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Nur-D Levels up at Orchestra Hall with Landmark Performance

Photo by Smouse

Last updated on April 28th, 2024 at 09:00 pm

In preparation for seeing Nur-D playing with the grandeur of the Minnesota Orchestra, memory brought me back to many of his prior shows. I was lucky to witness the intimate SolSta Records performance in 2019, his enthusiastic and special one-on-one pandemic show for Music in Minnesota inside Electric Fetus, and his first appearance at First Avenue. From the tiniest stage to literally the biggest stage at Orchestra Hall, Matt Allen has proven that hard work, positivity, and musical expression can take you places. 

Photo by Smouse

Nur-D’s progression as an artist was on full display Friday night, taking his fans down memory lane with the full grandiosity of the Minnesota Orchestra. Throughout the evening, principal conductor Sarah Hicks, who has previously led sold-out performances with Dessa and indie band Cloud Cult, provided a bridge between interaction with Allen and the full force of the orchestra.

“Glorious” – Photo by Smouse

Amidst a sea of Minecraft-pixelated Nur-D glasses, “Glorious” ignited the crowd from the very start. Turntablist DJ Hayes and the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Band provided continuous energized support throughout the evening, with bouts of dancing in the isles, horns, and stellar vocal performances. 

Photo by Smouse

The first portion of the set was littered with fan favorites, from his cover of “Eye to Eye” (Disney) to the body-positive “Take My Picture” and valid music industry criticism with “Music Business 101”. Hearing the full backing of the orchestra on these songs leveled up the energy and showcased the full spectrum of what hip-hop can entail. 

A special appearance by the ghost of Abe Lincoln further exemplified the keen wit and underlying depth of Nur-D’s messaging with a stark quote directly from the idolized president, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it.” 

Abe Lincoln and Nur-D, Photo by Smouse

That depth and passion then slid into the murder of George Floyd and how that affected Allen’s songwriting. With images of protesters behind him, Nur-D took on the emotionally heaviest portion of the evening with a powerful performance of “Burn It Down”. Joined by Nakara Forje, the strings of the orchestra expertly added fuel to the tension. Originally featuring Psalm One, Nakara wrote her own original verse.

Nur-D with Nakara Forje, Photo by Smouse

Tuvok the Word joined him for the satirical “Mr. Officer”, pleading with the police to be killed on a Monday. The lyrics are so painfully normal and casually sung that they drive home the perspective and unfortunate acceptance of the risks of being black. 

“Could you kill me on a Monday?
I don’t want to have to call in sick
And my weekend’s looking way too lit (hands up)
Hey Mr. Officer
Could we pencil this for next week?
‘Cause tonight you know I just got paid
Plus we haven’t got the t-shirts made yet (hands up)”

Tuvok the Word, Photo by Smouse

As the first part of the show drew to an end, Nur-D went into “Intermission 3”. A song that never has a drop or drums, the lyrics play out like a transparent jumble of thoughts. Allen’s skill is represented most in moments like this. The simple flow of honest feelings and allowing the listener to come along with this thought process, to be on stage with him mentally.

Photo by Smouse

Returning after intermission and joined by the 29:11 International Exchange with “I Am Because We Are”, Nur-D acknowledged the rich lineage and legacy that connects African Americans to their ancestors. With Kente cloth fabric patterns displayed behind them, the up-lifting performance was capped with an incredible duet. 

29:11 International Exchange, Photo by Smouse

In sharing another dimension of himself, Allen took a moment to speak of his own struggles with clinical depression, admitting to thoughts of making this performance his last. Sharing how therapy and meds have helped him and being unashamed of that, he shifted to the importance of his friends and music in getting through tough times. 

“Brighter Day” felt like the roof of Orchestra Hall came off and allowed thick rays of sunlight to pour in. The combination of strings, woodwinds, brass, and beats by DJ Hayes contributed to one of the evening’s many goosebump moments. 

Photo by Smouse

The full cast of characters from the evening returned for one of Nur-D’s oldest songs, “Watch Me”, and fans stood up to celebrate the heightened moment in his career. Allen is one of the most humble and grateful artists the Twin Cities has ever had the pleasure to witness develop. A voice filled with honesty and unabashed vulnerability, there’s an instant connection to his music. Ending the show as fans chanted his name, we can safely say Nur-D is never coming down again. 

Photo by Smouse

Written by Smouse

Having spent 13 years recording and producing Minnesota artists, along with running a small record label, Smouse is a passionate advocate of musicians and artists in Minnesota.


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