Kota the Friend’s show on September 8th at the Roxy in Denver, Colorado was an impressive display of the rapper’s charisma, talent, and true, deep passion for the music he creates. A Brooklyn native rapper and independent artist, it was Kota’s first time performing in Colorado, and most certainly not his last.
The show was kicked off by DJICEE, the charismatic DJ for the opener Haseeb. He played a tribute mix to late artists like Mac Miller, later passionately leading the crowd in a rendition of YG’s “Fuck Donald Trump”.
Haseeb came on stage the same way he would maintain most of his performance- smiling widely and bantering back and forth with DJICEE. He would play 9 songs, including “Feel Good”, “Growth”, and “Focus”. Haseeb performs with a sort of punctuality that is very satisfying to watch: with every line he jabs a finger, dips his head with a contemplative look, or otherwise enunciates his words. Outside of his physical entertainment talents, it is obvious that he is comfortable on stage-effortlessly interacting with the crowd and maintaining an impressive level of hype as an opener. At one point in particular, he stops the song during “Droppin”, a somber track focusing on the broken political system and racial inequality, to point out a member in the crowd who knew every word: “He knew the line! I appreciate that, you listen to the lyrics…” He ended his set by sliding his glasses back on, giving one last smile, and likely gaining a few new fans.
Kota’s first song of his debut album FOTO “Full Bloom” would open the show, a slow, sax-infused melody with the voice of Richard Parker speaking over it. When the beat kicks in and Kota emerged, the crowd erupted. Kota made his way to the side of the stage I was standing by, and I was nearly knocked over by a screaming girl reaching for his outstretched arm. It is immediately evident that, despite the fairly mellow tones in his recorded music, Kota performs with fervent energy. As he moved on to “Church”, noting to the audience that it was indeed a Sunday, he stomped around the stage and emphasized his words. At the line “Told a record label I am not your motherfucking slave”, he slammed his hand against his chest and threw open his vest. At the end of the song, he had one of many almost spiritual moments, in which he was illuminated by a single light, eyes tightly closed as he rapped the lyrics as if they are perfectly in-sync with his own heartbeat, and sounding just as natural as if you held a mic to his chest.
One of the things that Kota is particularly gifted at is the way that he can capture feelings and relationships with great complexity and depth in his music. He has said it himself before, but he truly does try to paint pictures with his songs that the listener can see if they close their eyes and focus on the lyrics. “Chicago Diner” is a good example of one such song, as he introduced it as a song about “...A little relationship that was so beautiful it was perfect the way it was.” He smiled, and added, “..we gon’ paint pictures the whole night,” before starting the song. Another side note on “Chicago Diner”- I never knew that the line “Cookies in the oven on a Sunday,” could go quite so hard-every voice in the venue seemed to sync with Kota as people leapt, danced, and screamed the line.
As the show went on, Kota maintained this level of excitement and stamina, performing “Birdie”, “Sedona”, ”Alkaline”, “Hollywood”, and “Backyard.” Something important to note about the audience-since Kota’s songs do tend to be personal, meaningful, and lyrically complex, it seems as if each song he plays holds a different meaning to each member of the audience. So, despite the commercial difference in popularity between the songs, there isn’t a song he plays that doesn’t invoke a deep emotional reaction from the audience in one way or another.
It is also easy to see which songs Kota himself finds particularly meaningful-when he plays “For Colored Boys”, he prefaces it by telling the audience that he wrote it for his two year old son, to give him a piece of himself if he can’t be there to raise him. One audience member specifically, a boy at the barrier, dropped his sweat-drenched head and nodded in agreement as Kota spoke to his young son about the dangers and beauties of being a black boy in America.
“Colorado” would come next, reinvigorating the crowd’s high intensity energy after the reflective tones of the last song. Kota widley swung his towel around, and carried the same energy into “Like Water” and “Camo”. During the later, there came a moment in which Kota presented his towel as if it was his heart, bathed in red lights, in what I thought to be an incredibly indicative display of the way he way puts everything he has into his lyrics and songs, presenting them in somehow both a vulnerable and confident manner.
Kota puts on a very interactive show, grabbing a few audience members's phones and filming snapchat videos during “Bagels”, and at another point, giving away one of his bracelets. The audience was equally receptive to his banter, as Kota immediately would receive a new one bracelet from a different member of the crowd, smiling and pointing out the way the universe works things out like that. During “Philly Jawn”, he pulled some girls to the stage to dance alongside him, with me being one of them. And despite the fact that I am a terrible dancer, there was no air of judgement or negativity and it was easy from the stage viewpoint to see the way the audience swelled and moved alongside Kota in an effortless way.
Additionally, Kota showcased his freestyle skills several times throughout the night Cutting the music and often illuminated by a single light, theses were the moments when the audience seemed to hold its breath, absorbed by the intimacy of the performance.
Kota closed the show with the song “Myrtle”, noting that his crew were 20+ shows into the tour and that the song reminded him of home. At this point in his show, he takes a seat for the first time, leaning out towards the crowd and grinning. When he exits the stage, the audience chants until he returns with “Smile” as an encore. It was the perfect track to end the night- “Is it all about love? Is it all about drugs? Is it all about you? Is it all about us?”
I wasn’t sure what to expect when going to the show-would he put on a contemplative performance emphasizing the emotional complexity of his songs? Would he make them into hype anthems with the audience going crazy? Would he come out of left field with something different and unique from his recorded music? What I found was a wildly entertaining and wonderful combination of all three. The show couldn’t be true to Kota without telling his stories and painting his pictures in a way that his videography and discography already do, but through a combination of his on-stage energy and the audience’s passion for his music, it is creates a fun and incredibly memorable experience for everyone in attendance. So if you ever have the opportunity to see him in concert, do yourself a favor and get a ticket-you won’t regret it.