With a versatile group of MC’s making an appearance in the Mile High City this year, picking only three to highlight was no easy task. Top-notch entertainers such as Action Bronson and vivid storytellers like Evidence and Vic Mensa made us truly appreciate the different angles that rap acts can take in 2018. Considering factors like stage presence, production values, and just plain heart, the Compose Yourself team has created a list of the top three Denver hip-hop performances of the year.
Just over a month after the release of his sophomore album Care for Me, Saba’s show at Cervantes Other Side in May gave Denver a glimpse at the future of Chicago rap. Saba’s heartfelt stories about his late cousin Walter showed his personal connection to the senseless violence taking place in the city of Chicago. Saba pulled heavily from Care for Me, playing tracks like “Busy/Sirens”, “Broken Girls”, and “Prom/King”. Walter’s story is told in depth in “Prom/King” and emotions ran heavy as Saba described his friendship and life experiences with Walter which sadly come to an end with his death.
While the set had Cervs in their feels, the track “Smile” was much more uplifting, and while slightly melancholy, “Logout” was a nice reminder to pick our heads up from our phones and live a life outside of the government regulated digital world.
With 37 of their 41 shows being sold out, including two at the Ogden in Denver, the Flatbush Zombies were rising again to show the US they are back in full effect touring their newest album Vacation in Hell. The entrance line, made up of dedicated fans trying to snag a decent spot at the venue, was backed up for a quarter of a mile at the Ogden doors. Playing through most of their hefty 19 track album, the highlights for me were “Headstone”, “Vacation”, “Leather Symphony”, and “Facts”. The group bounced off each other well and the tombstone stage props that Meechie would pop in and out of gave the show a oddly pleasurable disorienting sense that their drug-rap theme seems to capture well.
They also brought back some favorites from the first album, including “This Is It” and “Trade Off”. Dropping “Palm Trees” after “Glory”, the last song on Vacation In Hell was also clearly a power move. Their distinct vocals and intense stage energy fueled their entire 23 song set. Closing out with fan favorite “Bounce” was the perfect cherry on top of their flavorful show.
The Badmon hit the road this spring/summer on his biggest tour to date. Joey’s Amerikkkana Tour covered the entire U.S. from East Coast to west; you can watch the documentary episodes that accompanied the tour here. Badass’ show was definitely as lit as the videos portray.
Starting off his set with a few tracks from B4DA$$ (Before the Money) was the perfect way to get things started. I had seen Joey perform a couple times before, but hadn’t yet gotten a playthrough of the album like I did that night at the Ogden. Cleanly performing tracks like “Paper Trails”, “Christ Conscious” and my personal favorite from the album “Hazeus View” changed the way I listen to these throwbacks. He even through it way back to 1999 playing “Hardknocks” and “Survival Tactics” in memory of his lost friend Capital Steez. Performing old tracks is often a lost art with many rappers trying to promote their newest stuff; Joey was a standout when it comes to showing love to the music that brought him to where he is today.
That being said, he spent a good chunk of his set playing through his latest album. Although he had plenty of politically charged music before the release of All Amerikkkan Badass, the project is his most socially conscious release to date. His perception of the wrongdoings of our government and the broken judicial system that has claimed the time and lives of his friends and family is expressed with remorse throughout the album. Channeling his anger into a positive message for Joey is an art; tracks like “Temptation”, “Land of the Free”, and “For My People” all gave his performance depth and something to take away and think about after the show. Sprinkling in songs such as “Ring the Alarm”, “Rockabye Baby” and “Devastated” kept the energy high and had the entire venue rocking. All-in-all, the show felt cohesive and his ability to play through his discography form bottom to top was unseen by any rapper I’ve ever seen live.