Brother Ali at Cervantes', 2/2/13

Categories: Last Night

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Eric Gruneisen
Brother Ali on stage at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver.


BROTHER ALI @ CERVANTES' MASTERPIECE BALLROOM | 2/2/13

Brother Ali commands the stage like a political figure, only one who's less concerned with appearance and more concerned with the impact of his speech. In the nihilistic rap world of uncountable monies, untraceable guns and impregnable bitches, Ali has remained a lyricist with purpose, whether it's political, social or personal. On this night, the rapper captured the audience with his passion for constant progression. During "Truth Is," fists eagerly raised across the room militantly and shouts of "More!" presided over any other sound. The crowd refused to be satisfied with mediocrity, so it was a good thing Brother Ali and friends brought the fire.

See also:
- The ten best storytellers in hip-hop
- The ten best hip-hop lyrics of 2012
- A$AP Rocky at the Ogden Theatre, with Danny Brown and Schoolboy Q, 10/16/12

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Eric Gruneisen
Brother Ali on stage at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver.

Ali has a remarkable presence that is composed and venerable yet friendly and approachable. He's humble but still utterly confident and self-assured, which reflects in his powerfully uplifting lyrics. His delivery is almost like a pastor's sermon: fiery, impassioned and with a soulful voice that hangs on his most important words, but amazingly, he rarely sounds preachy or condescending. His passion for hip-hop is palpable, "The music is still alive," he says, "because it's making us alive."

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Eric Gruneisen
Brother Ali on stage at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver.

And that's really what Brother Ali seems to want -- to enliven people, to make them question themselves, but still allow them to love themselves, to perpetually push into spaces of uncertainty and grey area, because that's where life really occurs. In "American Mourning," Ali flips the traditional American notion of what a terrorist is. To live, self-examination is a necessity: In "Freedom Ain't Free," Ali says, "I kill the devil wherever he resides/Even if he hiding in me, he's got to die."

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Eric Gruneisen
Brother Ali on stage at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver.

We recently posted a list of rap's best storytellers that didn't include Brother Ali, but Ali made his case with a moving a capella rendition of "Stop the Press." He also performed "Good Lord," a tribute to his Muslim faith with verses that each ended, "Chapelle bust funnies/Mos Def bust rhymes/Muhammad Ali is the greatest of all time." And, yes, Brother Ali performed the requisite "Forest Whitaker" and "Uncle Sam Goddamn," too. For an encore, Ali brought out the ReMINDers to perform a couple of songs with him before asking the audience to join him in a real and heartfealt, "Peace," to close the show.

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Eric Gruneisen
Prof on stage at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver.

On a bill that also featured Danny Brown, about as odd a pairing with Brother Ali as you're going to find -- while Ali emanates respect and poise, Danny Brown exudes a ratchet sort of sexually that aims to unrest -- Prof performed between the two and ultimately served as a stylistic bridge of sorts: Prof has worked with Brother Ali and Atmostphere but also with swag rappers like Riff Raff -- he raps with the sensibility and composure of the former and the humor and irreverence of the latter, all the while sporting remarkable flow that operates anywhere from slow and sung to rapid-fire spitting. Though he wasn't the headliner at this show, Prof by far got the most enthusiastic response of any artist, sitting back during large portions of the songs and getting word-for-word recitation by dozens in the crowd.

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Eric Gruneisen
Prof on stage at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver.

Prof called the show "a special moment" that he'll remember forever, likening Denver's enthusiasm to that of Seattle and Minneapolis, his hometown. His appreciation for the Denver crowd was genuine and sustained; near the end of his show, he offered his new album for free to anybody who took the time to come meet him after the show -- that's right, he was actually trying to persuade the audience to come see him. What a concept.


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Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom

2637 Welton St., Denver, CO

Category: Music

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