'A particular nonchalant-ness perennially follows his shadow...'
Evan Dale // Jan 24, 2018
The initial dizziness of a morning following a night like last fades from a fog to a mist within seconds of sitting up, flipping on the light, and taking that heavy awakening breath. But, just as fast as the screen on my senses becomes transparent, one of those senses immediately stabs me in the back. I’m sitting in bed, my belongings have been carefully organized on the nightstand, and a cup of water sits, like me, half-drunk next to it all. And yet, it still smells like a Southern California hip-hop show. The scent of Swisher Sweets and good weed parades its way from last night’s outfit in the hamper through the room and makes me nauseous with reminiscence. In a third morning wave, the memories flood.
Our night began where our nights these days usually do – at the local jazz-absinthe joint. It provides us the perfect early evening festivities in a pair of regards. Good drinks and good music before more of the same as the night progresses, albeit in a different direction. Though we’re removed from the room inundated by the live saxophonist and his accompanying compatriots, the energy is hardly subdued in our corner table by the bar. With good friends comes good conversation and with our friends and tonight’s plans, that conversation naturally revolves around music.
The drinks greatly outnumber the food but we’re regulars and some complimentary desserts make their way to our circle. In due time, we’re in a comfortable place. Mentally, metaphysically, alcoholically, we’re balanced. Time to go.
On our way to Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom – one of Denver’s larger and in equal measure, intimate venues, we annoy our Uber driver with far-too-detailed conversation about Dom Kennedy – tonight’s headlining artist and a mogul of the West Coast who has made himself one of the more spoken upon names in regard to LA’s modern soundscape. Southern California legends from YG to Kendrick Lamar frequently honor Dom Kennedy with guest appearances, like the godfather of the West Coast’s new wave.
Naturally, he also brings a lot of talent with him on tour, and because of it, we have plans to see as much of tonight’s performances as we can. It’s an early night, late November, in Denver, Colorado. It’s cold, and none of us being rookies to the climate, we come layered and ready for a substantial coat check. Beyond it, a hip-hop head’s safe space – a grass roots Southern California rap show.
The crowd is unmistakable. High energy, slow bouncing, big smiles, and a pristine balance between high-fashion and streetwear. No fan base does it better. It’s also going to be one of those shows that only real hip-hop fans populate. Dom Kennedy is well-known, no doubt. But he has also never been a pop figure. More people know his keystone track, My Type of Party, than the man behind it. And in all honesty, the originality of the crowd is always one of the defining features of a show like this.
And when in Denver, no venues bring the truth in hip-hop’s larger following the way that Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom does. Every month, the venue seemingly draws to it a handful of high-quality, low-fidelity rap shows. And tonight, though bound to be exceptional, is no exception.
We arrive amidst a short performance by Cozz – another SoCal native whose brash approach makes him the most lyrically dynamic act of the bunch – and he doesn’t disappoint. Over the course of an hour-and-a-half, Warm Brew – a bouncy, gangsta rap era-influenced trio – and Jay305 – a perennial figure and long-time friend of Dom Kennedy – do their job in setting the tempo and setting the mood. And after another expectedly vibe-strewn intermission between the final opener and the final destination, Dom Kennedy makes his way stageward.
A particular nonchalant-ness perennially follows his shadow. There isn’t a body in the room not immediately relaxed by his presence, even if they are equally ecstatic to see the timeless Lord of the West Coast in person. Most of us in the room have seen him live before. That’s the nature of an artist with such a dedicated cult following. But it’s also a testament to his showmanship. Delineated by his positivity, his energy, and his smile, Dom Kennedy concerts play out much as is to be expected from the nature of his music. In accordance to his reputation as a performer, his live shows come to life even smore than his classic music.
Naturally in tow come a whole lot of blunts. The crowd mellows to its slowest mutual pace of the night, and yet, there is more energy involved than at any point before. Everyone sparks up. Everyone is bouncing. No one has anything but vibes of positivity as they dissolve in to the storytelling genius of their leader. The show progresses as we’ve come to expect – not highlighting and selling only his recent music, but poetically meandering the grand epoch of his entire catalogue. A hit plays, then a lesser-known banger, than without fail, his collaborative Yellow Album effort with Kendrick, We Bal. In honor of his industry-dominating friend, he lets the entirety of Kendrick’s verse play while all of us do our part to keep up with the lyrics we know well, but have trouble matching in ferocity or cadence.
By the time an hour-and-a-half of balance between his LA-area radio hits and quiet bangers have left us satisfied with more than a decade of West Coast anthems, he closes out the show – in classic fashion – with the entire crew on stage. No matter who it is that he brings on tour, it’s easy to tell that in many ways, they feel the same way towards him that all of us in the audience do. Admiration, like Dom Kennedy is the big brother to everyone in the room, drives all of us to set a reminder for next time he’s in town.
There just ain’t nothing today quite like the classic West Coast reminiscence of a Dom Kennedy show.