Sims. Photo by Colin Michael Simmons

Sims. Photo by Colin Michael Simmons

Best Picks Dec. 29–Jan. 11

Updated: January 4, 2017 - 1:04 pm

What to do downtown after work

Sims bares a brutal dance on ‘More Than Ever’

When rappers disparage their haters, they’re often other rappers or Twitter trolls. But “More Than Ever” — the latest album from Sims — has the Doomtree rapper weighing a wider minefield of haters, or a floor of hairpins in this case, on his mind, from clichés to mortality.

Sims made the 13-track album, produced with Doomtree regulars Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger in addition to ICETEP, last winter at a time death and sickness clouded his friends and family. With some brutal honesty, Sims takes a trip up and down the valleys between nihilistic grief and creative enlightenment on “More Than Ever.”

SIMS_Crosshatch photo credit Colin Michael SimmonsThe album opens with two tracks depicting Sims as “A Bad Flying Bird” and “Icarus,” a piece of “living art” impatiently escaping doubt and pettiness — the haters on these tracks. On the latter, one of a few singles released early from the record, the hip-hop artist nimbly moves between inspirations in Pizza Rat and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” backed by a horn-driven production.

But even when he’s flying high, Sims is able to burn as “Flash Paper,” a track that has him, in the words of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” ruminating on his mortality and on leaving a legacy. The tone of the rapper’s deep dive into his own self-conscious changes when he steps outside of himself — even the atmosphere — to find enlightenment on the album’s back half. “Did not intend to get so morbid, but I never felt more out here in orbit,” says the rapper, reeling on “Spinning Away,” an airy, house-style track.

The solace Sims finds is in art and independence. The album is steeped in it, from Shakespeare’s sonnets to “The Sandlot,” and a legacy of enlightened thinkers, from Voltaire to Franz Kafka. On the final track, “Gosper Island,” Sims is left basking in colors — the life outside the “50 shades of beige” from the opening tune — and the infinite fractals of the Gosper curve of life. Ultimately, “More Than Ever,” one of the strongest local rap albums of the year, gives listeners more than enough to chew on while enjoying some of Sims best solo work.

Sims will take to the First Avenue mainroom for a Friday, Jan. 6 album release show. Special guests include Milwaukee-based hip-hop artist WebsterX, Air Credits — the pairing of Chicago’s The Hood Internet and rapper ShowYouSuck — and Nazeem & Spencer Joles.

DRAFT HORSE Orion by EB webDrinking like a horse

Just outside downtown, the Food Building has kept secret a humble, but surprisingly good cocktail program at its locally minded restaurant, The Draft Horse. The restaurant is known for showcasing ingredients made in the building, from Baker’s Field Flour & Bread baked goods to cheese from The Lone Grazer Creamery, but much of the same local attention carries over to the drinks. The Orion ($10) combines espresso from fellow Northeasters Spyhouse Coffee Roasters with vodka, vanilla and coffee liqueur to make a frothy treat for any coffee lover, me included. The house bloody mary ($9) is a great result of all the Food Building’s efforts thanks to salami from Red Table Meat Co. and Lone Grazer cheese curds. There’s even a nod to founder Kieran Folliard’s past with 2 Gingers Whiskey in The Draft Horse’s Manhattan ($9). Overall, the restaurant is well worth a trip just across the river if you’re looking for a new watering hole to try.

Start the year with a laugh

You’ve probably heard that idiom that starts out like “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.” Well, what if you teach a person comedy? Will they make themselves laugh for a lifetime? Brave New Workshop is hosting a free improv sampler that will introduce guests to the basics of improv with a bunch of other beginners. The 90-minute session, held at the Brave New Workshop Student Union on Hennepin Avenue near the comedy venue, will take place on Jan. 3, Jan. 12 and Jan. 30 from 6:30 p.m.–8 p.m. The class sounds best for a crash course into comedy if you’ve ever been curious, but never known where to start.