Strap in, and strap up. R.A.P. Music, the sixth album by Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, is a rare combination of Southern gangsta rap and socially-conscious hip hop. Maybe we should follow Killer’s cue and label it “R.A.P. music,” an acronym for “rebellious African people’s” music. The album starts off the bass-bumpin’ “Big Beast”, featuring Bun B, T.I., and Trouble. “For me,” Killer tells SPIN magazine, “to start the album off with it, I just wanted a banging-ass track!” Beginning with the second track “Untitled,” Killer immediately moves onto more thought-provoking lyrics without abandoning the Southern gangsta tone and instrumentals by Brooklyn producer El-P. (“That’s why I’m giving honor to all these baby mommas/ It takes a woman’s womb to make a Christ or Dalai Lama.”)
The song “JoJo’s Chillin’” is reminiscent of Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story,” telling the series of events during a man’s plane ride from Atlanta to New York. “Reagan” is reminiscent of N.W.A., with its politically and racially-charged lyrics and accusations of systematic oppression. (“They declared the war on drugs like the war on terror/ What it really did was let the police terrorize whoever.”) Even though the song is pointed at President Reagan and Reagan Republicans – the song is interspersed with audio recordings of Reagan during the Iran-Contra scandal – Killer unwaveringly takes on all politicians, lumping Obama together with both Bushes. (“They only love the rich, and how they loathe the poor/ If I say any more, they might be at my door.”)
“A lot of people try to peg me as a political rapper and I’m not,” Killer tells SPIN. “I’m a social commentator and at times people have politicized the things I say, but I don’t care too much for any political party. I care about people.” Despite his intentions, he ends the track on a militant note: “I’m glad Reagan’s dead.”
Killer gives us some more of his inner N.W.A. with the track “Don’t Die,” his incarnation of “F— tha Police.” Before the beat drops, you hear an old-school video game-based beat (Ninja Gaiden?). Now, a video-game instrumental might sound light-hearted, but the way El-P mixes it together gives an ominous effect and establishes the song’s dark tone – with lyrics like “Back to the scene, going wild in the bedroom/ Grab the cop’s gun, left him leaking with a head wound.” Again, like “Reagan” – and maybe as a nod to his West Coast influences – Killer ends the song with the infamous anti-establishment line: “F— the police is still all I gotta say.”
“Anywhere But Here” is an easy-going, socially-conscious track about the hardships and atrocities witnessed by inner-city youth. From images of police brutality and murder, to black boys selling drugs in the park, Killer deftly illustrates the cold, hard streets he’s accustomed to… Well, as much as someone can grow accustomed to such things.
My favorite part of the song comes in the second verse, where Killer provides his theory as to why boys in the projects don a cold-blooded persona: “From now forthward, these young black boys seem to self-sabotage they selves/ Or maybe they’re just smart, and they choose to go hard, ‘cause they know the good guy will fail.”
Killer provides us with a mini-biography in the track “Willie Burke Sherwood,” an ode to his deceased grandfather. In the song, the rapper talks about struggling to cope as a young boy unaligned with his surroundings: “Jumped to the block, so did every emcee/ But gotta tell the truth, yeah, the block wasn’t me.” Seeing his friends and family members die violently, Killer explains the transformation: “Had to assert yourself to survive/ So I convinced myself it was better for me to be Jack in the Lord of the Flies.”
The entire album will make you think you’re listening to a new-millennium version of Straight Outta Compton, but this is no mere imitation. Killer Mike comes hard with vicious social criticism, bleak portrayals of inner-city life, and informed political and racial commentary. Of course, he throws in a few tracks for the long nights at the club, as well. After all, he’s reppin’ ATL, ain’t he?
Killer Mike is on tour this summer with El-P (the sole producer on R.A.P. Music) and Brooklyn’s own Mr. MFN eXquire. Since releasing his 2011 mixtape, “Lost in Translation,” which was met with a huge critical response, Mr. Motherf—-n eXquire has been compared to past Brookyln greats like Jay-Z and even Biggie Smalls.
Killer Mike will be performing at at the North Coast Music Festival on September 1st.