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The ten best hip-hop shows in Denver this April

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SAGE FRANCIS @ FOX THEATRE | THU, 4/18 When evaluating an artist like Sage Francis, the question inevitably arises: Should a musician be cherished for the values they hold and their loyalty to said values or their ability to make enjoyable and listenable music? If it's the former, then Sage Francis is a top-tier MC. His political appetite is insatiable, and you get the feeling that his lyrical crusade will not stop until he finds the change he seeks or his hand can no longer grip the microphone. If it's the latter, on the other hand, then Sage Francis is only okay. He's almost more of a spoken word poet than a true rapper, and he has a firm command of the words he uses, though the energy of his songs occasionally escapes him. (With Prolyphic and Wheelchair Sports Camp.)

See also: - MGK on his time in Denver and how his live performance is the best hip-hop has seen - The fifty best concerts of the spring - The ten best storytellers in hip-hop

DILATED PEOPLES @ CERVANTES' | FRI, 4/19 Dilated Peoples' DJ-centric sound -- with Babu cutting and scratching over recorded loops and Evidence and Iriscience darting in and out of the mix with battle rhymes and political flows -- has helped bring rap back to its essence. By working in a style that Babu calls "new-school traditionalist," the trio channels the spirit of late-'70s, New York hip-hop and mixes it with a Cali vibe, then uses technologies and topics to update the sound so that it's relevant to the times. -- James Mayo

HEIROGLYPHICS @ CASSELMAN'S | FRI, 4/19 Heiroglyphics is a hip-hop collective based in Oakland that was founded by Del tha Funkee Homosapien, having recruited several members from Souls of Mischief. Chances are, even if you've never seen or heard them, you've seen their third eye logo which seems to invariably appear at least once at every hip-hop show. This underground group struck gold -- figuratively speaking -- with their 1998 West Coast classic 3rd Eye Vision, whose songs "You Never Knew" and "At the Helm" cracked the mainstream, if only for a little bit -- tiny fragments of their free-associative style and laid-back vibe are likely still implanted somewhere in your brain. Even on wax, the crew sounds like a real life cypher. They're even better live. The only problem is that you never know who is going to show up.

SPACEGHOSTPURRP @ LARIMER LOUNGE | THU, 4/4 Once good friends with the A$AP crew, SpaceGhostPurrp is frequently credited with engineering the moody, atmospheric aesthetic they've capitalized on. Purrp relishes the darkness, and he manages to tell a lot about himself by revealing very little. His music is deeply introspective and bleakly isolationist, which informs his sinister tone. His aggressive lyrics are, in one respect, played out and worn, but the overall effect is surprisingly sophisticated and fresh. Purrp's debut album Mysterious Phonk: The Chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp is off the beaten path, but his earlier music sounds, at times, like it was recorded on an airport runway, and he creates effects that don't seem possible.

MACHINE GUN KELLY @ OGDEN THEATRE | SAT, 4/20 Machine Gun Kelly (named after the infamous early 20th Century gangster) is well-known for his rapid-fire delivery, rabid fan base, "Wild Boy" persona and crazy antics (during a performance for a Microsoft Store, he was stomping across tables, destroying several computers before getting shut down by the very company that hired him). MGK asserts that he is also a superior lyricist and anybody who doesn't see it isn't on his level. The rapper's first studio album, Lace Up, has done well, debuting at number four on the Billboard Charts and receiving generally positive reviews. MGK is only 22 years old, and with his career only really beginning, he has plenty of time to convert the nonbelievers.

TALIB KWELI @ SUMMIT MUSIC HALL | SUN, 4/21 "They say you can't please everyone," Talib Kweli declares at the outset of his 2007 album, Eardrum, and his career stands as proof of that maxim. Since the days of Black Star, a 1998 disc that teamed him with Mos Def, critics have championed Kweli as a rhymer whose interests extend well beyond stereotypical narratives about women with too much booty for one man to handle...If the masses remain beyond Kweli's reach, his refusal to compromise keeps his cult following well-pleased.

GHOSTFACE KILLAH @ SUMMIT MUSIC HALL | FRI, 4/19 Although Ghostface Killah is not short on braggadocio or mad crazy, provocative, stoopid wizardry, the rapper's vulnerability has always set him apart from the Clan's Iron Flag. Who else but Ghost could weep, "What the fuck is going on?/I can't go to sleep/Feds jumping out their jeeps/I can't go to sleep/Babies with flies on their cheeks/It's hard to go to sleep," then lyrically smoke someone before howling for an ambulance? Expect rugged soul-baring mashed with Wu guerrilla anthems when Ghost hits the stage.

AB-SOUL @ VINYL | SAT, 4/6 "This ain't hookah. You hit this shit a few times, you might see the future," Ab-Soul says of DMT in "Pineal Gland," his dark, mystic ode to the drug. The same thing can be said of the MC's rhymes. Moments like this induce chills when Ab-Soul seems to crack the corners of the universe by venturing deep into himself, and rarely have psychedelia and hip-hop been crossed so well. His style can be abrasive at times, though in the best way possible, but Ab is a sensitive soul, as he shows in the long overdue "Double Standards" about gender roles and sexuality. Control System was one of the very best albums of last year, and though its release was overshadowed by friend and labelmate Kendrick Lamar's , do not make the mistake of missing the train on this Top Dawg.

BLACK THOUGHT & DJ PREMIER @ HOODLAB COLORADO | FRI, 4/19 Better known for his work with the Roots, Black Thought is the complete package as an MC by himself. In a genre that sometimes seems like a competition to see who can rhyme "hater" and "paper" best -- a competition that Black Thought might take anyway -- he consistently manages to unearth rhymes that had yet to be discovered. With the soul of a poet, the heart of revolutionary and the tongue of a dragon, plus the backup of maybe the greatest DJ in hip-hop, Black Thought is sure to put on a great show at Incredibowl's 420 Extravaganja. And if you're lucky, he might even kick some freestyle off the dome, a lost art which he has mastered more completely than many made MCs have rhyming simply.

METHOD MAN & REDMAN @ CERVANTES' | SAT, 4/20 How High is not necessarily one of the best movies featuring rappers, unless you're in the right... ahem... mind state. Nevertheless, it's a carefree, fun back to school romp that extols the virtues of every rapper's favorite plant. The stars, Method Man and Redman, while not the most refined actors in the classical sense, manage to enchant the screen with their sophomoric magnetism. As an added bonus, Cypress Hill makes an appearance to DJ a college house party that the two Wu-students throw. "Study high, take the test high, get high scores" -- this is the logic that permeates How High. Given their proclivity for one of our state's favorite plants, Method and Red are about the perfect tandem to help Colorado celebrate one of its favorite holidaze. (With the ReMINDers. Also playing Aggie Theatre on 4/18)

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