Muchmore’s, the coffee house and bar in Williamsburg, looks more like your grandma’s living room than a place for a hip hop showcase. But during the $3 Rap Show, Mike Judd can be seen working the soundboard as rappers shuffle around on stage and in mosh pits with the crowd. Once they exhaust their time, Judd steps on stage and transforms from sound guy to rapper, NAHreally.
Judd is a down-to-earth but capable rapper, spitting verses about basketball players, black coffee, tap water and the importance of staying hydrated. Tall and thin, he has an undeniable stage presence – and talent to back it up. With over 200 followers on Soundcloud and close to 550 on Instagram, Judd has secured a moldest following in New York, despite being an outsider from the suburbs of Boston.
Judd grew up in Holliston, Mass., which has a population less than the concert capacity of Madison Square Garden, and hip-hop was not on his radar for most of his life. He began establishing his rapping skills in high school, as the frontman of a Rage Against the Machine cover band.
The year after he graduated from Boston College in 2014, Judd moved to New York with his girlfriend. He now works in the marketing department for a tech company that resells tickets, and doesn’t share much about his alter ego with his colleagues. “It’s not that I don’t want to tell them, I’ve just omitted it,” he says.
When not at work, Judd shares his rhymes not only at Muchmore’s but also at the Nuyorican Poets Café in Manhattan, where he participates in their open mic event on Mondays. A storied venue like the Nuyorican can be intimidating for a Bay Stater who just moved to New York City. “I went in the summer of 2015 and I performed no beat, a cappella, I felt as though I did bad and I didn’t go back for a year – I was rattled,” Judd said, laughing. “I actually lived down the block from it and didn’t go. And then I went back, and then I went back again, and then I went back again, and honestly, I don’t think I’ve missed more than two weeks in a row since the summer of 2016.”
The Nuyorican fosters a community that Judd has found intoxicating, and from regular visits, he’s met loads of artists similar to him, like rapper and comic Luke Horan, or Fluke Human. Fluke, who also hails from Massachusetts, remembers meeting Judd waiting in line for open mic nights, which Horan says are “really packed, so you gotta get there early to get a spot.”
Waiting outside the Nuyorican for hours just to perform for less than five minutes shows how “in NYC, stage time is a scarce commodity,” as Judd puts it.
Judd and Horan decided to put on a local show of their own. In September of 2017, they enlisted help from some Nuyorican regulars and hosted what they called the $3 Rap Show, a monthly event where local rappers, stand-up comics and other artists can showcase their talents for a full 20-minute set.
“Having gone to open mics, I met a bunch of musicians who I thought deserved a little more stage time,” Judd says.
Canadian-born rapper Andre Blackwood (stage name Onjrae) was one of the first performers at the $3 Rap Show. He likes that the crowd size is “not too big but not too small,” and believes that the intimacy and laid-back atmosphere is a direct reflection of the fact that “Mike’s a chill guy.” Another $3 veteran Emmanuel Chiappini, or Scuzz Prince, believes the crowd Judd brings is special; audience members come knowing they’re seeing a hip-hop show and stay engaged throughout.
Blackwood also attributed the success of $3 Rap Show to Judd’s unselfishness as an artist. Steve Marroquin, or DJ Frequency, who drives from Stanford, Conn. to DJ the show, echoed the idea. “He’s willing to share that spotlight – that takes humility. Not everyone at the bottom is going to give someone else a chance who’s at the bottom too.”
The $3 Dollar Rap Show costs exactly what you would guess; Judd, Horan, and Marroquin split the profits three ways and on an average night might make a few bucks. “I lose money going down to the $3 Rap Show but because I like to see the new artists and because of my relationship with Luke and Mike, to me it’s worth it,” Marroquin says.