Pure joy. That's what a Brother Ali show feels like, and this weekend's pair of sold-out shows at First Avenue found the hip-hop heavyweight even giddier than usual as he brought his Fresh Air tour back home for a grand finale in Minneapolis. Ali was joined by tourmates and labelmates Toki Wright (who released his debut album, A Different Mirror, on Rhymesayers earlier this year) and Evidence (Rhymesayers' newest signee), and DJ BK-One, and the quartet kept things moving with a steady three-hour stream of rap and dance beats, barely pausing between sets.
It was especially intriguing to watch Toki Wright take center stage for his opening set, as he has long worked with Brother Ali as an emcee and hype man. "I ain't no hype man, I'm a live band" Wright declared during one song, as if celebrating his new found role in the spotlight. Wright's set flowed seamlessly into Evidence's thanks to BK-One, who manned the turntables for the entire evening and played Brazilian-inspired dance jams between rap sessions. Wright stayed on stage for most of Evidence's set, helping out on verses and keeping the momentum building forward until Ali was ready to take the stage.
When it was time for Brother Ali to arrive, messages flashed across all the screens in the club: "There's no me and no you, it's just us." It's a lyric off Ali's newest album (Us), and it was a theme that he returned to many times as he alternatively rapped and preached to the crowd. During one particularly heart-warming speech about how much he appreciates his Twin Cities fans, Ali said, "If you're out there supporting Rhymesayers, you're not a fan of Rhymesayers. You're not a fan of hip-hop. You're a part of it."
A sea of youngsters hung on his every word, eating up Ali's positive messages and positive energy. And his new material translated amazingly well live, and he mixed in old crowd favorites like "Forest Whitaker" and "Champion" with the newer songs in his set. As the clock neared 10 and the room full of teenagers watched their curfew loom closer, Ali invited Wright and Evidence back to the stage for a final farewell, a bubbly and excited conclusion to their 52-date tour.