Around a hundred people filtered in and out of Lost Lake Lounge on a late December night to see Finesse Gang, one of Denver’s latest hip-hop groups.
Led by veteran rapper Ray Reed, a crew of nine artists offered up a breadth of styles, from hardcore trap to lyrical vibes, showing off the full spectrum of Denver’s hip-hop scene. Some fans stood in silence, listening to the performers’ stories unfold; others broke out into mosh pits.
The fans were dressed in streetwear brands like Cookies, Young & Reckless and Mitchell and Ness, along with locally produced outfits from PMALB (which stands for Pass Me a Lighter Bro) and even fashion boasting a logo with multicolored script and dollar signs replacing the “SS” in Finesse Gang.
The show, just days before Christmas, was by no means a sellout, but plenty braved the winter weather to see Reed and his crew’s first gig together. Many already knew the lyrics to the songs, and those who weren’t singing along were bobbing their heads and jumping around.
Finesse Gang — Reed, Gmally, Keem Veggies, Mojo Goon, Eband$, Tha Ape, Bandman Oso and 2une Godi, among other artists — took breaks between sets to chat up the crowd and snap selfies. They stuck around for each other’s performances, drumming up energy.
It’s a humble beginning for a group of artists aiming to bring Denver to the forefront of the music industry — a goal they share with many in Denver’s talented hip-hop scene, where artists struggle to make the jump from local favorites to nationally acclaimed entertainers — something only a handful of rappers, from Flobots to Trev Rich, have achieved.
So what exactly is Finesse Gang?
“Finesse Gang is a brand,” member Mojo Goon told Westword. “It isn’t just a label or a group; it’s a brand. You can put a brand on clothing, people, art in general. We are about to brand everybody. We are going to be everywhere.”
Reed himself has spent seven years grinding in the music business, dropping two full-length albums along the way. With his new crew, he hopes to take off. “I’m ready for the big leagues,” he says.
Reed started making music to share stories about his life. He raps about the loss of his brother, legal troubles, and even his struggles in the music scene. Throughout it all, he prides himself on authenticity and an ability to keep up with industry trends.
Over the years, his career has seen ups and downs. He's filled up Lost Lake and the Bluebird Theater but struggles to pack larger venues. “When we come together, we sell our shows easy,” Reed says. “When we don’t, it’s crickets. We got some heat over here. We are going to keep grinding. If everybody keeps grinding, some doors will open up. Sometimes it just takes a while.”
In part, that’s why he decided to work with a crew. More performers mean larger crowds, more fans and better merch sales — a brand the city can be proud of.
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“I really just want to give them a platform and show them that I will open up the platform I’ve built in Denver for them,” Reed says of his fellow Finesse Gang members. “These guys make great music that is similar to mine. They're hustlers; they came up in the streets. I feel their stories and struggles.”
Reed has recruited artists spanning from Denver to Atlanta to join the team. The artists work independently but collaborate on music and show promotion, which in turn helps the entire team.
“I’ve always wanted to work with a group of people. I’ve always wanted my own Odd Future, my own A$AP Mob, and Finesse Gang is that. They all know each other; we all hang outside of the music. I feel like the way we bond makes our music better. It’s different working with people that are on the same level as you. It’s refreshing.”
Ray Reed and Finesse Gang open for Aco Baby Sean and DaBaby, 7 p.m. Thursday, February 7, Black Box, 314 East 13th Avenue, $30.