Tag Archives: killer mike

Album of the Week: “Run the Jewels 2” by Run The Jewels

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Daniel’s Thought

There was a point in 2012 when the hip-hop higher-ups decided it was in our best interest to experience a collaboration between longtime hip-hop pioneer El-P and Grind Time Atlanta legend Killer Mike.

Oh what a collaboration that was.

Killer Mike’s 2012 release R.A.P. Music was more than just a release. With El-P behind the 1’s and 2’s, Killer Mike was able to command a record that provided him the necessary tools as one of hip-hop’s elder spokesmen. On the flip side, R.A.P. Music gave El-P another notch on his belt as one of hip-hop’s most versatile artists. Long story short, both of them benefited from the collaboration, and both artists worked together like smooth butter over the perfect piece of toast.

In 2013, the two came together again–this time under the moniker Run the Jewels–to release a joint mixtape of sorts called, well, Run the Jewels. At 10 tracks deep, Run the Jewels is an exhilarating rush that’s innovative without sacrificing energy or suffering from hip-hop cliches. With Killer Mike’s baritone Atlanta cadence and El-P’s futuristic and intimidating delivery (both lyrically and production wise), Run the Jewels is a record that raises standards and snatches your jewelry all in one listen.

This year, they released their follow-up, Run the Jewels 2. As an official album release, this record feels more like an album than its predecessor. It’s distinctly split into two operating halves, and the production is cleaner without losing any of its gritty spit-in-your-face attitude. The opener, “Jeopardy,” starts off on that classic El-P space buzz–something that’ll throw you back into the Cold Vein days–and as Killer Mike cuts in, he makes it clear that nothing has changed. “Bad man chillin’, the villains is here,” he chucks. “No Jesuses here, I hear the demons in my ear.”

On Run the Jewels 2, El-P carries his own on every track. Although his flow has never been questioned (and why should it be?), there have been times throughout his career where critics treat him like second fiddle. With a very dense and metaphorical delivery about space and far-reaching fantasy stories, El-P is undoubtedly one of the most unique and talented MCs EVER. I would argue that Run the Jewels 2 isn’t one of the top examples you should use for this claim, but his moments come in bunches that clearly prove how smart he is as an artist. On “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” a haunting track that slowly jaunts like a Southern club banger, El-P opens it up: “Authorities have spoken, demanded your pure devotion/ Get magnetized to the ground while the falcons of murder close in/ I chose to go guano, yall know kinda bat shit/ The bright lights of fuckery stuck in me automatic.” Later in the verse, El-P explodes with double and triple flow bars, something he’s been doing since his Company Flow days (mind you, this is way before K-Dot’s time).

Elsewhere on the record, Run The Jewels stamp their brand all over the place. “Angel Duster” closes the album, and it moves like a trap beat that’s accompanying the Death Star. Slow boasting horns carry the flow, and in-and-out mechanics such as synths and chorus “oohs” help make the whole picture darker. With the Travis Barker-assisted “All Due Respect,” the harsh buzzes and spacey feels run parallel with a percussion mix that goes off on many vectors. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” follows “Jeopardy” and serves as the perfect “go HAM in your car” song that would make the predictable Diplo fancy a smile. Changing the scene a bit, if only momentarily, is “All My Life,” a track that starts with optimistic humming. The mood here is a bit more playful, with a dose of electronic organ notes that carry more of a “I could be friends with these dudes” vibe than a “holy shit they’re going to kill me” vibe.

What Run the Jewels 2 provides lyrically is intensity, maybe even more so than the debut. The downside here is that unlike their first record, there are very few instances where you see the two artists intertwining their bars in one verse, but that’s such a minute detail compared to the large picture. El-P’s characteristics are still here, and Killer Mike’s intricate methods of operation are ever present. If anything, this record provides more of a follow-up for Mike’s R.A.P. Music than Run the Jewels. On the aforementioned “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” he continues to put critics to rest:

“A revolutionary bangin’ on my adversaries/ And I love Dr. King but violence might be necessary/ Cause when you live on MLK it gets very scary/ You might have to pull your AK, send one to the cemetery/ We overworked, underpaid, and we underprivileged/ They love us, they love us (why?), because we feed the village/ You really made it or just became a prisoner of privilege?/ You willing to share that information that you’ve been given?”

