Album: Killer Mike R.A.P. Music (Williams Street)
The Shocklee blitzkrieg of ’87 Bomb Squad production meets Westside Connection rebel cool and double-fried Dungeon Family funk on R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike’s sixth full-length release. The album is also his first proper collaboration with famed alt-rapper and producer El-P, who's fresh off a five-year hiatus from music-making. The result is a forty-six-minute joy ride—a relentless and reverently beat-heavy collection of songs custom-built to wreck eardrums and live stages.
The synth horn blasts punch, the rap-sung choruses slither, the B3 organ and gospel hand-claps take it all to church, and the triple-time hi-hats and tablas take it right back to the strip club.
A self-described “social commentator,” the ATL rap vet touches on topics both high profane and low profound with his trademark crunked fervor. There are raunchy, fast-paced drug-smuggler capers in the Slick Rick vein (“Jojo’s Chillin’”) and alliterated fears of his own imagined martyrdom as a dangerously candid political rapper (“Untitled”). Lyrics meant to deal with the weight of the rapper’s dual identity (“We the readers of the books/ And the leaders of the crooks”) also expose a more pressing need to loudly define his own place in hip-hop. It’s that tension about status that adds the most kerosene to his performance, as on the track “Big Beast,” which showcases Mike spitting fire while fellow DownSouther Bun B. rhymes reflectively and Mike’s former label boss, T.I., sounds just a little bored.
The rapper’s found an able foil in El-P—of Company Flow fame—a New Yorker whose production gives careful attention to the staples of “Southerin” hip-hop beatcraft. The synth horn blasts punch, the rap-sung choruses slither, the B3 organ and gospel hand-claps take it all to church, and the triple-time hi-hats and tablas take it right back to the strip club. The album’s sound has been labeled “noise-rap” because it’s loud, but the beats are compositionally far less chaotic than that label would suggest, with lots of room left over for Mike’s fervent, steady, melody-driven flow.
“This is jazz, this is funk/This is soul, this is gospel/This is sanctified sick, this is player Pentecostal/This is church BBQ /Amen pulpit/What my people need and the opposite of bullsh*t.”
The forward momentum is hampered here and there by some well-worn subject matter, like the aforementioned Black hero martyr-complex stuff and the occasional playalistic-gynephobic sermon about gold-digging, good p-toting Jezebels (“Ghetto Gospel”), but “R.A.P. Music,” the album’s epilogue title track, is an ecstatic, pitch-perfect love poem to the salvational power of Rap music, challenging its forever-Stepford-child position in the American Black Music continuum on the song’s epic hook: “This is jazz, this is funk / This is soul, this is gospel / This is sanctified sick, this is player Pentecostal / This is church BBQ / Amen pulpit / What my people need and the opposite of bullshit.”
Killer Mike, a ravenous storyteller of the true-school, is an almost over-achieving beatrider arriving at hip hop’s high noon to bask in the mono-culture afterglow of shortened attention spans and lowered expectations. R.A.P. Music is what his people need, indeed.
Written by Sun Singleton