Album Review: Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

Posted: May 8, 2012 in Album Review, Best of 2nd Q 2012, Hip Hop
Tags: , , , , , ,

Dating back to his 2000 appearance on Outkast’s “Funkanella,” Killer Mike has shown with almost every feature, single, and album that he had the ability to rip microphones to shreds.  Having a great deal of range – the ability to inspire street goons, college students, grown men, and teenie boppers at different points in his career – Mike, as almost a third emcee in Outkast during the “Land of a Million Drums,” “The Whole World,” “A.D.I.D.A.S.,” era between Stankonia and Speakerboxxx / The Love Below, seemed destined for rap stardom.  His well-regarded debut album, Monster, went gold, and his sophomore album Ghetto Extraordinatory lead by the Big Boi featured the hit single, “My Chrome,” seemed certian to follow in suit.  Instead, label and business issues took over, and the album ultimately got shelved after multiple delays.  Around the same time Dungeon Family members all seemed to either drift apart or splinter, and Big Boi and Killer Mike parted ways, and Mike elected to go the independent route after his buzz had subsided a by with 2006’s I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind.  Mike gained a little more distribution for I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II, before finally getting some Grand Hustle support for 2011’s Pledge 3.   While the Pledge series contained a lot of great moments, and really showcased Mike’s range, it for the most part lacked the mainstream appeal and label promotion that Mike’s early work had, while he was such an intregral member of Dungeon Family, at a time when they were still an industry staple.  Perhaps equally important, while his albums post-Monster were well produced, they lacked the funky eclecticism that made some of his work with ‘Kast so inspiring – the production simply did not juxtapose Killer’s thunderous metronomic flow with dynamic groundbreaking production the same way greats like Mr. DJ and Outkast, among others had done earlier in Mike’s career.

Killer Mike’s relationship with former Def Jux CEO and former Company Flow rapper and producer, El-P, seemingly cropped up out of the blue, a product of the digital age’s much smaller world.  It’s a collaboration that to be honest, if the album weren’t sitting in front of us after months of online promotion, could easily be discounted as rap blogger pipe dream scenario.  Somehow, the relationship fits, after all, who better to pick up after the void left by the lack of gamechanging Dungeon Family production, than a producer who has defined the limits of rap production better than anyone else from the dawn of Company Flow’s Funcrusher EP back in ’96 to today with his work on Funcrusher Plus, Cold Vein, Fantastic Damage, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, and this month’s “other” El-P release, Cancer 4 Cure.  As odd as it might sound, the artist sometimes known as Mike Bigga has never seemed so at home  on album production (even on Monster) as he does over El-Producto’s work here.  Just as El-P takes his 2012 Bomb Squad on steroids routine to new heights on R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike spits flames with his Atlantafied Chuck D-Ice Cube mutation.  It’s a true clash of the titans that somehow still comes off more synergistic than combative, despite the varied roots of the album’s key constituents.

From the opening stabs and taunts of “Big Beast,” to the futuristic flip on the Shocklee brothers meet Dre’s “100 Miles And Runnin’” aesthetic of “Don’t Die,” one thing is clear, this is some otherworldly ugly faced music.  This is type of album that makes you screw your face up and jerk your head until one of your loved ones 5150’s your ass.  But despite these moments of steroid injected socio-politically charged b-boyism, in typical fashion for both Killer and El-P, the album is far from one-dimensional.  The production on the album is a boisterous gumbo of 80’s and early 90’s nostalgia reimagined through the lens of post-Stankonia Outkast production, with El-P’s trademark layered organs, keys, synths, bloops, and drums infused throughout.

The album’s most polarizing track will undoubtedly be, “Reagan,” a smoldering indictment of the former President, the war on drugs, the Prison/Military-Industrial Complex, and the impact that the oppressive policies he set in motion had on impoverished inner city residents.  While the focus of the song is undoubtedly the short-term and long-term impact of the tactics used by the 40th President, Killer Mike does not ignore the role of rappers in perpetuating the cycles Mike sees as being developed during the Reagan administration, and Mike also depicts Reagan as a pawn, along with Obama and the Bush family, in a political figure-head game run by individuals with far more power.  While some will dismiss it as one-sided political soapboxing, Mike suggests that the songs is more about the social impact of the administration than it is about political favoritism.  The track itself is made up of some dark and ominous chords, some buzzing synths, a ticking hi-hat, and some light keys eventually building into a pattern vaguely reminiscent of Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.”

Lest one fear or be overjoyed by the notion that the album is entirely politicized, R.A.P. Music covers a wide variety of content, ranging from a fear of violent retribution from his outspoken dissent (“Untitled” featuring Scar), the opportunistic yet self-destructive escapist desires of urban residents on “Anywhere But Here,” the straight spitting of “Go!,” the powerfully autobiographical “Willie Burke Sherwood,” to the chanting refrains of “R.A.P. Music.”  There is an abundance of material and meaning to dissect, and for the most part songs resist simplistic evaluation, as they are deep fried in the contradictions and complexity of Killer Mike.

One of the album’s most endearing qualities, and there are many, is that far from the norm in music these days, there is, like with El-P’s other release this month, no any semblance of filler on this album, nor any ill-advised single cash grab attempts that jeopardize the album’s cohesion.  While it is easy to give a lot of the credit for that fact to El-P helming the production from stem to stern, it would’ve been easy for a collaboration like this to have come off like one of the many “let me dropbox you some beats, you yousendit some acapellas back to me” albums we’ve seen since the explosion of social media and file sharing services began to spawn more unusual pairings.  It is obvious right down to the album’s DNA that this album was developed organically and in a truly collaborative manner.  Clearly El-P and Mike took time to work on this partnership and El-P took the time to tailor make a sound that would elevate Killer Mike’s craft to the heights it clearly deserves, but hadn’t reached until now.

Despite many years without definitive Dungeon Family material, there are some more glimmers of hope on this album, notably there are many bars that allude to his reconciliation with Dungeon Family brethren, and in light of the recent reuniting of Goodie Mob, there is at least some hope that this album will be just the first in a new Dungeon Family era.  With El-P proving more than capable of picking up the torch and updating their classic sound, one can only hope that he will earn a spot at that table along with Mr. DJ, Organized Noize members, Outkast, and other notable new members of the Atlanta production scene.  For now, at least we have another in a great series of albums that have come out in the 1st and 2nd Quarters of 2012 and another early contender for rap’s album of the year.

Stream the album here, and pre-order it here.

  1. labatman24 says:

    Reblogged this on 4 HOOPS HEADS and commented:

  2. Sun-Ui says:

    Great review! My album of the year.

  3. […] Album Review: Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music Archives […]

  4. […] JB: Yeah, he did one this year too, R.A.P. Music […]

  5. […] wait till it gets cold to start listening to it, it’ll hit you better.  What else I got? The El-P and Killer Mike album, and the Aesop album too, but I feel weird even bringing that into it, because it’s a little […]

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