Monday, October 22, 2012

Killer Mike: R.A.P. Music (2012)

(Williams Street)


You can be forgiven if you put a new rap record on in 2012 and feel like you've entered a time warp when you hear this rapid-fire old school shit against a super-angry rant about Reagan; the only evidence, in fact, on the current apocalyptic single bearing the former president's name that this isn't the Iran Contra era is a (not very kind) reference to Barack Obama and the rather classic closing line: "I'm glad Reagan dead." Well, then. It's naive incendiary politics but how great and strange is it to hear such rage directed against matters that predate Mantronix? Killer Mike blows his horn about his literacy even as he makes conspiratorial accusations, though I doubt anyone would question that he's right about how we live in a world of a white-tinted single party system -- the right and the extreme right, naturally -- but that's dangerous talk right now in these last weeks of the danger of a Romney administration. As he puts it, "If I say anymore / They might be at my door." Cute. But we love rock stars with a thirst for awareness and education (lord, how I hate the word "consciousness") that's far outpaced by their imagination, the ones who can't keep their mouths shut; that's basically John Lennon, right? Lennon would've dug this record.

It's also strange to think of an album by a genre mainstay like Killer Mike as a breakthrough, but this really does burst out and forth like nothing he's done before; he comes out swinging from the first seconds of "Big Beast" on this immediately striking and intense record, the intensity of which never flags. That will come as a relief to those who feel hip hop albums have nearly universal pacing issues these days. If you're unfamiliar, you're unlikely not to respond to Mike if your tastes are centered at all on the bare touchstones of classicist rap music; Mike's professorial and aggressive like KRS-1 and he comes on with his brutal poetry and harsh messages in the best way, with just the right tinge of the celebratory. I mean, there's a lot of shouting and cackling and anger, but there's also the high school poetry class idiosyncrasy of his readings on "Anywhere But Here," which is a good measure of how convincingly Mike reaches for eternal youth here despite his mining of the past, and then there are these things like "Go!" which is two minutes of the most blistering insanity I've heard in any context lately. It sticks out but fits somehow, and that's how consistently surprising and odd R.A.P. Music is -- it pronounces but immediately evens out its own eccentricities.

The relentlessness of Mike's flow is complemented, maybe contrasted, here by the brilliant production of El-P, who honestly seems to put more effort into this than he does into his own work -- he matches Mike's rooted, throwback intensity and integrity with some of the most outlandish and backward-looking production of recent pop music, much less hip hop. Like Mike himself, El-P's work here manages to render itself both immersive and nostalgic, as though naturally and effortlessly engineered for the most massive possible appeal within those for whom this music is a biblical thing, which includes the artist himself if we're to trust the erudite appreciation of rap on the title cut. Dig the retro atmospheres of "Anywhere But Here," the almost Chromatics-like soft rock of the massive "Willie Burke Sherwood," the Atari shit synthpop of "Don't Die," the stomping, blurting funk of "Southern Fried." And even those don't match the cleverness of the urban paranoia on "Untitled," which is as salient a match of words to music as hip hop's produced in some time. Dammit, the thing's even good when it's kind of a little annoying, as on the Rick Rubin circa 1986 pastiche "JoJo's Chillin'."

You can't stress enough how much everything just comes together on this release. Mike and El-P run this thing like a killer MC/DJ combo, knowing just when to slice through all the aggression with some occasional smooth-as-hell groove that seems completely out of time, out of tune with everything we're hearing these days. You feel like you're floating in some posthumously invented era of the artists' own creation, a hip hop dream of sorts. "I don't trust the church of the government / Democrat, Republican." Yeah. This is the sound of an assured, accomplished veteran flaunting his skills a la Sign o' the Times. Mike gives a shit, he's coming on like a motherfucker and you'd better listen.

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