Best of Denver

The twenty best hip-hop shows of 2012

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10. GZA and Killer Mike at Summit, 9/22/12 "I don't have a hypeman, so you're my hypeman," Killer Mike told the crowd two songs into his set. "So get hype, motherfuckers." The crowd was more than happy to comply. Opening with the first three songs from his new album, the MC emitted a raw energy on stage that kept the crowd hyped over songs like "Dear Lord" and, later, "Reagan," which he introduced with a diatribe about the socioeconomics of the war on drugs. The crowd gave that energy right back, bouncing and bucking along with Bonecrusher's Southern club anthem "Never Scared," on which Mike featured, and then swayed along at the end of "Ric Flair" as DJ Trackstar dropped the Phoenix Express tune "You Make My Life a Sunny Day," which is the origin of the beat's smooth horn and vocal sample.

9. Death Grips at Larimer Lounge, 11/23/12 Most bands that get hyped rarely live up to it. Death Grips was better than any hype could convey. Zach Hill and MC Ride put the amount of energy into this less than hour-long performance equaling what you'd have to sustain for a five hour show of almost anyone else's music. Hill and Ride were streaming with sweat and as they thrashed about, and those of us near the front were speckled with sweat.

8. DJ Premier and Pete Rock at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom, 9/22/12 At the end of their set at Cervantes', DJ Premier's Houston Astros hat was dripping with sweat, while Pete Rock appeared to have barely broken one. Over the course of their set, the two matched wits, furiously playing through the genres before going into their signature songs and reminiscing over past artists and even breaking out some TV jingles. But their exchange had less of a battle feel and played more like one big house party.

7. Nas & Lauryn Hill at the Fillmore, 11/16/12 For over an hour, Nas masterfully mingled new material and classics for a set that climbed to operatic moments of greatness -- epic swells of sound that emphasized the sharpness of his lines. Backed by a five-piece band and DJ Green Lantern, there was an arena-rock feel -- there's a fine line between head bobbing and head banging -- especially once he started into material off Illmatic, including "NY State of Mind," "Ain't Hard to Tell," and "The World Is Yours." During the latter, he flipped the line about "presidents to represent me" to include an Obama reference, which drew a round of cheers.

6. Drake at Comfort Dental, 5/13/12 At Comfort Dental Amphitheatre, not only did Drake bring along a slew of his homeboys for the Club Paradise tour, but he displayed mind-blowing artistry. Erudite and gorgeous, the Toronto MC charmed the entire place with his theatrics and gestures while his live band crushed shit behind him. Removing clothes as he went along, he ran through hit after hit after hit, bringing guest MCs 2Chainz, Waka Flocka and French Montana out to join him. After watching him perform for more than an hour, one thing's for sure, and a second is for certain: You can hate on October's Very Own if you want to, but you're wasting your time.

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