On the heels of his most recent release, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, which dropped on September 18, Brother Ali and his team—or family—stopped by the Bowery Ballroom for a night full of energetic and engaging live performances that kept the crowd going for more than three hours.
Performing in front of a sold-out crowd, Brother Ali, The Reminders, DJ Sosa and Homeboy Sandman each delivered on their sets and left fans satisfied and “feeling the love.”
It’s easy for a hip-hop show to fall flat when it’s just an MC spitting over beats that his DJ is cuing from his laptop. Brother Ali got insurance on this risk in the form of a live, five-piece band that featured guitar, banjo, keyboard, trumpet, trombone, French horn, and saxophone.
But before the main stage, Homeboy Sandman’s set displayed exactly how a live rap show with nothing but a microphone and some speakers can be performed. Greeted warmly by fans clearly familiar with his catalog, the MC from Queens tore through verse after verse, at times evoking the energy of a group like M.O.P. In order to introduce himself “to people out there that are saying ‘this shit is kinda tight’ but haven’t understood a single word [he’s] said all night,” Homeboy went off with an acapella track, “It Is What It Is.” By then, it was clear that the Queens rapper wasn’t just an opening act, but that he easily deserved a show of his own.
While the music was lyrically off the charts and, at times, angry, Homeboy Sandman preached love in between tracks, and when it was time for his set to end, he praised Brother Ali and joined the fans in welcoming him to the stage.
Ali tore down the house with both classics and a whole slew tracks off the new album, which is entirely produced by long-time friend Jake One. For someone who has spent the majority of his nights on stage over the past ten years, the Minneapolis MC came out with the energy and sincerity of a rapper who’s ecstatic just to hear his songs through the house speakers. The live band made every track sound full and lush—adding color to Jake One’s production and breathing new life into the classics. A live jam with Ali banging on the electronic drums squeezed into the middle of the 60-plus-minute set was certainly a highlight.
Ali’s “dear friend” Immortal Technique was even spotted bobbing his head backstage before being brought out by Ali to celebrate one another and spit ferocious acapella bars.
After about 45 minutes of sweet music, Ali paused, realizing he and the audience “ha[dn’t] had a chance to talk yet.” In comfortable fashion, Ali took the opportunity to drop some knowledge on the Bowery Ballroom crowd, discussing the emotional significance of the track “Babygirl” off his 2009 release Us, which discusses a sexual assault, and how it seems our country is better at building hi-tech weapons than it is at protecting its wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. But it wasn’t all heavy—Ali ended his speech by reminding the audience that he loved each and every one of us, “…profoundly, unconditionally, completely,” and it was believable.
Overall, it was a night of peace, love, and head-bobbing, boom-bap rap music that brought back nostalgic memories of high school, when Shadows on the Sun was on this writer’s playlist.