3 Album Reviews: Killer Mike and El-P (Pow, Motherfucker, Pow!)

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Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music (2012) – A

An absolute force of nature, straight from the get-go: the concussion blasts to stress how this is “hardcore G shit”; how El-P sits on the drums until Killer Mike blasts “POW, motherfucker, POW!” (Not that “Big Beast” needs any more talent from the south, but could you imagine if they managed to fit in Big Boi in there?) I had been aware of Killer Mike since his features on late-period OutKast albums and backtracked to his previous solo albums after hearing this one and I still think this came out of nowhere. Anyone who heard the spotty PL3DGE released just a year before would have no idea this was around the corner. (PSA: anyone who hasn’t heard PL3DGE should check out “Ready Set Go” for a great No I.D. beat.) Of course, we have El-P to thank, who pairs Killer Mike with beats that are possess just as much physical presence as he does on the mic. Exhibit B: just witness Killer Mike opening “Untitled” with “You are witnessing elegance in the form of a black elephant” or the second verse’s “And I keep a blunt and a Bible and a gun on me / Why? Cause I’m country-bred / Actually, I’m south-er-ern” over El-P’s chunky rhythm. Another example, how the tight flow and steamrolling beat of the rise-above title track doesn’t allow for any of the cheesiness that typically comes with a lot of namedropping (the second verse). The people who find sampling Ronald Reagan or the outro of the same song wherein Mike points out how many letters were in each of Ronald Wilson Reagan’s names too on the nose are focussing on the wrong parts of the song. Instead, think of the rapping, of how good a couplet like “We brag on having bread, but none of us are bakers / We all talk having greens, but none of us own acres” is, or the alliteration in “I guess that’s the privilege of policing for some profit / But thanks to Reaganomics, prisons turned to profits” or the starkness of the description of police brutality leading up to it. And El-P just lets each word sink in, creating an atmospheric beat with a grimy cadence to lead you to every next point. Plenty of other highlights: the background vocal sample during the choruses of “Ghetto Gospel”; how Killer Mike has some fun on “Go!” and still slays everyone in his path (“I go in, I go hard / I go stupid oh my God / Shumalumadumaluma-shmalumadumaluma / Even when I ain’t saying shit / Got AK word play might put a pause in you life / Just like a comma bitch!”, naturally followed up with a break in the rapping via El-P’s scratches); Emily Panic’s choruses of “Anywhere But Here,” which meant a lot walking through the bitter Toronto winter back in 2014. One of those albums where there’s nothing bad and greatness abound; even the cover oozes badassery.

El-P – Cancer 4 Cure (2012) – A-

Released one week after R.A.P. Music, one of the best hip-hop albums of 2012, El-P releases this, another one of the best hip-hop albums of 2012. And my favorite El-P solo album by a wide margin. Colour me surprised as well: I never cared too much about the man’s rapping (a lot of flash and not a lot in the way of substance; I both like and dislike this bit at once, “Fuck your droid noise, void boys’ ‘noid ploy / Oi oi, I’ll rugby-kick the shit out your groin, boy / Oi vey!”; “I doubt that I’m the sharpest [tool in the shed] / But manuals I come with clearly read ‘I cut'” is so forced) or his post-apocalyptic world creation or his penchant to leverage people who can’t sing to sing hooks (Nick Diamonds on “Stay Down”; so fucking cheesy). Actually, barring “The Full Retard,” most of the hooks where he’s actively attempting to shape one full on suck: the over-used “IN THE WORLD” of “True Story” (likely the worst song here); the cheesy “Woo!” of “Sign Here.” Admittedly, it might’ve been the guest roster that pulled me into giving this one more consideration than I would have: always a pleasure hearing Danny Brown yell “Check!” (though his verse ain’t his best outside of “My patterns are argyle, your’s more checker board / My lecture is Lecter, your texture is pocket protector”) or Killer Mike on “Tougher Colder Killer” that points ahead to the no-bullshit rapid-fire verse trading stuff of Run the Jewels. Even better: Mr Mutherfuckin’ eXquire’s breathless verse on “Oh Hail No,” stretching out “urine” to rhyme with “time” and internally rhyming “whore”, deplor-able” and “four” in his opening two lines. Plus the moments of beauty/breathing room between the grime: the piano intro of “Tougher Colder Killer”; the trumpet and descending keyboard line of “Stay Down”, both piercing through like bits of the dying sun. But almost all of this grew on me over time, even minor cuts like the El-P-ified love song of “True Story” or El-P-ified sex song of “Sign Here” revealed themselves as worthy, while more immediate stuff the bracing drum programming of “Request Denied” or the spitting lasers of “The Full Retard” remained that way. Pump this shit, in other words.

Killer Mike – PL3DGE (2011) – C+

The major record deal gave him his best beats yet (“So Glorious”, No I.D.’s “Ready Set Go” and Flying Lotus’ “Swimming”), but it came at the cost of his personality (the choruses of “Animal” because of its animal noises; the choruses of “Follow Your Dreams,” though I dig the drum programming of the verses; “Everything (Hold You Down)”).

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2 responses to “3 Album Reviews: Killer Mike and El-P (Pow, Motherfucker, Pow!)

  1. Hooray for Marshall content! And hooray for Killer Mike (well, except for PL3DGE, apparently). His and El-P are names I know, and I usually don’t know these guys you write about. I don’t have either of these but I love the track you posted. Really appropriate for these days.

    Thanks for this! I’ll be checking this out.

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