It’s Alive

By: Michael Shields

A look at Killer Mike’s new album, R.A.P. Music. A possible modern day classic?

I hear, often, people wondering where all the hip hop at. I am never sure how to respond to this. I unusually take a moment to gather my composure and then proceed to recount all the artists currently in the mix, recommend a few albums, and then look at them like their short for just a minute. I then offer to burn them a disc or two to show them what’s what, which gives them the chance for instantaneous revenge – to look at me for a minute like I have two heads as who the fuck burns cd’s anymore? I do. What of it?

Since the technology does not exist to burn a disc through this site which could then be ejected out your computer (they are sleeping on that one!), let me walk you through one of these albums I am speaking of and give you an opportunity to meet one of these artists out there doing it… you may or may not already know.

It matters little if you own 2003’s Monster, or have even heard it.  You do not have to be in the know about his Grind Time Official releases, or even any of his work on Speakkerboxx or any of the other tracks he collaborated with Outkast1.  What’s in the past is in the past and although that shit is hot – Killer Mike’s latest album, “R.A.P. Music” is not only a must-own album but a great introduction to the man himself.

‘R.A.P. (an acronym for Rebellious African People) Music’ is Killer Mike’s 6th studio album and his most acclaimed effort to date.  The production on the album is done entirely by El-P2 whose synth-heavy futuristic sound is evident throughout, but blended seamlessly with the type of rapid-tick beats that Mike has grown accustomed to crushing.  A near perfect work of production from a man who often, when producing, sticks within his comfort zone – working with the likes of Cage, Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock, and Mr. Lif.

The album starts with a heavy hitter, ‘Big Beast’, featuring Bun B and T.I.3 and never lets up from there.  The second track, ‘Untitled’, shows Killer Mike at his most vulnerable as he explores his fear of dying and leaving his wife to walk the earth alone.  The playful boom-bap narrative of ‘JoJo’s Chillin’ keeps things light before things get sand-bag heavy with the politically charged ‘Reagan’4 where he drops some of the most note-worthy conscious rap in some time:

“We brag on having bread, but none of us are bakers /
We all talk having greens, but none of us own acres /
If none of us on acres, and none of us grow wheat /
Then who will feed our people when our people need to eat /
So it seems our people starve from lack of understanding /
Cos all we seem to give them is some balling and some dancing /
And some talking about our car and imaginary mansions /
We should be indicted for bullshit we inciting /
Hand the children death and pretend that its exciting”

‘Don’t Die’ is a tale of a dirty cop that further highlights Mike’s distrust with our broken systems, incites anger towards the police, and helplessly brings to mind thoughts of Trayvon – but with a dulled edge due to a perfectly hitting comic relief punchline about parties in the Hamptons.  Soon after in the soulful ‘Anywhere but Here’ Killer Mike, in a tone resembling Gift of Gab in his prime (I mean that as high praise), takes you for a ride through NYC:

“But in the city that’s gritty where the bottom is shitty /
Where the mayor’s a billionaire /
You learn Manhattan keep on making it /
And Brooklyn, keep on taking it /
Cause life just ain’t that fair”

Then through the ATL:

“This is black male Heaven with the ballers are professing /
But to me home feels like Hell /
Even though it’s black cops from the mayors to the top /
Black blood still gets spilled”

On ‘Butane’ (Champion’s Anthem) we finally hear from the backbone of the album as El-P, to start the track, proclaims: “They fucked up putting us together”…both a nod to the track that they tear up together and the album in general.  And then, to close the album, Mike combines all the thoughts and themes present throughout the album into the title track, ‘R.A.P. Music’, citing many of his influences in the meantime.  The intro to the track is poignant and thoroughly expresses his love for the art form he has complete control of::

“I’ve never really had a religious experience, in a religious place. Closest I’ve ever come to seeing or feeling God is listening to rap music. Rap music is my religion. Amen”

Although politically charged, soulful, and full of heart do not get it twisted – This album is bumping.  A fun summer album with a head on its shoulders.  A possible Instant Classic (hedging my bets with the use of one word – possible).

This may possibly come off as a tangent, but I prefer it to be seen as some profound and insightful over-thinking about why hip-hop appears to have lost it’s legs to some.  What I think may be occurring, and I am speculating here, is that many people in my age romanticize the early days and the rise of hip-hop so much that even when good hip-hop music is dropping it can never be good enough5.  It can never live up to the first time they heard PE, Wu, Big, Tribe, Illmatic, etc.  I get that.  But what’s the fun in that?  Life moves on and we are left with talents that were influenced by the greats, who can build from them.  I could further speculate that these people may have to look in the mirror some as maybe, just maybe, they have changed, and with their maturity and youth lost so too has their appeal for the art form been lost.  Possibly, they are the ones that have changed ….not hip-hop’s availability.  Just a thought, as from my perch the harvest of hip hop albums annually is bountiful:

De La’s Plug 1 and Plug 2, El-P, Shabazz Palaces, Oddisee, Big K.R.I.T., Meek Mill, Action Bronson, Pusha T, and Rick Ross all have dropped recent bangers.  It ain’t totally my thing but Schoolboy Q, ASAP Rocky, Main Attrakionz, and others are out there doing it too.  And lets not forget the living legends who just don’t know how to fade away into the sunset (thank goodness!): Jay, Kanye, Dre, Em, Raekwon, Ghost, Reks, Mos, Talib, etc, etc, etc….

Why are some folk so eager to proclaim the death of things6? Death is inevitable, it will find you – all of us.  There is no need to chase it down.  Hunt R.A.P. Music down instead.

Michael and Jaime came strong on this one.

  1. He made his debut on Outkast’s 2000 LP ‘Stankonia’, on the track ‘Snappin and Trappin’.  And speaking of Outakst…mid-post you get a look at Andree 3000 doing his best Jimi for an upcoming film []
  2. El-P is coming so strong in 2012.  His album ‘Cure for Cancer’ is sure to end up on countless Top 10 of 2012 lists, mine included. []
  3. Killer Mike chose to start the album with this track as he wanted a “banging -ass track” right out the gate, to let everyone know he was back.  Pay-dirt. []
  4. Obama is not spared and sits in Mike’s cross-hairs along with the other Commander in Chiefs….as just another talking head. []
  5. I can use the same argument for people who romanticize the Bird, Magic, and Jordan’s NBA and are dead ass asleep on the beautiful things happening in the league today. []
  6. I feel I come across stories all the time: ‘Is the sitcom dead?”. “Is jazz dead?”. Etc.  Nauseating.  Lazy journalism. []

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