15 August 2012

Review: Killer Mike, "R.A.P. Music"

The scene: a quiet New Jersey countryside, early on a Saturday morning, outside of a small military base nestled in the woods. A Ford Flex pulls out of a McDonald's parking lot, two sausage burritos heating up the passenger seat. The driver slowly turns up the SiriusXM radio, a soft snare and haunting thump sliding out of his speakers. The voice of the artist is familiar, but not completely caught at first listen. A hook is heard, the driver's ear grabbed once he hears a simile about Batman and Gotham City.

"Moving through New York city in a black seven fifty
Like Batman moving through Gotham
Dodging pot holes as I gently move
Through Harlem with my wheels on slalom
Pain in my eyes as I'm passing the place
Where they found Sean Bell and they shot him (Queens!)
Forty one times, he committed no crime
But I guess life ain't Time Square
But in the city that's gritty where the bottom lives shitty
And the mayor's a billionaire
You love Manhattan keep on making it
And Brooklyn, keep on taking it
Cause life just ain't that fair
For the kids in the park, watching out for the Narc
More sour diesel in the air
Trying to flip them a pack, stack couple couple racks
And make it the hell out of here!"

That driver was me, of course, and it didn't take long past the end of that hook to figure out the voice behind it, Killer Mike. I've been a fan of Mike Bigga since I heard him on Bonecrusher's "Neva Scared" way back in the early 00's, attempting to buy every album and download every mixtape that has come out. That's how I knew that this song, which I later found out was "Anywhere But Here" was new fire.

Coincidentally, Killer Mike was doing an interview on Invasion Radio with DJ Green Lantern and my timing couldn't have been more perfect. They played a few more tracks during the course of the interview and I knew that this was yet another Killer Mike classic that I simply HAD to have. As soon as the show was over, I bought "R.A.P. Music off iTunes and blasted it down I-95 South to Virginia. It took a couple hours to get home, so I got plenty of play off the album that first day. It was the best four hour trip of my life!

The album started off blowing my speakers with the appropriately titled "Big Beast," my audio system thanking me for the reverb. Bun B, always a pleasure to listen to, blessed my ears with a verse followed by T.I. Those three on a track, and you couldn't possibly want more. That was just the first song, though! It was fast, it was fire, it was lyrical, as all three of these hip hop monsters tend to be. You're then treated to a futuristic 40 second intro to the next song, "Untitled," which is filled with the natural edutainment that Killer Mike is known for. The chorus offers a haunting warning to sinners and haters alike, "Dear Lord, have mercy...cuz people gonna lie, some people gonna steal; you gotta be careful not to shit where you live. Some people might try to have you killed. Lord have mercy, life is such a battlefield!" Just when you get comfortable with the easy pace and content, which isn't too preachy, I may add, the listener is thrown into fast forward with the aptly titled "Go," which has Killer Mike showing off his speed rapping chops. He makes no show of being Twista or Krayzie Bone, but Killer Mike has always been one of the most underrated artists with skill of tongue (pause) and he proves his lyrical dexterity here and on "Southern Fried" as well.

One of my favorite tracks is the fifth song, "JoJo's Chillin," a Children's Story of sorts about a young drug dealer and his adventures with moving some weight from Atlanta to New York. Say what you want about the content, the song is fun without being pop, real without preaching, and informative without being boring. Even I have to admit, I'm a little jealous of JoJo. Who else gets head from a side jawn, sex from a stewardess, beef from an old woman and a vision from Ghostface Killah all in the same day?!

Despite the fun of "JoJo's Chillin," Killer Mike firmly escorts you into the political classroom on "Reagan." Killer Mike never stated that he was the holiest man in hip hop, and he never tries to come off as a saint. In the above mentioned interview, he gave us a snippet of his background, talking about his mother's issues with substance abuse and his father's career as a police officer. He never pretends to be something or someone that he can't relate to, which is why I've always enjoyed his music. In addition to being talented, he spits the real as only he can see, but he makes it believable, because it IS true beliefs. "Reagan" highlights many of those true beliefs that so many Americans refuse to acknowledge and so many youth know nothing about. The song begins with two separate clips from the deceased presidential namesake flip-flopping his stance on the alleged sale/trade of weapons for hostages in the 80s. He then goes on to spit more knowledge to the listener. Depsite whether you agree with Mike Bigga or not, the point is that we as listeners, as patrons of rap, as the next generation, must be willing to open our eyes as well as our ears to what is going on around us. So many people take music at face value, and that is why the genre is devalued in the eyes of the media and society and hardly ever taken serious.

After lyrically assassinating Ronald Reagan, Mike throws more fire with "Don't Die," shaping the song around a story of dirty cops and his rising above the filth of negativity as it pertains to society and goverment. He moves quickly through numerous aspects of government, tackling strong and self-imposed emotions by himself until he gets to "Butane," which is where we hear a verse from acclaimed producer and artist El-P, who also produced the album. "Willie Burke Sherwood" and "R.A.P. Music" fill out the end of the album, slowing things down just a bit, but still giving you a nice enough sendoff. I personally like for albums of this stature to go out with a bang, but after the excitement of the tracks I spoke on above, I've no complaints.

In my opinion, this particular album is what artists like Lupe Fiasco strive to create (or at least should). It's political, it's fun, the production is all serving and rich and the features aren't heavy. I hear the artist, I understand his thoughts and views and I walk away learning something. Some people aren't fans of political rap, and that is fine, but for what it is, and for what Killer Mike was attempting to accomplish, this album easily goes down as one of the best for the summer and I'm sure it'll still be on my top ten list come the end of the year. If you haven't copped "R.A.P. Music" by Killer Mike, then you are wrong!

Standout tracks: Big Beast, Untitled, JoJo's Chillin, Reagan, Don't Die and Anywhere But Here.

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