'Some people shed tears; some others share hugs; and everyone in the building spends the night jumping, singing, and screaming Kota’s name as he humbly blushes from the crowd’s energy at his 25th consecutive show on tour'
Evan Dale // Sep 9, 2019
There are few moments in life more special than catching the next big name at a particularly intimate venue. And though Denver, Colorado is not the most trusted host for great low-production rap shows, last night was special, intimate, and undeniably great all thanks to Brooklyn hip-hop sensation on the come-up, Kota the Friend. His May album, FOTO is a stark front-runner across the board. People who claim that hip-hop has died would be hard-pressed to make any brash and absurdist statements through one listen of the hour-long coming-of-age tale equal parts lyrical genius, effortless flow, and grabbing storyline. The same intensity and personal connection that shine through the project, shine even brighter live.
Stepping into The Roxy Theater on the edge of Denver’s Uptown and River North neighborhoods feels like stepping out of Denver altogether. Fairly, the music-centric city is overflowing with venues from the extravagance of Red Rocks to the griminess of local saloon stages, but in accordance with Colorado’s affinity for electronic, rock, and bluegrass, a show brimming with a proper underground hip-hop atmosphere is tough to come by – seasonal at best.
The Roxy is cozy, dimly-lit, and were it not for an elaborate fan system, a steamy garden-level hall. With lines like ‘smack you if I see you wearing Gucci’, Kota was born to rock such an immaterialist stage.
Before the show, the line wrapped around the block – a good look for a Sunday night. It was also the right type of crowd. At a small venue on an off-night in a city not particularly hip-hop focused, those who turned out were truly down to ride.
By the time Kota the Friend blessed the stage with FOTO’s opener, Full Bloom, it was abundantly clear that everyone in the audience was about to know every word. And why wouldn’t they? Kota the Friend is defined by nothing if not honesty, relatability, and emotionality. He’s a different kind of hip-hop lyricist for a generation in need of space from the gold-blanketed materialism of the mainstream majority. Every ounce as talented as any other great lyricist in hip-hop with a knack for storytelling entirely unparalleled, he delivers tales of his transition from Brooklyn to the world’s limelight. And all of them surround the anecdotal idea of staying humble, focusing on his personal life, and improving as an individual.
Where his album is largely relaxed, thoughtful, and introspective, his live performance explodes with the kind of energetic theatrics necessary for any rap show. Even the most low-tone of verses leave Kota leaping around the stage, interacting with the crowd, and getting everyone in the building thoroughly committed to what’s in front of them. Nothing else. Without losing any of the underlying meaningfulness that FOTO brings to the table, Kota is successful in achieving one of music’s most difficult transitions: reinventing the texture of a subdued album for an absolutely rowdy, yet conscious show.
He ties the space between tracks together with bold, telling freestyles on the struggles of marginalized communities and the importance of positivity. And he ties those freestyles akin with monologues diving deeper into his pedestaled preach on self-belief without it ever feeling forced. Some people shed tears; some others share hugs; and everyone in the buildings spends the night jumping, singing, and screaming Kota’s name as he humbly blushes from the crowd’s energy at his 25th consecutive show on tour.
Honestly, it’s humbling in both directions. Those at the Roxy last night all seemed aware just how fortunate they were to be such an early force on Kota the Friend’s impending rise up the hip-hop ranks. There is something incredibly special – something triangulated between the storyline of Good Kid m.A.A.d. City, the youthful relatability of Man on the Moon, and the traditionalist past of his Brooklyn pillar – that makes Kota the Friend’s FOTO a timeless album on a personal scale that only the most thought-out and inventively lyrical hip-hop projects have ever been. And having the chance to see it – the project primed to make Kota the Friend a name in coveted company near the top of the lyrical hip-hop spectrum – at an intimate venue with a committed crowd, is once-in-a-lifetime.
From here on out, Kota the Friend should be a show that every fan not just of lyrical rap, not just of hip-hop, but of music and performance as a whole should see. Because before we all know it, his tickets to even the biggest venues will be incredibly hard to come by.