Killer Mike was home again. And so was I.
After spending a summer in Iowa, intaking a heavy dose of country and soft rock from all angles outside my own iTunes, I was glad to return home and hear to boom bap of rap beats again. Atlanta, the city of famous and influential hip hop luminaries such as Outkast, Goodie Mob, TI, Ludacris and of course Killer Mike, birthed me and molded me in the ways of gritty southern rap.
Oh and by the way El-P was there. He has given the world a few timeline hip hop classics as part of Company Flow, solely as a producer, and as a producer/rapper. The man has influenced many more in the game that realize it while keeping true to the art form. The Definitive Jux crew was one of the main forces to draw me towards underground hip hop. Aesop Rock’s calm tirades of the societal status quo on Labor, the track and the LP, opened my eyes to another galaxy yet undiscovered by my high school self.
I had known about El-P and Killer Mike’s tour for a while but I didn’t think I’d have a chance to hit up a spot on the tour. I was supposed to have been in central Iowa until Friday, August 9, and the Atlanta stop on the tour was that Wednesday the 7th, but unforeseen circumstances necessitated a return to the Peach State a week earlier. I could have made the journey to see him in either Iowa City, IA or Minneapolis, MN but I wasn’t up to it to travel during a tough month of July for me.
The concert’s listed time was at 7 PM, so the actual start time of about 8:30 was entirely what you would expect. The venue was a popular scene, the Masquerade that straddles Midtown Atlanta and Little Five Points, with Midtown being the residence of most Atlanta workers that live within the city limits and Little Five Points being culture-filled area that is home to music, arts, antique and accessory shops. The Masquerade contained two show rooms, Heaven and Hell, so we descended into Hell and set up camp. DMX put it best when he declared “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot”, a perfectly apt description on a soggy warm Georgia night.
Kool AD lead off the concert with his impressively long scraggly beard and occasional lyrics. The Pabst Blue Ribbon he was sipping on seemed to be draining his memory. A too large portion of his rhymes were mangled, beaten or simply forgotten. He had a nice flow, but his shaky performance immediately turned me off toward learning more about him and his music.
There was, however, a very enthusiastic Kool AD fan in front of me and @DogsWithHats, who seemingly knew more lyrics than even Kool AD could recite. He and his significant other dipped out at the conclusion of his set, so there were at least two positive answers when Kool asked the crowd if he was the best rapper alive.
Next up was Despot, but you’d guess he was a stage crew member long before you came across the role of rapper. Despot reminded me of that extremely outgoing kid in high school who never grew an inch beyond middle school but was determined to kick it with the grown ups. His pale diminutive frame didn’t stop him from rocking the mic well, almost dethroning Pusha T and Malice circa 2006 as crack rap kings. With all due respect to his rapping ability, the highlight of his set were the introductions to his songs and stories of his background in between them. Let’s just say according to Despot, El-P’s first meeting with him involved a naked elevator shower with a cup of water in place of a shower head.
El-P’s opening set was a mix of jams from Cancer For Cure and I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, but mostly the former. Admittedly, I haven’t listened to either record enough to be familiar with his songs. But his opening set before Killer Mike’s appearance was still very enjoyable. Hell, he and his backup brought the keytar back to rap music (was it ever in rap music?). What more needs to be said?
In my mind, Killer Mike’s solo act was the highlight of the night. It essentially consisted of joints from R.A.P. Music, produced by Mr. El Producto himself. From the tipoff where he opened with “Big Beast”, declaring:
“Hardcore G shit, homie I don’t play around
Ain’t shit sweet ‘bout the Peach, this Atlanta clown
Home of the dealers and the strippers and the clubs doe
Catch you comin’ out that Magic City with a snub, hoe”
You knew shit had popped off officially. Ah that sweet sound of harsh bitting Southern spitting. These are my roots. The Roots (the influential Alex Haley book/movie) and the Roots (led by Black Thought) are my roots of hip hop and culture learning in this great nation.
In fact, his set was a family affair. He brought out his kids, including letting his youngest son crowdsurf (the one who’s pictured on the front of R.A.P. Music). His wife and ex-wives were highlighted and everyone who helped mold him into the father and family man his is today.
He threw in an acapella of Reagan, flipping the bird to all parts of the crowd about his disgust with that wicked president and all more recent incarnations. Killer Mike being back in Atlanta necessitated a return to the club crunk hit “Never Scared” although the lack of Bonecrusher and TI deflated the hype of mindlessly throwing elbows in a sea of mostly college kids. He finished with the title track, transforming the arena into a Deep South congregation filled place of worship.
Fort Knox was another Atlanta native known to venture around the Atlanta rap scene and hype up the crowd, whether officially MCing a joint or not. Without exaggeration, every single concert I’ve been to in the Atlanta area has had him hosting the ceremonies, so to see a different person in that role was mildly surprising. He grabbed the mic before the final act and injected raw energy into the crowd in typical Fort Knox fashion. Pretty sure dude would have tackled any clown in the crowd looking to turn down so I obliged in turning up for the grand finale.
The concert ended with, of course, Run the Jewels. Fake gold chains hung from necks as both men came for the jewels of the rap game. Run the Jewels takes El-P’s percussion and bass drone heavy beats and matches it with his slick and adventurous flow as well as Killer Mike’s hard deliberate rhymes. He got the audience to scream “Do Dope, Fuck Hope” from DDFH as an ironic motto of how not to live your life. Our hands made like an ocean’s waves for Sea Legs. The finished with the pensive Christmas Fucking Miracle, and it was certainly a fucking miracle everyone was able to get out alive without fainting from heat exhaustion. But everyone definitely enjoyed all 30 minutes of the RtJ set and the rest of the night.
They came for the jewels and took ‘em. No doubt. I highly recommend you download the album (for free on their website) and/or make it to one of their final stops on the tour if possible. It was a welcome homecoming for myself and Killer Mike. But it truly is a return to the home of the soul of rap music.