For over a decade, Killer Mike has made a living with a mixture of a booming delivery, social consciousness, and Southern sensibility. Meanwhile, El-P has remained a fixture in the independent scene, while wearing many hats (emcee, producer, label head). What unites this unlikely pair is an aggressive, calculating, take-no-prisoner approach to Hip Hop, which is materialized in their group album, R.A.P. Music.
“Big Beast” is a Molotov cocktail to the face, and fittingly serves as the album’s intro. Though the posse cut has been floating around the internet for quite some time, Killer Mike’s devastating presence makes every listen feel like the first. “Welcome to Atlanta—up your jewelry, motherfucka! / These monkey niggas looking for some Luda and Jermaine / And all a nigga found was a Ruger and some pain!” snarls Mike Bigga, who channels some awesome combination of Ice Cube and M.O.P. to Bun B and T.I. don’t slouch on the cut either, dropping some of their most menacing bars in some time. There’s not a line wasted or not worth quoting, and El-P’s stabbing synths perfectly punctuate each emcee’s rhymes.
A shining example of the breadth and effectiveness of Mike’s rhetoric is found in the outro on “Untitled”: “I don’t trust the church or the government / Democrat, republicans, Pope or a bishop, or them other men / And I believe God has sustained me with rap / So I take a burning bush, put it in a Swisher wrap / And they can’t kill a G, I seen how I die / I’m only going once, a coward dies a thousand times / And till that chariot come and take a nigga home / I’ma spit this ghetto gospel over all these gutter songs / I’m gone.” Despite the fact that he touches on matters such as politics and religion—and perhaps takes controversial stances on them—Mike is instantly relatable; anyone who’s ever felt the sting of empty promises from hollow leadership can see themselves uttering Mike’s words.
As much credit as Mike deserves for R.A.P. Music’s consistent excellence, El-P deserves the same. The production on the album is as hardcore as anything El Producto has ever done, but simultaneously much more accessible. Further, he and Mike are in perfect concert. Whether it’s accenting Mike’s “pows!” in “Big Beast,” or dropping a beat to make a line hit the listener with extra gravitas, El-P knows exactly how to optimize the intended aesthetic of every track. Check the southern funk on “Southern Fried,” or the minimalist approach on “Jojo’s Chillin,’” which allows Mike to take the forefront as he flexes his storytelling muscle. Perhaps the prime example of the duo’s chemistry is “Reagan,” which evolves in its intensity while Mike drops sociopolitical commentary. It appears that, like Ice Cube with the Bomb Squad, Killer Mike has found his production ace in the hole. As was the case with Cube, Mike’s new production partner doesn’t have him abandoning his sound; rather, El-P enhances it.
There’s no doubt—R.A.P. Music is the best Southern Rap album since Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. Further, R.A.P. contains someone of the most thoughtful, well-executed commentary (both in style and substance) found in music since the days of Rage Against the Machine. Throughout his career, Mike has steadily carved out an NWA-esque balance between lyrics that stick to your ribs and lyrics that smack you in the face. With El-P as its catalyst, R.A.P. Music puts Mike on display has he doles out unheard levels of indignation, fury, and passion.