If you’ve given Run The Jewels the credit they deserve, but haven’t yet picked up their second album, maybe you should get to your local music store and grab a copy of this. If you’re new to these guys, then start with their debut record–because who likes starting things out of order? All in all, everyone at some point should spin Run the Jewels 2, which is the perfect compliment to its older sibling that hits harder, gets darker and showcases hip-hop in a light where very little light is given.

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Keeping Your Mind Focused: Michael Brown and Ferguson

Photo credit: america.aljazeera.com

In the early afternoon of August 9th, a young black male, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, was gunned down by police in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. The exact reason as to why officer Darren Wilson drew his weapon and fired at the teenager remains unknown, and there are different versions of what actually happened. The shooting occurred on a Saturday and by Monday people all over the country had taken to social media to organize vigils and huge group photos in honor of the slain teen and in protest. The Twitter hashtag #handsupdontshoot became a way of connecting people and is a reference to the moment just before he was killed in broad daylight. The residents of Ferguson, a predominantly African-American community, have taken to the streets, voicing their anger, frustration and fear because of this specific incident but also because of the atrocious and inexcusable history of police brutality, oppression and hostility that has been directed towards the black community time and time again. The images of police, armed to the teeth with gas masks, bullet proof vests, assault rifles and tear gas, coming out of Ferguson are reminiscent of the 50’s and 60’s. These were the days of legalized segregation and Bull Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama, when white people opposed and literally fought against racial equity. Three weeks later, what has transpired in Ferguson is bigger than Michael Brown and represents much larger structural issues within the United States. Because of this, we acknowledge that this story is continually developing and there is still more information that will come to the fore. Our attempt here is to highlight some key articles and videos that help to give context to this story and that we found helpful to understanding the history and broader systems of inequality and brutality that are clearly on display here. Additionally, we hope to give examples of where hip-hop fits into all of this. While this piece may not fully encompass everything that has gone on, we feel that the following articles are crucial in working towards an understanding of what people are feeling, thinking and wondering as the story continues to evolve.

“America Is Not For Black People” The Concourse August 12th, 2014
http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/america-is-not-for-black-people-1620169913/+GregHoward1

Written on the first Tuesday following the shooting, Greg Howard revisits the different accounts of what happened before Brown was shot. He then speaks on the militarization of police since 9/11, the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Jonathan Ferrell and Eric Garner, as well as the demonization of Michael Brown. As he explains here:

“Part of the reason we’re seeing so many black men killed is that police officers are now best understood less as members of communities, dedicated to keeping peace within them, than as domestic soldiers. The drug war has long functioned as a full-employment act for arms dealers looking to sell every town and village in the country on the need for military-grade hardware, and 9/11 made things vastly worse, with local police departments throughout America grabbing for cash to better defend against any and all terrorist threats. War had reached our shores, we were told, and police officers needed weaponry to fight it.”

In this article, Howard expertly links the death of Michael Brown to the greater societal and historical context of racial oppression and fear of terrorism that continues to haunt the United States.

Ferguson Pastor: This Is Not A Race Issue All Things Considered August 14th, 2014
http://www.npr.org/2014/08/14/340422502/ferguson-pastor-this-is-not-a-race-issue-this-is-a-human-issue?utm_source=npr_email_a_friend&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20140817&utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_term=

This is one of the most powerful things you will most likely listen to involving the story of what has been happening in Ferguson. In this interview, Melissa Block talks with Ferguson preacher Reverend Willis Johnson about a picture that was published of him in the Washington Post. In the photo, Johnson is seen speaking with, and holding back, a young black man from joining in on the protests going on around them. The young man is clearly beside himself, a mixture of anger, fear and pain etched across his face. Johnson talks about his own experiences growing up in the United States as an African-American male, what that has meant throughout his life and that to him, what has been happening in Ferguson is beyond race. Listen to this interview because when Rev. Johnson speaks, you will hear how real racism is and how much it hurts.

