To pigeonhole Killer Mike as a political rapper is to give the Atlanta MC too little credit. Or, conversely, you could say that that assignation gives political rappers way too much credit.
Credulous political convictions and access to a PA system have resulted in multitudinous sonic embarrassments and it’s not hard to see why: Hip-hop’s essential theme is survival, while democracy’s is fairness. Killer Mike gets away with airing his grievances, owing to the fact that those grievances comprise a significant part of a worldview for which he makes no apologies whatsoever. Mike has spent the past decade fine-tuning his combative, personal Gestalt, and R.A.P. Music, his sixth album, forms the finest testament yet to his pugnacious talents.
After making his debut on Outkast’s 2000 LP Stankonia, Killer Mike spent a decade skirting the edges of the big-time, releasing five critically respected LPs and engaging in tumultuous love affairs with a series of labels, major and minor. Pl3dge, released last year, performed well enough to take Mike’s cred up another notch, allowing him to pursue the production of R.A.P. Music in essentially whatever manner he saw fit. For a rapper whose sensibilities tread an aberrant path, that position turned out to be a very good one indeed.
Essential to R.A.P. Music’s pleasant calibrated sonic friction is the production work of alternative hip-hop fixture El-P, who contributed beats to all of the album’s 12 tracks. With beats driven by squalls of industrial noise and the chainsaw grind of de-tuned synths, El-P’s sensibilities seem determined to run contrary to all of commercial hip-hop’s prevailing trends. This isn’t news, necessarily. Like Killer Mike’s lyrics, El-P’s beats have formed a fearless counter-narrative to the radio-friendly leanings of hip-hop’s past decade.
R.A.P. Music places Killer Mike’s rhymes so high in the mix as to make their every nuance an object for consideration. By his own admission, Killer Mike functions best in the role of a storyteller, and his finest verses sound like hollered excerpts from backyard barbecue bullshit sessions or impromptu bar-side debates. “JoJo’s Chillin” relates the tall tale of a plane flight involving several grams of coke and at least as many clever evasions of the TSA. “Reagan” dips at a couple points into the murky backwaters of Kanye West-ish conspiracy theory, but for the most part, Killer Mike’s polemic makes a convincing case for the condemnation of our fortieth Commander in Chief. No wonder Killer Mike raps like he’s trying to get a point across; in a genre conducive to the lionization of rank materialism, Mike’s lyrics practically qualify as a dissertation.
In addition to his surprisingly lucid analyses of international politics, Killer Mike offers what might be hip-hop’s only reference to Lord of the Flies, and appears to have at least a functional understanding of experimental jazz. Telling lyrics abound on R.A.P. Music, but the album’s title tracks offers the most succinct summary of Killer Mike’s sonic MO: “This is sanctified sick, this is player Pentecostal / This is church…What my people need and the opposite of bullshit”.