A few folks I know are doing this; listening to one album they’ve never heard before, in each day of February, and writing about it. The irony is that these people, and myself, listen to probably much more than that on a daily basis on all days of the year. So, I suppose this is more of an exercise in becoming more articulate about music. I can write about films like it’s muscle memory, but when it comes to music I feel like I’m so ill-informed and could so easily be saying something fundamentally wrong that I feel a little self-conscious at all steps of the process.
But lets not let that get in the way!
My album for today was Killer Mike’s “R.A.P Music” the fifth album from hip-hop/rap artist Killer Mike. I’ve been listening to “Run The Jewels”, the collaborative project of Mike and producer El-P, on repeat for the last month, and I’ve wanted to branch out to their solo stuff for some time now. And in many ways, “R.A.P Music” is Run The Jewels 0.5, seeing as El-P produced it, and has a guest-verse, and there are loads of verbal references (“Jamie and Mike”, “banana clip”) that would go on to become motifs in their collaborative works.
Yet this is an excellent album on its own terms. Killer Mike has a deserved reputation for being a heavily political rapper, and there are songs on here that drip with rage and anger; in particular, the trio of tracks on the second side “Reagan”, “Don’t Die”, and “Ghetto Gospel”, an indictment of the American ruling elite, police brutality, and the socio-economic difficulties of African American communities respectively. This is where Mike is at his strongest; regardless of whether you agree with his militancy (for the record, I do), to deny the absolute determination and grit of his verses would be to deny something extraordinarily powerful.
What Mike is good at, I think, is condensing what could be quite dense, but trite, aphorisms that are apparent for all to see (the rulers are bad, police are cruel) into something compelling to listen to from a musical perspective, and also worded eloquently. What’s also interesting to note is that these tracks most resemble “Run The Jewels” cuts, with the harsh electronic beats and pounding drum machine that became their mainstay later on.
It’s not all dour and serious; “Southern Fried” is a homage to Outkast (fitting, since Mike’s guest-verse on Stankonia was Mike’s first real prominent exposure), and “JoJo’s Chillin” is a fairly straightforward, amusing tale about a womanising drunkard. These tracks settle well on the album, and paint a picture of Mike (specifically, his persona) as someone with a variety of interests, and a rounded individual.
Throughout the album the beats are crisp and sharp, the whole album is brilliantly produced in that El-P house style, and Mike has an inimitable flow and unwavering skill for rhyme that doesn’t let up for the whole album. Words pile on words and his scary, funny, angry stories are told with wit, grit, and intelligence. Killer Mike is a superb and talented musician, and this album showcases his style in what, I think, is a good way for beginners to him as a rapper, or rap in general. It’s certainly been an excellent start to this month of new music.