“The Deaths of Black Men in America” Melissa Harris-Perry August 16th, 2014
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/16/melissa-harris-perry-black-men-killed-by-police_n_5684588.html

In this video segment, MSNBC host, Melissa Harris-Perry discusses the fact that black men have been killed by police officers at an alarming rate in just the past decade alone. As she points out, “From 2006 to 2012 a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country.” To go along with this, Perry looks to the 1857 Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v Sanford as the origin of many of the issues that we face today. In 1857, it was ruled that African-Americans were not citizens and were never intended to be by the authors of the Constitution.

“How The Rest of the World Sees Ferguson” The Washington Post August 18th, 2014
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/08/18/how-the-rest-of-the-world-sees-ferguson/

With this article, Adam Taylor and Rick Noack share examples of how other countries are covering the death of Michael Brown. This article is helpful in trying to get a better sense of how this news story fits within the larger global context. The article touches on coverage in countries such as Britain, Germany, Turkey, Afghanistan, Russia, Iran and China. The various publications have their own agendas and opinions on what has been happening in Ferguson in large part because of their country’s relationship with the United States. Predictably, much of the coverage has been focused on the racial dynamics and images of police that are impossible to ignore.

Killer Mike Interview on CNN August 20th, 2014
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFfrNFkP2do

Atlanta native, Killer Mike, has always had a knack for saying what needs to be said in a somewhat controversial and in your face way. In short, he is a gangsta when it comes to expounding on socio-political topics such as Reaganomics and the effect that the War on Drugs has had on black and brown communities. In a conversation with CNN, he has a lot to say about police in the United States. We learn that his father was actually a police officer. Because of this, he holds police in high regard and acknowledges the difficulty of the job. Police as he says, “Are blue collar guys.” The issue is, however, that police are typically no longer from the community they serve. Instead, the culture of policing has changed since 9/11. Here, Killer Mikes forces us to think about what it would look like if police actually protected and served their communities.

“Black Life Is Treated with Short Worth”: Talib Kweli & Rosa Clemente on Michael Brown Shooting Democracy Now August 22nd, 2014
http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2014/8/22/black_life_is_treated_with_short

In this twenty minute interview, Talib Kweli and Rosa Clemente discuss many of the key issues that surround the situation in Ferguson. First, they recount their own personal story from the previous night’s protest in which they thought they might see another young man killed. Despite her twenty years of work as an activist, Clemente refers to it as, “the most terrifying moment of my life.” From there, Kweli and Clemente express their opinions on the use of social media within the context of the protests, what happens when we focus on the looting that has taken place, the fact that women are also being terrorized at the hands of what is referred to as “a militarized police apparatus” and that the death of Michael Brown has the potential to shift the narrative on how the police are viewed within the United States. In her final thoughts, a deeply moved and passionate Clemente asks crucial questions:

“And I’m sick and tired of this. Like Fannie Lou Hamer, I am sick and tired of this. We have so much life to live and a limited time amount to do it. And every day, the older my daughter gets, or any of my friends, all I can think about is, is this world better? Because it’s just really not. And what is going to happen to our children? What does this do to other people in the community? How does this affect white people that are anti-racism, working against racism? All of this has been so lost in this.”

Kweli and Clemente are both legends because of the work they do as social justice activists in and outside of the hip-hop community, making this interview a key component in the attempt to understand the broader scope of what has happened since the death of Michael Brown.

“Race/ Off” The Daily Show August 26th, 2014
http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/ufqeuz/race-off

In true Jon Stewart fashion, he dismantles what Fox News has said in the past few weeks following the shooting of Michael Brown. In this 10 minute clip, we see everything that is absurd about the right wing news channel and the stupidity of their anchors (I’m lookin’ at you, Bill). Stewart is a master of using humor while talking about issues that are humorless. At some point, if we don’t laugh at the ignorance that is being thrown in our face (while also challenging it), it may destroy us. Despite the jokes, the reality of racism in the United States cuts through with hard hitting honesty that isn’t funny, in any way, shape or form. We are reminded that, “People of color, no matter their socioeconomic standing, face obstacles in this country with surprising grace” and that, “race is there and it is a constant. You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it.”

