Rating: 4/5Atlanta’s Killer Mike is living proof one verse can make a career. First rising to prominence in 2001 after stealing the show on Outkast’s “The Whole World,” where his 6/8 flow outshined both Big Boi and Andre 3000 at the height of their powers, it put the young ATLien on the map. After a minor hit in 2003’s “A.D.I.D.A.S.,” Mike found himself in label limbo, leaving his sophomore album Ghetto Extraordinary permanently shelved. Mike took the indie route, and while his I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind mixtapes were largely a mixed bag, the highlights like 2006’s “That’s Life” and 2008’s “God in the Building” were among the strongest tracks the genre heard that year. He’s always had all the potential in the world, but the limitations of the indie-rap grind never gave us the fully focused full-length we’ve all known he had in him. I’m ecstatic to say Mike’s made his magnum opus with R.A.P. Music.
What’s significantly helped Mike this go-round is the album’s production being entirely heralded by former Definitive Jux head and Company Flow member El-P. El’s had a reputation for knowing how to perfectly craft a beat for an artist and maximize their potential, so his guidance on R.A.P. Music has accentuated Mike’s positives to their fullest extents. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Killer Mike verse, you are going to love this album.
Clocking in at just over 45 minutes, R.A.P. Music is all tenderloin. In 12 tracks we get Mike’s vivid storytelling, unflinching honesty, brute force and sardonic humor. With seemingly no concessions needing to be made for today’s radio (Mike goes as far as to call the album the “antithesis” of “the sucker shit they play on TV”) we get the feeling Mike’s in control and completely unfiltered. “JoJo’s Chillin” tells the story of a wanted felon illegally flying from Atlanta to New York through such means as a fake ID, utilizing a favor from a friend in security and seducing a cokehead stewardess. It’s an entirely moral-less story that gets up to James Bond levels of slick fun. Elsewhere we get tours through the less-glamorous areas of he and El’s hometowns (“Anywhere But Here”) and Mike explaining his frustrations with the social structure of America.
The easy comparison for R.A.P. Music is with Ice Cube’s landmark solo debut AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted where the west coast MC enlisted Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad to give him a new potent sound. El’s crunching synths and sonic blasts act as the perfect demolition squad for Mike’s verbal wrecking balls. While the beats bear El’s trademark bleakness, the producer does also manage to channel Mike’s musical roots, layering the production with the type of bridges and crescendos that would put the album in the proud canon of Georgia’s gospel music.
That’s not to say Mike is a religious man. On R.A.P. Music, Mike makes it clear he doesn’t trust religion, the government, any political party or politician, conglomerates, television or pretty music anything except rap music itself. While he’s a juggernaut of an MC, R.A.P. Music is really the first time we get to transparently see what a big fan of rap music Mike is. His energy and performance throughout the record shines, making it glaringly obvious that not only does Mike know what a great album he’s making, but he’s having an excellent time doing it as well. Along with outstanding appearances by Bun B, T.I., DJ Abilities and Emily Panic, R.A.P. Music is an endlessly re-playable reminder of what can happen when an extremely versatile MC and a perfectly accommodating producer share a vision.