By Erik Myers
Brother Ali headlined Saturday’s Winter Shredded Beats show at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, the lead character in a strange line-up of Prof, Danny Brown and Evidence of Dilated Peoples. Despite their varying performances, each commanded a unique presence. No one was quite like Ali, however. Strolling on stage in a slim all-black tracksuit, it was the matching prayer cap that caught the most eyes.
“How do you spell ‘Muslim’?” a nearby audience member asked, trying to text his friend. I share that nugget with no more than the slightest cynicism, because how can a concert be anything but good if people are learning from it? Ali’s best songs have him talking on topics often unheard in hip-hop: his faith, white privilege and the specific fractures running through the American dream.
Ali might have been far from the flag-burning ferocity of, say, Public Enemy, but he was at least comfortable in his own skin. Half-joking that the room’s marijuana smoke was making him hoarse, he managed to span his discography with ease, from 2003’s “Bitchslap!” to several tracks off his 2012 full-length “Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color.” The production ultimately produced more electricity than the rapper, whose poor eyesight kept him from moving around too much. Ali at least gave the impression he was happy to be there, which is more than can be said for the evening’s biggest disappointment, Danny Brown.
Something was throwing Brown off. There were a few hints, like the fact that despite having the bigger picture on the promotional poster, Brown went on before Prof, an MC whose tremendous volume belied his lack of talent. The positioning was probably a play to a Colorado audience unfamiliar with Detroit’s Danny Brown, because it certainly couldn’t have been talent. But then there was the kid up front who stage dived – twice – during “Monopoly,” causing Brown to crack up and move toward his DJ, where they conferred for a short time. Brown returned to center stage, showed off a quick freestyle, then left. The complete lack of a front barrier seemed like a final straw. In the lead-up to this moment, the Detroit native was too lethargic to recreate his funny and frank breakthrough album “XXX.” The goofy liveliness heard there didn’t surface much, except when Brown flashed his missing-tooth grin, tongue extended.
Evidence was the surprise of the night, gaining confidence with each track as the crowd followed his lead. He also achieved the best moment during “Mr. Slow Flow” when, impressed with a young fan who knew the lyrics word-for-word, Evidence brought the teen up on stage with him to help with his lines. The kid nailed his turns at the mic, and the two parted ways with a perfect pound shake.
Electronic blogger Erik Myers is a Denver-based writer and new contributor to Reverb. Follow him on Twitter.