“This album was entirely created by Jaime and Mike” is the statement leading in ‘Jojo’s Chillin’,’ a fastpaced storytelling track vividly portraying the tale of a succesful narcotics smuggling operation. It’s more than just a custodial announcement, in a way, it’s a declaration of intent; two guys working within an almost forgotten rap tradition, with a singular vision to build something that lasts. Killer Mike has always been a fiery emcee, unafraid to speak clearly and well-informed on politically heavy topics, with a passion and assertive tone unmatched in rap since Ice Cube’s first four solo albums. Now six albums deep into his career, Mike crafts his finest album yet.
Without an abundance of features (the opening track is a Southern posse affair, while El-P guests as emcee in another cut) and El-P as the single producer at the helm, the album has a laser-guided precision in vision. It’s method of operating is firmly rooted in the rich tradition of hip-hop’s producer/mc duo’s while simultaneously being a true product of it’s time. It’s also smartly sequenced into a distinct arc. Peep for instance, how the bold indictment of ‘Reagan’ (in which rap itself doesn’t get a free pass either) is followed by ‘Don’t Die,’ a track telling the tale of Mike being visited by crooked cops out for blood because of his perceived challenge to the status quo. This double bill forms the center of the album, and for good reason. It builds up toward the action-packed but meaningful violent mid-piece and not long after it, the tension edges down with a critical dedication to ATL and NY life, a heartfelt ode to Mike’s grandfather and finally, an examination of R.A.P. Music and it’s meaning to the protagonist in the album’s title song.
Throughout the album, Mike shows off his highly impressive technical prowess on heavily percussive raps that still manage to incorporate an almost melodic flow centered around his southern twang, like exemplified on the joyful verbal acrobatics of the rapping-for-rapping’s sake ‘Go.’ Really though, the whole album is an example of an emcee who’s been in the game for a while, has perfected his craft, but still has an axe to grind and the hunger of a young buck with his stomache growling. Welcome to advanced rap studies, with Killer Mike as your professor.
El-Producto’s bombastic electronics provide the perfect fit for Mike’s seering political diatribes, personal stories and rappity-rap exercises. Though steeped in Bomb Squad boombap, with several musical nods to Public Enemy classics, it’s far from a rehash of old sounds. Rather, it reinterprets everything you’ve heard from PE and NWA and translates it to a dystopian 2012 where the slapping drums, clicks, whirs and synths provide the ultimate backdrop to the hardcore lyrics of R.A.P. Music. El-P is famed for his specific brand of auditory chaos, that you should never mistake for recklessness. Wielding it like a veteran, he knows exactly where to dial it back and where to let go, setting the perfect stage for Mike to both rap his ass off and offer introspection.
Like Cube taking his West Coast rhymes to the Bomb Squad in NY back 1990, Mike southern spits matched with El-P’s blissful noise from the east creates something more than the sum of its parts. In short, it’s everything a hip-hop album should be, ticking off all the boxes without sounding coldly calculated. Calling it a classic is tempting, but even though the album certainly deserves it, it seems unlikely it will make a dent in the rap landscape of 2012 like Cube did in the early 90s. Times have changed. Fortunately, some rappers and producers still don’t feel like dabbling in bubblegum pop or wallowing in nostalgia. They rather build further upon the rich foundations of rap.
And deliver the rap album of the year when we’re not even halfway through it yet.