In his Lincoln Center debut last night, rapper Decora tackled one controversial issue after another with eloquence, and mind-expanding flow, and crushingly spot-on insight. He takes the everyday issues that we all struggle with and makes them poetic – if you need validation, Decora’s there for you. Honestly and succinctly, he tackled topics as far-reaching as the sociological roots of police brutality, the challenges of being one of five black or latino guys in a redneck white upstate town, the trials of raising a multicultural kid under Donald Trump white supremacy, and the toll racism takes on a relationship. He’s something akin to a young Nas without the gangbanger backdrop, or Guru without the brag, or a more New York State-centric Immortal Technique.
Those guys are all icons – that Decora deserves mention alongside them speaks to his fearlessness and political relevance, never mind the verbal pyrotechnics. In terms of pure lyrical skill, this guy’s technique reaches for the immortal: his genius is that he writes to keep the party going, but to keep you thinking nonstop. Lyrical insight aside, what was coolest about the show was Decora’s eight-piece live band: musical director and multi-keyboardist Neil Alexander; guitarist Dylan Doyle; six-string bassist Sam Smith; drummer Lee Falco; turntablists DJH20 and DJ Trumastr and a couple of backing vocalists.
Together they played Decora’s new album Beyond Belief all the way through, opening with an epic grey-sky ambience evoking classic 90s RZA productions, then switched to backdrops ranging from psychedelic Laurel Canyon boudoir soul, to grittily metallic funk lit up by Doyle’s tersely bluesy guitar, to New Orleans-flavored grooves carried by a tight two-piece horn section. Overhead, Decora’s rhymes ranged from rapidfire to sniper shots.
The opening number, Perfect Division, was a withering portrait of inequality, followed by the epic, disarmingly revealing Beyond My Doorstep, tracing the story of a guy facing the daily struggles of any minority in this country. Decora’s persona seems to be pretty much what he is, an unselfconsciously down-to-earth 99-percenter, eschewing gangsta cliches or prefab made-for-American-Idol shtick dumbed down for the element who would buy what they could download if they actually used their brains.
Decora riffed on fairweather friends in the cynical Changed Lanes and the perils of being a wannabe star in White Vans, but the best joint in this relentless set was What’s Up, a coldly logical assessment of the psychology that makes a white cop kill an innocent black victiim, tracing its historical roots back to Jim Crow and slavery. He followed that with another cynical, torrentially lyrical number, Confirmation.
They closed with an original hip-hop reimagining of the iconic Pete Seeger folk hit Where Have All the Flowers Gone and encored with a more urban anthem. After an hour onstage, the crowd – from the audience response, half deep Brooklyn, half upstate, many of them making the trip all the way down here on the bus – screamed for a second encore. The new album hasn’t made it to Decora’s Genius page yet, but you can bookmark it if lyrics are your thing: there’s plenty of inspiration there. Decora plays BSP Lounge, 323 Wall St. in Kingston on March 2 at 9 PM.