other MIA talents. The openers consisted of Lou XIII, Young Zvck, and Jay Millz. Each performed for about 10 minutes and then gave way to a few more party-hit DJ tracks before the entire group left the stage to have a few shots and say hello to some of their crew on the balcony.

The audience waited eagerly for their hero to take the stage, prompted three times by the now-returned DJ to chant for Aaron May. When May finally did, the crowd lost their minds. The moment May stepped out on stage, the pit snapped closed like the doors of a 2 train. The entire crowd surged forward to fill every vacant space in the pit and get as close to their star as they could. May came out with his entourage in tow and they created a semicircle around him for the entire show like a Greek chorus. He had photographers, videographers, rappers, friends, and the like supporting and hyping him up as he went.

May performed using a mix of canned and live vocals that left a little to be desired. His presence on stage is electric; he has the clothes, the hair, the jewelry, the swagger, the eye, and most importantly, the talent to easily command an audience. Despite this, he leaned on the crutch of the canned vocal track heavily which took away from his ability to showcase all that he had to offer. One the biggest highlights of the performance, a mark that exemplifies his raw eye for a vibe, was his inclusion of a live guitar player. He was the only accompanying musician in attendance besides the DJ and he played through nearly every song with the rapper. The addition was subtle but it made a difference to both the atheism of the show and to the musicality which thrived on an injection of life.

May is wrapping up his first North American tour on June, 8th in Phoenix, Arizona. Keep your eyes peeled for his next album and keep an eye on MIA as they continue to grow in Houston.

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