El-P and Killer Mike, Crescent Ballroom, 6/25/12
El-P and Killer Mike
Monday, June 25
Brooklyn indie-rap linchpin El-P and Atlanta journeyman Killer Mike are kind of on top of the world right now. There's nothing like seeing two dudes with critically acclaimed new albums on the same bill, popping in on each other's tracks and smoking cigarettes on stage (Note: Mike didn't actually smoke it, but he said El was real bad for bringing that thing up there). While Killer Mike's explosive new album probably will get the most accolades, El-P undoubtedly will be hip-hop's man of the year. Seeing the two of them, plus the eccentric entourage joining them on this tour, was a total thrill. It was obvious they were ecstatic, too.
Definitive Jux alum Despot opened the show with compact mid-tempo flows, cheekily making fun of clichéd rap-show audience banter. "If somebody asked you, 'How you doing tonight?,' you wouldn't just yell 'Yeahhh!' at them," he deadpanned. "You'd say, 'I'm not doing very well.'" While loud on the mic, his stage style was that of an über-chiller, cracking that a number of his songs were about "me selling drugs and getting rich."
Conversely, the relatively fresh-faced Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire brought manic energy but wasn't immediately pleased with the results. Near the end of his set, he struck up a workers chant, "Fuck my job!" but apparently didn't hear a strong enough rallying cry of the proletariat. He stopped the song dead, re-ignited a new chant of "Fuck my boss" and then bounced among the crowd for the rest of the track. With that, the 99 percenters responded in kind.
Killer Mike's time was a little rough around the edges, with more than a couple of false starts, but his downright joyful set was taken over the top by his exuberance and wit. He excitedly freestyled verses to songs before his DJ could play them. He praised Obama, and then criticized him for not legalizing weed. He also performed his breakthrough verse from the OutKast hit "The Whole World," which might be the best hip-hop song ever written in 3/4 time.
Killer Mike has been an Atlanta mainstay for years, but I did not expect to see him demonstrate such a wide and compelling emotional spectrum. He played one song dedicated to the memory of his deceased grandparents (admitting he almost cries when he plays it), one dedicated to The Gipper's fucked reign ("Reagan"), and a jam about how his wife is sexier than any stripper (imploring the ladies to "take your man to the strip club"). Killer Mike's performance felt like being treated to the hard-won skills and temperament of a veteran MC, one that possesses both the will to give every part of himself away to an audience plus the energy required for such an emotionally intensive feat.