For years, Killer Mike has remained one of the South’s unsung voices. Ever since his show-stealing verse on OutKast’s “The Whole World”, he has consistently garnered critical acclaim and underground respect, piling up great albums one after another. He has a voice as powerful and booming as Scarface’s, a street sensibility and thuggishness that parallels Bun B, and content that fits him well with OutKast. Yet, he is virtually ignored and is relegated to the title, “Rapper’s Favorite Rapper”, more to imply that he is not much of a big deal.
From the start of R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike sounds determined to shed that title and remind everyone that he deserves to be ranked among the best in hip hop. On opening track, “Big Beast”, he makes it clear that his music is “hardcore G sh*t” (“I don’t make dance music, I make R.A.P./ Opposite of that sucka sh*t you see on TV”). Not only that, but he easily bests his guests, Bun B and T.I., both of whom gave some of the best bars in recent memory. On the next track, “Untitled”, Killer Mike is proud enough to say that he is a “John Gotti painting pictures like Dali” and a “Basquiat with the passion of ‘Pac”. The album switches to more concept-driven tracks, starting with “JoJo’s Chillin'”, a tale about a miraculous getaway and then into more political territory, probably Killer Mike’s strongest area as an MC.
“Reagan” is an excellent showcase of Killer Mike’s simple yet well-engineered lyricism, showing how the similes can interconnect to weave a bigger picture:
We brag on having bread, but none of us are bakers/
We all talk having greens, but none of us own acres/
If none of us on acres, and none of us grow wheat/
Then who will feed our people when our people need to eat/
So it seems our people starve from lack of understanding/
Cause all we seem to give them is some balling and some dancing/
And some talking about our car and imaginary mansions/
Behind the boards of R.A.P. Music is Killer Mike’s partner-in-crime, El-P, whose Bomb Squad-inspired productions are presented in extra nuance, while still maintaining the characteristic weirdness. El-P dabbles with electro, alternative rock, and funk to create a crisp, organic, and cohesive sound that, along with Killer Mike’s Southern grit, makes for a enthralling and unique experience.
But R.A.P. Music is beyond a mere social studies lesson about hip hop, as its content and cover might suggest. Killer Mike shows personality even in the political preaching and braggadocio. And he ups the ante in his dedication to his late grandfather, “Willie Burke Sherwood”, which shows his vulnerable yet truly inspirational side. All these elements combine to make a record that is daring and authentic. Some critics like to compare this album to Ice Cube’s classic collaboration with Bomb Squad, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. But really, that comparison is for conveniences’ sake since Killer Mike and El-P have been compared to Cube and Bomb Squad, respectively. R.A.P. Music is a work that deserves to stand on its own, for now and the years to come.