The best rap shows in Denver in October
As if torn out of the pages of a graphic novel, Flatbush Zombies are intense and ultra-stylized to an extent that is at once cartoonish and darkly gritty. Sometimes, in the case of very exciting music such as theirs, substance takes a back seat to style, but both of their mixtapes, D.R.U.G.S. and BetterOffDEAD, get exponentially better with multiple listens. Thanks to the wild individuality of Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice and the remarkably advanced production of the multi-talented Erick Arc Elliott, Flatbush Zombies are already one of the best rap groups around, and they'll only get better.
See also: The ten best mixtape rappers of all time
After releasing his prodigious self-titled debut at only sixteen, Earl was sent into exile by his mom to a Samoan disciplinary program during the most exciting years of Odd Future's meteoric rise, depriving the act's rabid fans of his music. As a result, Earl Sweatshirt's Doris was easily one of the most hyped rap albums this year. Because of his incredibly deep voice, occasionally repetitive flow and moodiness, Earl can come across as monotonous, but he is an incredibly gifted poet who has the ability to infuse his words with darkness and mystique while baring his soul with a refreshing honesty.
Big K.R.I.T.'s been making music since 2005, but the mixtape that brought him to a wide audience was 2010's K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. The self-produced tape overflows will old-school soul, wisdom and the finest rapping to come out of Mississippi since... well, ever. But instead of immediately capitalizing on his newfound heat with a studio album, which he certainly could have done, he instead kept putting out dope mixtape after dope mixtape. By the time he finally released his studio debut, Live From the Underground, K.R.I.T. had already put out so much great music, the album sounded no better (maybe even a little worse) than the mixtapes. To K.R.I.T.'s credit, the album's not bad at all; the mixtapes are just really, really good.
J. Cole's a funny artist, because even though he's a Gold-selling rapper, he still hasn't released an album as good as either of his Roc Nation mixtapes -- The Warm Up and, especially, Friday Night Lights. On the latter, with tracks like "Too Deep for the Intro," Cole proved that he had a raw, emotional honesty not often seen in hip-hop. The mixtape format also allowed him to go hard over already popular beats like Kanye's "Devil in a New Dress" on "Villematic."
It's easy to forget that Danny Brown's career didn't start with 2011's XXX, one of the best mixtapes ever, but the dude is in his thirties; what do you think he's been doing for the past ten years? The answer, mostly, is mixtapes, highlighted by the Detroit State of Mind series, the surprisingly classic-sounding Hot Soup and his collaboration tape with Tony Yayo, Hawaiian Snow. All his work paid off in the form of a deal with A-Trak's label, Fool's Gold, which set him up for his critically acclaimed entry into the semi-mainstream.
Pete Rock is one of the best samplers of all time, not only in his excellent taste and choice in samples, but in his creativity in recontextualizing those samples and reintroducing them with a hip-hop flair. He had an especially captivating ability to take horn samples, tweak them with effects and layer them over each other or themselves for classy, nostalgic effect. Rock's best musical years were had alongside rapper CL Smooth -- with whom he created hip-hop's greatest elegy, "They Reminisce Over You" -- across the first half of the '90s, but his impact on the musical landscape, even today, is immeasurable.
From the first mind-blowing track, in which both MCs deliver lengthy, rambling but completely different verses at the same time -- Lyrics Born sounding like a scientist speaking way too fast, and Lateef the Truthspeaker sounding a little like a psychotic voice from inside your head -- it is clear that Latyrx's plainly named The Album is not going to be like most others. Each song is an abstract adventure in itself, making for one of the most diverse and advanced fourteen tracks you'll find. The only knock you can really wage against Latyrx is that in their fifteen-year lifespan, they've only released one album, but that's set to change in November, when The Second Album comes out.
Hoodie Allen raps with a certain perpetual coming-of-age naivete that has solidified him a niche in the pop-rap market. Last time Allen came to Denver, he was energy on top of energy, which made for an outstanding live show. Since then, he's been working on his acoustic game, releasing Americoustic, which works surprisingly well for him. He's got the soft voice and boyish charm to win the hearts and/or admiration of the teenage audience as a singer and a rapper. It will be interesting to see if Allen can mature as a songwriter beyond worn-out hashtags and boasts into something more raw and unique.
One of the up and coming rappers to earn his stripes on the new mixtape scene, Kid Ink first gained the attention of DJ Ill Will in 2011. Just a year later, he had made enough noise to earn a spot in XXL's 2012 Freshman class, alongside more well known rappers such as Macklemore, Danny Brown and Machine Gun Kelly. Soon after, he released his debut album, Up & Away, which, despite a strong first week, was a relative disappointment. He's looking to up his profile with My Own Lane, expected in December.
Partially through his own fault and partially because of Chapelle's Show Lil Jon has gained a reputation as a fluke, a hip-hop gimmick, but that couldn't be further from the truth. He's actually one of the most influential Southern DJs and rap producers ever. He is best known for pioneering the raucous crunk subgenre with his 1997 album Get Crunk, Who U Wit: Da Album. For this performance, Lil' Jon will remain behind the decks, but as a musician who cut his teeth deejaying, this should definitely be an insane show.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.