I don’t like talking to artists. Hate it actually and anybody who knows me is already aware of this. It’s the reason why even though we have a couple of hundred interviews in our archives, I think I’ve maybe conducted five or six of those.
But, I enjoy talking to Killer Mike as the conversation isn’t always limited to Killer Mike proper. In fact, he’s the only rapper I like to talk to. We discuss culture, politics, barbershop bullshit topics and a range of sh*t that doesn’t solely involve him, whatever his latest project is or any ego-stroking.
Right now, it’s fun watching him and El-P find this recent run of critical success and fan support. For Mike specifically, I can clearly recall the days when he was mostly left for dead in rap purgatory. From a fan perspective, his career had stalled and nobody seemed to care, the masses having moved on to whatever trend was capturing the moment. But somewhere along the line I stumbled across The Killer tape and so began a long public and personal history I’ve been fortunate to have with Mike, the artist and the man.
So that’s why when I watch the footage – courtesy of Revolt TV – of him performing in his Atlanta hometown, I’m elated and it’s not just for the fact that the clip opens with Trackstar putting in work. The feelgood moment comes around the 3:30 mark when Killer’s discussing how he’s made an ultimate sacrifice by hitting the road to support not just his career, but also his family. That time away hopefully makes a little more sense to his five-year-old daughter now that she’s seen him up on stage in front of waves of people singing along to dad’s every word and hearing him serenade her with Phoenix Express’ “You Make My Life…” in front of her and the crowd.
I should stop here and toss in a few remarks about El-P.
The “Run The Jewels” tour stopped through Nashville several weeks ago and it was…an experience, and this is where El-P factors in the most. Everybody here knows how dynamic Killer is because we’ve covered him for so long. But, El deserves his share of credit, too, for outlasting industry trends and fan fickleness. At the show here, the crowd was roughly a 10% mix of black dudes and white college chicks.
The other 90%? I swear they were all El-P diehards, all early to mid-20s white dudes. He had never been through the city before and, judging the crowd, I’d guess that most of these dudes grew up on El’s music over the years and were blown away to be in the presence of one of their rap idols.
“Full Retard” sent the crowd into full retard mode and his set completely rolled downhill from there. I’ve seen several hundred live shows in this lifetime but I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a full crowd totally enamored and engaged the way these guys were for El. Absolutely phenomenal.
Rawkus Records, Funcrusher Plus, Def Jux, yeah, I remember most if not all that. In my mind, I always El-P to be a cranky, angst-filled white, disgruntled and bitter about “the industry.” That was wrong, at least partially. He’s actually a damn friendly dude and we stood around a shot the shit for a bit. While he may have once been frustrated, he essentially hit upon one characteristic that helped him find a happy place: age. With age comes wisdom and understanding.
I think it’s the one of the elements that both artists share and it helps them navigate through this shit. Maturity helps to understand how to pick your spots for when to strike. You learn to use each brick – in this case, individual fans – to add on another brick.
They full grasp what rap was when it started, what it become at its critical peak and where it is now, the point where everything is fully commercial. They’re not. We heard it on R.A.P. Music and Cancer 4 Cure, then Run The Jewels. We’ve already reviewed the album so I won’t spend a lot of time there but it should be said that RTJ sounds exactly like rap did around ’88. It’s dark, dense and almost threatening, like walking through the wrong back alley in Brooklyn or dipping through the wrong cut path in any of Atlanta’s infamous zones. And it’s rap for rap’s sake. No pretentiousness.
These guys reversed the cycle by focusing on the music and their core fanbases, merging them into one might vehicle. They revert back to a space where music wasn’t judged by sales, chart position and popularity.
Both of these guys understand that each brick they bring to their collaboration helps create a solid foundation for them, together and separately. And they’re building a house. Together.
Anyways, here’s that Revolt footage from the Atlanta show that I mentioned a few hundred words ago.