Has there ever been a rapper represented worse on record than Killer Mike? His current R.A.P. Music (with the pretty damn great El-P) is among the best of the year but at the CMJ show 645p set, Thursday evening at the Studio At Webster Hall, it was abundantly clear that so much that makes Killer a killer rapper isn't there. The large, friendly, smart man is a dour political power tool on record, but on the stage the very same songs become forces of joy and friendship, of lessons and elemental truths.
Killer Mike came out of the South back in 2000, appearing on early Outkast tracks and "Outta Atlanta" compilations,before branching out and making a name for himself. Given his size, you might expect a straight up gangsta but no more, Killer Mike's heart, as a rapper, lies among women, politics and, er wrestling as much as gnats and stuff. He isn't just the slash and burn gangsta rappers, but also a pop star and a heavy underground rapper,just something of an original. Standing center stage at the small Studio, he owns the place with his, and joins the audience somewhere in the middle. Married with two children, this is fun rap and for kids rap but by a grown-up (most of the time)
Opening, as he has all tour, with "Big Beast", the song is powerful and filled with swagger but also an anthem and a self portrait. Killer Mike stands large and pronounces, be politically cynical, don't trust any one. But vote for Obama because the chances are better he will be good to weed smokers and let his woman do what she chooses with body. A good reason, right? And he follows that with "Untitled" , says something about Pitchfork paying for it, and the song is a dark track but not live, live it bounces and, the next song"Go" is a singalong. On "Big Beast" KM rapped: "I don't make dance music, this is RAP, opposite of the sucker shit they play on TV", but "Go" is the sucker shit in the best way. Very catchy, very fast and so danceable that Killer Mike can't stop dancing!. He moves his hips and shakes his body and when he asks us to singalong, who can't shout back "go",
An a cappella "Reagan" is followed by a brilliant "Never Scared" (the old Bone Crusher track) and the oldie "Burn" and he manages to make "Burn this mutha fucker down" sound like an expression of joyous community. Rapping to a sea of white faces, KM doesn't shy from his politics, an invective loathing of modern Government institutionalized racism, or his gangsta past, though he appears to prefer pro wrestling today, but tonight he wants to provide, at the heart of his set, a joining of people, a poppy thrill ride of hooks, dancing and singalongs. For half an hour he makes his case and he makes it very very well. "They say there's nobody here", he mentions at the outset, though the place is pretty filled, "But I don't care, I love this." And if the man is always this upbeat, I bet his kids worship him.
Killer Mike's politics are about what you think they are (Ice Cube is the name Jayson Greene dropped a coupla years ago in the Voice) but the man is a really great rhymer. Here is the last verse of "Reagan" and while it is self evident, it is also pretty terrific:
If you don't believe the theory, then argue with this logic
But that isn't where Killer Mike is at ALL THE TIME. On RAP Music, he is too hard, on stage he is something else jumping off the stage and spending the last two songs dancing and rhymin' with us, his arms around a fan, going round and round and round. This is the first rap concert I've seen since Jay-Z (ps, that was Killer Mike on "Poppin' Tags") at Barclay Center and it smacked the bad taste of ego and empathy and envy right out my mouth. The opposite of bullshit, indeed.
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