It’s hard not to take notice of Michael Christmas as he walks down Newbury Street in the dying midafternoon sun of a crisp fall day. Maybe it’s the hair — a puffy, tousled afro that Sideshow Bob from “The Simpsons” would be proud of, and which Christmas has been growing for three years with no plans of curbing. So when you’ve been looking for him on the corner of Newbury and Dartmouth and he suddenly appears standing behind you seemingly out of nowhere, it’s a bit surprising.
“I’ve been waiting here,” he deadpans, having just arrived from the other direction alongside his co-manager and video director, Ian Goodwin. It has yet to start, and the interview already has its first (but not last) funny, awkward moment between two people who barely know each other. Luckily for Christmas, this is something of his specialty.
“I like talking to strangers,” says Christmas, 19, who performs Tuesday at Naga in Central Square. “I think that everybody is more happy when I talk to them, strangely out of nowhere. When I was younger, me and my friends went to my barbershop and lined up in front of the window and started applauding for a minute straight. Everybody in the barbershop stopped cutting hair and looked up and just started laughing. I want to do that for everybody. I want everybody to feel like not everybody in the world is a robot, so I’m gonna do some weird [stuff] every time people walk by.”
“See them?” he asks as a pack of excited teenage girls walk by, as if on cue. “They’re having a real regular day. If I would have just did some [stuff], their whole day would have changed.”
We can only speculate, as the girls continue past without incident, but finding the absurd, the comic, the bizarre, or the wonderfully mundane side of such seemingly ordinary daily occurrences is one of Christmas’s strongest suits as an artist. His single, “Daily,” and its accompanying video do just that, following the Roxbury teenager through a typical 24 hours: waking up, falling back asleep, eating Hot Pockets, meeting up with friends. Combined with Goodwin’s creative visual flair, Christmas’s conversational, deadpan flow reveals his average-guy character with lines like “I’m in the same pants I wore yesterday, my [homies] got weed and some chicken wings / So they’re gonna take flight like Michael, and I’m gonna chew these wings like Tyson won titles.” In under three minutes, he leaves a stronger impression of his personality than some rappers do over the course of an entire album.
Now joined by co-manager Tim Larew, who walks ahead of us with Goodwin, Christmas admits it took time before he was comfortable being himself on the mike.
“The Michael Christmas I describe versus the Michael Christmas I show is very different,” he says, as he surprises a young woman walking by with an offhand compliment of her shoes. “I’m a lot more lively in the public because it’s fun. In school and in real life, I’m really awkward, I’m really shy, I don’t really talk to anyone. I have to give a lot of credit to my friends of the last two, three years. I met people who just didn’t care about much just like I did, so that’s where I got the confidence.”
He continues, “When I was 16, I was trying to be Cool Kids and Dom Kennedy. I was trying to be super cool. But it wasn’t working, so I thought I gotta be the opposite completely. The opposite completely just happens to be me. I am the opposite of the coolest rappers out.”
For comparison, think of the actor Michael Cera (“Arrested Development,” “Superbad”), who’s turned his awkwardness and lack of grace into unlikely sources of a unique charisma. That’s something Christmas can identify with; the Canadian actor inspired his song “Michael Cera,” which Goodwin turned into a infectiously fun video shot on the streets of New York.
“He’s a very visual rapper,” says Goodwin, while Christmas poses for photos. “He paints a picture, so it makes it easy for me in some ways. I have more fun making his videos than anyone else’s. In the ‘Michael Cera’ video, there’s a part where he’s holding the camera and spinning around in the middle of the sidewalk, and there were tons of strangers just watching and all these people are just smiling. It’s just natural for him.”
Now at the other end of Newbury, Christmas, Goodwin, and Larew stop to sit on a short brick wall outside a street-wear store near the corner of Hereford Street. Two girls walk by looking for another store and Christmas seizes his chance to, as he said earlier, bother some people who are having a really regular day.
“I’m a professional actor,” he says, after they ask why he’s being interviewed. “It’s not out yet, but they are doing a remake of ‘Barney’ as a movie. You know how they have people come in to talk to the kids? I play an ex-drug dealer who comes in and tells the kids not to do drugs. It’s updated for today’s generation. These kids know about drugs at 6 years old. I’m just trying to help.”
Their reaction is as expected: some laughs, a bit of bemused confusion, and then they leave, their whole day now irrevocably changed by having just a little Michael Christmas in their lives for a few minutes. Coming from him, it somehow seems to work.
“When I write,” he says, “I think about other kids that I’m sure are out there who are just like me. Even if I don’t know it, I try to write stuff that they can relate to, and if they can’t relate to it, that they can laugh at. I started seeing the progression of people who are becoming fans, and these people love things that they can relate to. They love hearing about me and how they are the same way. And they are — they’re really weird, really creepy, kind of. As is Michael Cera. I’m just a vessel of awkwardness.”
Announced on Monday, this year’s Boston Music Award nominations for Best Hip Hop Artist lean
toward the familiar, with past winners Slaine and Moe Pope & Rain named alongside previous nominees Dutch Rebelle and Reks, with Grey Sky Appeal, ironically now relocated to Brooklyn, N.Y., also selected. . . . On Tuesday, electro hip-hop producer
released his new project, “A Sci-Fi in Hi-Fi,” an instrumental project laced with samples from avant-garde Japanese composer Isao Tomita, through his Bandcamp page (www.evilldewer