It's nothing new in hip-hop at this point for a line-up to include the musical influences of multiple cultures as that style of music absorbs ideas from around the world more easily than most others. Nor is it unexpected to hear multiple languages in a hip-hop show. But from the beginning, all the artists performing last night at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom challenged America's cultural status quo and possibly some of the preconceptions of some people in the audience.
If you're going to an Immortal Technique and Talib Kweli show and have any clue what they're about, you'll expect some verbal poisoned darts to be spit at the American hegemony. And that happened aplenty in no uncertain terms, but it was done with real passion, finesse, creativity, intelligence and a sense of fun that even if you weren't completely down with the message, you had to admire the talent and the chutzpah.
Maybe the stage set-up was different than usual but the performers this night brought the New York and international vibe so strongly that being at the show felt like you weren't in Denver anymore. Part of that had to do with the fact that Poison Pen didn't really let the momentum of the show die off, and when he took the mic to lay out some of his own words it was obvious he was no mere hype man. Even more than that, though, all the openers had cameos during the sets of the headliners, because each had done a song or two with the more experienced rappers: CF (a.k.a. Constant Flow) with Immortal Technique and Niko Is with Talib Kweli. In that way the show was presented as a kind of unified rap crew of collaborators with the other critical component being the audience. Everyone brought the crowd in to participate and to its credit the crowd went along.
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In the spirit of working class camaraderie, Immortal Technique even went so far as to get the audience to give a hand to the people that set up the speakers and the lights and the sound man, the bartenders and the other unsung people who made the show happen. Technique made sure to remind everyone that these shows don't happen by magic. They're possible because of incredibly mundane but necessary and time-consuming work that carries none of the obvious glory that the performers on stage get to take in. But the guys who performed this show have done plenty of putting on their own shows and never got detached from the everyday duties that go into making any performance worthwhile, duties an audience pretty much never sees. Just the end product in the way that many other products seem to magically appear at stores—one of the subjects of the songs of many of the performers tonight. Everyone seemed to address that disconnect between consumer and producer and the social impacts of that relationship, not just in our own country but also elsewhere.
It was a fascinating contrast that Technique, Kweli, Niko Is, Hasan Salaam, CF and DJ Static highlighted across the show. Without getting preachy, though certainly confrontational on the part of Technique, these guys had plenty of good-time, fun songs but it was rarely mere entertainment.
The veterans proved why their good names are firmly established and their mentoring of the younger rappers went hand-in-hand with their sharing of knowledge with everyone who showed up. During Kweli's set when Static played samples of Musical Youth's "Pass the Dutchie" and then "Bam Bam" by Sister Nancy it displayed a deep knowledge of the structure of music and shared ideas that is at the core of what a talented DJ can do and reveal and connect between styles of music an artists.
The standout of the newer artists, though, was Niko Is. Partly because he seemed so comfortable and confident while navigating multiple languages in his lyrics. Given that he's from Brazil, one has to assume there was some Portuguese in there as well as the obvious English but also Spanish and a touch of Japanese. Running through it all were elements of the R&B and hip-hop beats threaded with Syrian music and whatever else seems to have inspired Niko Is.
At the end Immortal Technique and the other artists stuck around to sign whatever people wanted as a show of solidarity and community that ran through the show from everyone speaking on the mic referring to the crowd as "hip-hop" collectively to that final gesture. In that way, as a side note, the kind of hip-hop these guys practice, as it were, is similar to the type of communal spirit shared by the original thrash bands as rebellious music for common people and not detached music stars.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.