Eight camera flashes blinded Killer Mike as he smiled on stage, then whipped out a lip balm tube in a familiar shade of synthetic yellow. “I know y’all listening, so I brought the Carmex,” he said. “Keeping it trill.” Hours prior to his own R.A.P. Music listening party, not even the marketing interns at Tree Sounds Studios in Norcross, Ga., knew how Killer Mike would act. They said that he was supposed to perform, premiere a music video and then talk to press about his fifth full-length, but he may not. After all, his grandmother, Bettie Clonts, had died just 24 hours prior.
R.A.P. Music is riding quickly off the momentum of last year’s PL3DGE, after he and Def Jux founder El-P recorded a few tracks in Atlanta, then churned out the rest in New York last summer. PL3DGE had him pacing, stewing ranting to liquid trap beats and clanging instrumentation. The album even inspired Twitter followers to protest B.E.T’s initial ban of its music video for “Burn” — for a song fueled by protest field recordings, that has Killer Mike calling casualties of the current recession to arms: “Me, I suggest you get yourself a shotgun / so when they come to evict, you can make them run.”
“The bravado of N.W.A. — all black, Jheri curls, not giving a fuck — that was what all little boys want to be.”
But as last night’s snippets-long preview made clear, PL3DGE is the lit fuse to R.A.P Music’s detonation. Solely produced by Definitive Jux founder El-P, R.A.P Music has Killer Mike snarling and barking on top of laser gunfire and humid, honking imitations of blaring horns. You could hear the latter on “Southern Fried,” his modern-day interpretation of past Stankonia sessions. Worms of synths squirm across both an homage to Slick Rick (“Jo Jo’s Chillin'”) and the thunderous “Reagan,” where an uneasy piano plunked down into what felt like a sick, lingering fog before Killer Mike drawls out, “I’m glad Reagan’s dead.” He’s already compared his and El-P’s chemistry to that of Ice Cube and the Bomb Squad — a high compliment, considering that he’s long cherished N.W.A.’s reporting-to-tape of Los Angeles’ own crack epidemic in the ’80s. “The bravado of N.W.A. — all black, Jheri curls, not giving a fuck — that was what all little boys want to be,” Killer Mike told Hive in a small lounge on the studio’s second floor, trap raps-in-progress blaring from the hallway. “You’re looking at warriors.”
Killer Mike basked in the end result when he played R.A.P. Music opener and first single “Big Beast,” as T.I. hopped onto the studio stage out of nowhere, then proceeded to lean, rock and mouth the lyrics to his own verse. Killer Mike joked with the shyly smiling Nelly, as he gleefully told everyone else of how the St. Louis rapper makes his sisters smile. He was surrounded by musical influences and contemporaries, his wife and kids, local DJs and fans who closed their eyes as they took in every new sound and lyric that he threw out. But, naturally, he couldn’t help to keep talking about the one person who wasn’t there, the grandmother who had raised him and instructed him to follow her lead, as a civil rights protester herself.
“I love rap music,” he said, as he wiped a few tears off his face. “And now, it’s all I got.”