Killer Mike made his debut on Outkast’s legendary Stankonia album back in 2000 before appearing on one of my favourite Outkasts track a year later ‘The Whole World’. Since then he has gone on to release five solo albums on the Grind Time Official label. To some he is an Atlanta legend appearing on tracks with Outkast, T.I., Bun B, Young Jeezy and other Dirty South legends. He has often presented a more eloquent view of rapping touching on such diverse subjects as politics, religion and the plight of the poorer members of our society.
Although I usually would not take more than a passing interest in most of Mike’s catalogue, apart from a few of the more interesting songs, I immediately became interested when I heard his latest album would be produced entirely by El-P. The reason why this made it an interesting project is that although El-P and Killer Mike are from different sides of the Hip Hop landscape. However over time the Indie NY scene and the Dirty South ATL scene have evolved to the same sound but via different routes. Something similar was tried a couple of years back when DJ Shadow attempted to harness the Bay Area Hyphy sound in my opinion without a great deal of success as it seems contrived and without understanding. Mike and El-P’s collaboration however seems more natural and evolved rather than forced.
The Album kicks off with a track that slaps you right in the face lyrically and musically. ‘Big Beast’ is an intense journey featuring three Dirty South Legends; UGK’s Bun B and T.I. over an El-P beat reminiscent of his Cannibal Ox days. It has everything you could possibly hope for in Mike and El-P collab and will no doubt tear up clubs across the globe. A fantastic track that shows why this album works. This is followed by ‘Untitled’ featuring Scar. An apocalyptic marching beat that could have come from Funcrusher Plus (Company Flow’s debut) with Mike spitting thought provoking metaphors. Mike’s rhymes ride the beat perfectly showing the value of timing that some rappers often forget. The sung chorus sits nicely with the beat and I say this as someone who often cringes when I hear there’s a sung chorus but this one works.
The next track ‘Go’, is a short and intense joint featuring a what sounds like an electric guitar sample and some lovely scratching across the chorus. Its only 1:43 second long but damn it bangs like a barn door in a storm. ‘Southern Fried’ is a four minute expedition Down South with El-P providing a sick beat that I will not even attempt to identify the parts of. Mike Once again shows his skill as a strong lyricist who does not fall into the stereotype that many rappers from his part of the world does. Mike starts off the next track saying that “This album was created entirely by Jaime and Mike” with Jaime being El-P before another unusually perfect beat coming in. Mike tells a great story on this beat that could (dare I say it) easily sit alongside some of Slick Rick’s best. The beat is a lively drum lead joint that sounds like it was inspired by the breaker’s jams of the mid-eighties.
‘Reagan’ is a dark dystopian flavoured track sampling a famous Ronald Reagan speech over which Mike points the finger at Hip Hop for selling a hollow life to its fans. Mike really excels on this track showing his political beliefs and not falling into the unoriginal “It’s the Illuminati” stance but questioning the policies of numerous administrations and theior oppression of their people. A thought provoking intelligent track. The seventh track on the album is ‘Don’t die’ which starts off with Atari sounding effects over which Mike discusses police violence and violence towards police. Mike spits one of my favourite lines on the album on this track “Like John Connor’s Momma I be running everyday”. ‘Ghetto Gospel’ has Mike rhyming about the trappings of fame and money over another hard-core El-P beat.
‘Butane’ is the track I had been waiting for on this album where not only does El-p provide the beat but he also drops some lyrics too. The beat is a slower joint with crisp snares and a bass heavy electric sample that Mike drops two verses over before El-P comes in. El-P’s flow is an acquired taste but on this it sits very nicely alongside Mike’s verse to create a well suited duet. Emily Panic joins Mike on ‘Anywhere but here’ to provide a haunting chorus that fits the track and Mike’s lyrics well. The subject here is ghosts of our urban landscape and who takes responsibility for their creation. Like a lot of the album it is a dark track creating a haunting soundtrack to our cities despair.
The penultimate track on the album is ‘Willie Burke Sherwood’ which is a double time beat that somehow still manages to keep a slower tempo. How many times on your average Hip Hop album will you hear the emcee paying reference to ‘the Lord of the Flies’? Not often I can tell you but Mike dopes and that is why he is a step above your average emcee. He waxes lyrical about his upbringing and the things that his family have been able to see him go through on his path. A deeply personal track that works well. The last track on the album sounds a lot like some of El-P’s Cannibal Ox work and has Mike professing his love for Rap music. In this case R.A.P. is an acronym for Rebellious African People Music. He pays homage to all of the music’s that gave birth to Hip Hop.
“I’ve never really had a religious experience in a religious place. The closest I’ve ever come to seeing or feeling god is — listening to rap music. Rap music is my religion”
When Mike says the above quote you get the feeling that he believes this completely and this is why this album works so well.
To summarise this album is without a doubt great. Simple as that. It brings together to strong elements of Hip Hop to create a project that is stronger than its parts. Mike at times remind me of Scarface and at other times Big Boi. He is political and philosophical without falling into the usual stereotypical pitfalls. El-P provides a beautifully chaotic soundscape for Mike to rhyme over made up of crisp drums, heavy bass and synths. The two work together to great effect and I hope that this is not the last time work together. The album is cohesive and consistent providing thought provoking intelligent rhymes over original beats. A strong contender for album of the year in my opinion and I hope it will reach the audience it deserves.