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Album of the Week: “R.A.P. Music” by Killer Mike

rapmusic

Gus’ Thought:

Last year Killer Mike joined forces with Brooklyn producer El-P and released the much-anticipated R.A.P. Music. Killer Mike’s sixth studio album encompasses the in your face, fearless and dubious persona audiences have come to expect from the Atlanta MC. Without intros, skits or interludes, this album runs for about forty-six minutes and is packed to the brim with Killer Mike’s unique perspective on the south, city life, politics, religion and the transformation of music throughout history. Hip-hop, like any musical genre, is ever changing. As we usher in a new decade with innovative sounds and concepts, R.A.P. Music merges classic hip-hop with newer production techniques.

The first track, “Big Beast,” is that forceful, fast paced banger with finger snaps, snare drums, and intense bass lines featuring Bun B, T.I., and Trouble.  These southern giants take turns on this posse cut, delivering memorable lines such as, “Listen to my Kimber .45 go bang / Bang, bang, Grindtime, rap game/ We the readers of the books and the leaders of the crooks.” Right off the bat, Killer Mike and El-P welcome the listener into what promises to be a wild ride of dope rhymes, phat beats and controversial topics.

While Killer Mike has politically charged lyrics, it is difficult to align him with a particular political ideology. As with his past albums, Killer Mike takes more of an apolitical stance, providing thoughtful anecdotes on our past, present and future.  This could not be more apparent on the sixth song entitled “Reagan.” In the first verse, Killer Mike focuses on “Reaganomics” and the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s. In the second verse Killer Mike brings these issues to a present day context. His apolitical position is unmistakable as he explains, “Ronald Reagan was an actor, not at all a factor / Just an employee of the country’s real masters / Just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama.”  Killer Mike is getting at an important reality that we must recognize; the President of the United States, regardless of their party affiliation will fall victim to the status quo. This is true throughout history if you check the stats.

By the end of R.A.P Music, Killer Mike appears to be deep in thought. On the title track, he talks about how he sees hip-hop as a religion; his form of worship.  His second verse is comprised of shot outs to well-known musicians that came before him such as Muddy Waters, James Brown, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone and Outkast. Something even more important happens on the final track. This song is important because it is an example of how hip-hop is a way of life, a way of being. Muddy Waters and Miles Davis might not be classified as hip-hop by ITunes, Spotify or Pandora. However, as Killer Mike makes clear, these artists are hip-hop because they changed the game in their respective eras. The best part about R.A.P. Music is the fact that in forty-six minutes, Killer Mike and El-P are able to take the listener to the far reaches of the hip-hop universe, and then bring you back in one piece.

Daniel’s Thought:

The first time I heard Killer Mike I was actually in elementary school. My friend Andrew, who had introduced albums like Ludacris’ Word of Mouf to the group, played “The Whole World” by OutKast, and smacked in the song was a verse by Killer Mike. I was too young at the time to actually remember the name Killer Mike, or the record that “The Whole World” was featured on (Big Boi and Dre Present…OutKast), but lines like “Flisten, glisten, floss, gloss / Catch the beat running like Randy Moss” stuck with me until my knowledge would grow. Several mixtapes and albums later, I look at Killer Mike not only has a talented wordsmith, but also as an MC with something to say.

On the infallible R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike and producer El-P join forces to showcase an album that not only runs fluidly under one producer, but also appoints specific breaks for rare guest spot appearances. The structure of the album is dense and to a point, and conceptually it runs on a blueprint. As far as content, the album features the most soul and sincerity Mike has ever put-out, and songs like “Reagan” and “Anywhere But Here” run with this as they cover governmental corruption and problems with trickle-down economics. Elsewhere, Killer Mike goes off on the being and state of hip-hop (“R.A.P. Music”), abusive law enforcement (“Don’t Die”) and relationships (“Untitled”).

What’s important to note with these takes is that Killer Mike’s political stance and morals aren’t driven by over-blown conspiracy theories or pure hatred. In a way, he’s stringing along moderate beliefs to further the album as a whole. On R.A.P. Music it isn’t about the individual cuts, but rather the big picture, and this is a message that is often overlooked by artists when making a conceptual piece. Without a complete track, the message gets muffled, but in a full circle it’s too clear not to miss.

Must-Listens:
“Big Beast”
“Reagan”
“Don’t Die”

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