I still remember copping the Outkast Greatest Hits in high school and going straight to “The Whole World” and losing my mind. Dre and Big Boi murked their verses until Killer Mike came on and did to them what Freeway did to Jay and Beans on “1-900 Hustler.” “Playa, I grind/My focus is crime/Raw with the rhyme/Slick with the slime” is all it took for me to ride with Killer Mike through whatever (except that “A.D.I.D.A.S.”). I can even remember his jaw-dropping performance at Smoking Grooves in ‘02 when Outkast started “The Whole World” and no one knew if Killer Mike had got on the bus or they were just going to skip through his verse and just when it looked like they’d left him in the ATL, he comes barrelling out from backstage with the mic in hand, tearing through his verse with a sense of urgency like his life depended on it.
And shit, I’m from the ‘burbs. Of course I came up on Co Flow and Funcrusher Plus. I can’t even get started on Can Ox and Cold Vein. Def Jux will forever have a special place in my heart.
I love hip-hop. Always have. Not many writers out there have a decade-plus in the game and in that decade I’ve been to a lot of shows. Some really great ones, and some that I’m still trying to block from memory like those girls with that cup shit. And it’s not always the artists that are the problem. Sometimes they definitely are, but it’s usually the forgettable opening acts. Sometimes it’s the fans, like that one dude in front of me at an Immortal Technique show headnodding and pumping his fist to “Dance with the Devil.” Dude like that probably gets hype watching Titanic. But I also didn’t rush to get to the venue. Had some more important things going on, like my three year-old not being able to sleep. By the time I got to the spot, I’d missed the Despot performance, which was supposedly dope, but I caught RATKING, more limited by their acoustics than anything else.
Black dude walks on stage to help set up after Ratking. He’s stocky. Crowd thinks he’s Killer Mike. They cheer. Oops.
When the real Killer Mike came out, complete in oversized tee and a variety of two-steps he pulls off with smooth agility, the crowd went bonkers. For real this time. Add in El-P and his stunner shades and this odd couple natural chemistry was evident from the jump.
Whether they were running through their top hits like “Banana Clipper” or “36” Chain” or steamrolling fresh tracks off RTJ2 like “Close Your Eyes” and “All My Life,” the crowd had the same reaction – go fucking hard. No matter the song, no matter if they knew it was really Killer Mike and El-P or two soundmen with exceptional mic skills, the crowd did whatever these guys said, even making some kind of slow wavy-wave you’d expect to see at a new age festival. From there to the signature handgun and fist symbol of RTJ, the duo showed why they’re releasing some of the freshest rap music of the year.
El-Producto’s always been fresh on the beats, always finding a way to make sense of left-field highs and lows that somehow make sense, but perhaps he’s finally found the perfect contemporary audience for his work. Killer Mike can rap over cat sounds all day, but the low synths from El-P fit his aggressive flow like a glove. And El-P rapping over his own shit sounds just like it’s supposed to.
As far as their live show, whether it’s quirky dance moves, getting the crowd to do silly shit, or damn-near inciting a riot, these guys put on a clinic as far as what a live hip-hop show is supposed to be. What helps that even more is how live their songs are, which are perfect for the live show, spinning classes, or both at the same damn time.
Despite both artists having a more-than-solid body of solo work to their name, they never stray from their RTJ material. Don’t expect “Deep Space 9mm” or anything off the I Pledge Allegiance series. El-P and Killer Mike came strictly to run the jewels and after an hour-plus of one of the best live shows I’ve seen, it’s safe to say the jewels got run.