Concert Reviews

dead prez at The Oriental Theatre, 1/18/13

Page 2 of 2 wore a hoodie with the words "Bruce Lee JKD" (the latter presumably standing for Jeet Kune Do, the martial art created by Lee). M-1, meanwhile, wore what he probably goes around in every day -- but that's part of the point of dead prez: being one of the people and showing solidarity. And the songs performed at this show were filled with lyrics that reflected every day struggles that anyone who doesn't have it too easy -- in an economic and social sense -- can relate to, elevated by poetic sensibility flowing inside the presentation.

Both M-1 and had great one liners. Some brilliantly subtle, others more absurdly overt that you just had to laugh. At one point, told us he had been completely clean and sober for a few years. Someone in the audience joked about marijuana, and good naturedly joked back, "You stay high. I'll stay hydrated." Even more than the banter with the audience, the lyrics revealed a broad spectrum of interests between and M-1, not only the aforementioned Napoleon Hill book but also references to Carlos Castaneda ("self-aware like Don Juan"), naturally, well renown radicals of the '60s ("Malcolm, Bobby, Huey") and others.

Whatever the subject matter, the jokes or the messages, M-1 and were powerful MCs that drew you in whether or not you were down with what the duo had to say. At the end of the show, DJ MC Mike Flow got to come out from behind his deck and do a little rapping. With no real outro, dead prez left us on a high note.

This show was curated by the poet and filmmaker Jai Harris, who not only performed poems between sets, but also did cuts from her excellent Disconnected Volume 1 mixtape. Especially interesting was the poem/song called "Smoke Signals." At first, the song seems to suggest it's about a return to (and reconnection with) spirituality in a more conventional sense. But then, it steps out of that into a spiritual awakening of a paradoxically more personal and universal kind, not tied to a specific religious tradition, and not in a sense of "spiritual" meaning something supernatural.

Ill Seven followed Harris with beats that wove in bits of pop songs like you might not expect to hear, like "Riot Rhythm" by Sleigh Bells. His vocal delivery was also somewhat reminiscent of Ishmael Butler during his time in Digable Planets, and Ill Seven's rhetoric about revolution and awareness as a route to inspiration and a healthy life also fit in well with the tone of the show.

The group 2MX2, meanwhile, employed a live drummer (Kinetic Xound), as well as a DJ (DJ R Skwared) and two MCs, Rol Pley and Juice El Tio Hugo. The two MCs came on stage dressed in all white but changed into more formal outfits for other parts of the show, less formal for others -- all seemingly suddenly like they were magicians. Mostly the guys rapped in English, but it got better and more heightened when they switched to Spanish. The rapping had that kind of rapid high and low style resonant with early dead prez.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.