Nas. Cervantes. 11.15.13

Nas

Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom is one of the most deceptive venue names in history. The club exists in a dead zone of Five Points, at least eight blocks from the nearest watering hole. The venue serves its purpose well, but it’s not the type of place you want to hang out all night. It was for this reason that we found ourselves at a crossroads. After a few drinks at Cold Crush, we made our way to the box office to pick up our tickets. It was 9pm and the threat of a long line for will call found us on Welton Street over three hours before Nas was to take the stage. Conceding to the fact that we wouldn’t last through countless DJs asking us if we are “ready for Nas!’, and faced with dark streets in every direction, we flagged down the closet cab and made our way back to Larimer Street. The Meadowlark provided us with the perfect shelter to chill out before the show. A few whiskey gingers and missed cabs later, we found ourselves walking back to the ‘ballroom’ for the show.

A few things were immediately evident upon entry. First off, the discounted ticket experiment was a success — the small room and balcony were at capacity. Second, the multitude of hip-hop fans in Denver were taking full advantage of Amendment 64 — a natural fog machine was in full effect. My whiskey buzz was suffocated within minutes. Third, the Sol on the stage was not the Sole we were expecting. The rapper from Seattle might not have been the rapper we came for, but he did have sick beats and a decent flow. I’m sure it had a lot to do with my contact high, but his performance made me forget that I was going to be stuck in this room, with all these people, for the next three and a half hours.

Colorado’s own The ReMINDers were up next. I had never heard of them before, but their Fugeequese set was just what I needed to break out of the haze that had engulfed my brain. I could almost see the light through the bellowing smoke escaping the human chimney in front of me. When their set ended, I had just enough clarity to realize that the night was running on schedule — something unheard of at a hip-hop show.

When the clock struck midnight, I found myself getting nervous. Having seen Nas twice in the past year, I put my reputation on the line by claiming his show would be worth the hefty ticket price. Nas is one of the few classic emcees that actually puts themselves into their performance — he doesn’t employ hypeman, he performs his hits, and he is always on time.

It was that last claim that had me nervous. It was a few minutes before his scheduled set time and DJ Green Lantern hadn’t appeared. Then it was a few minutes after his scheduled set time and DJ Green Lantern still hasn’t appeared. By the time twenty minutes had passed, the only thing keeping my nerves in line was the guy in front of me — smoking blunt after blunt after blunt (himself). I was absolutely astounded by his ability to stay standing. I was so caught up in this extreme feat of self-control, that I gave up worrying about how late everything was running. It wasn’t until 12:40am that Justin Bua (who painted on stage through all the acts, including Nas) came out to announce the “tsunami of hip-hop”. But Nas couldn’t come out until his DJ warmed the crowd up, so it was 12:45am before we got our first glimpse of Mr. Nasir Jones. It might have been a long wait, but it was still short in terms of hip-hop shows, and the performance that followed made everything worth it.

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He opened the set with “Back When” and “Loco-Motive” from Life Is Good before putting his new material on ice. A run of tracks from Illmatic caused a mass hysteria. Nas has a gift when it comes to delivering a medley of classics — he crafts them in a way which leaves the crowd satisfied instead of cheated. Even though he owns his set (and doesn’t share it), there is never enough time to perform every track. This medley method (when done right) is the optimal way to make sure everyone who paid to see the show leaves the show feeling like they got what they wanted. It is just another way Nas proves he is a professional in a game that has so few.

I saw him perform at Red Rocks back in September and at the Fillmore last year, and besides being in a much smaller venue and lacking a drum kit, the show last night was very similar. So rather that just repeat myself, I’m going to cheat and plagiarize my own reviews here…

…Nas is one of my favorite emcees. Always has been. And while he has always been somewhat of an underdog compared to the artists he came up with, I believe he has a huge advantage (by being alive alone) over them in 2012. His voice is strong, his flow is still smooth, he still writes thought-provoking, honest and relevant songs, and everything he releases has top-notch production.

…Nas is still a legitimate performer at 39 years old — twenty years after Illmatic. Every solo emcee knows that a perfect hip-hop show consists of two turntables and one microphone. The mic is not there to be shared. No one wants to hear the new group you are producing. No one needs a hypeman to tell them to put their hands in the air and wave them like they just don’t care. No one needs Snoopettes. Hip-hop shows are a running joke, they have been since the Golden Age, but there are a few who can shine on a stage. Nas is one of the few.

… the most underrated of the post-Golden Age lyricists. Not only standing, but standing tall among those still living. Jay-Z’s gone corporate, Wu-Tang are no longer a Clan, Snoop’s a lion, and Big Boi is the only one trying to keep the OutKast dream alive. While the mighty have fallen, and a full two decades since his own masterpiece, Nas is experiencing something of a second Golden Age himself. Ever since releasing Hip-Hop Is Dead in 2006, he has proved that title wrong in every way. His latest, Life Is Good, is the work of seasoned vet — sticking to what he does best, he’s proving you don’t have to follow trends to keep things fresh. Everything Nas does is classic Nas.

…one mic and countless tracks from one of the best lyricists to ever put poetry to wax. Fan of Illmatic? Well, he performed it almost in its entirety. The hits from It Was Written?  All there. God’s Son, Hip Hop Is Dead, I Am… and Stillmatic were also all properly represented. And it was all as tight as it was in the early 90′s.

…didn’t have a lot to say to the crowd, no need to waste precious stagetime, but he did make it a point to assure us he knew where he was when he changed it up a bit with “Colorado State of Mind” — a new twist on an old classic, as well as a shout out to our new laws. “Imagine smoking weed in the streets without cops harassing…”

Nas might not rule the world and everything in it, but he ruled Cervantes last night, just as he did Red Rocks a few months ago. The man lived up to his impeccable rep as a performer, and in doing so, kept my reputation intact as well.

Setlist:*
Back When
Loco-motive
N.Y. State of Mind
It Ain’t Hard to Tell
Represent
The World Is Yours
Life’s a Bitch
Street Dreams
If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)
I Can
Nastradamus
Nas Is Like
Hate Me Now
Live at the Barbeque
Accident Murderers
Get Down
Stillmatic (The Intro)
Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)
Purple
Hip Hop Is Dead
Made You Look
One Mic
Affirmative Action
One Love
Stay

*some songs are missing and some were partial

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Setlist