Two of the best hip-hop albums I’ve purchased in the past 5 years were released in 2012: Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city” … and Killer Mike’s “R.A.P. Music”.
“R.A.P. Music”, like “good kid, m.A.A.d city”, received widespread acclaim from music critics. Produced entirely by El-P, the album is essentially the progenitor of Run The Jewels. With El-P’s amazingly heavy and ear-piercing beats coupled with Killer Mike’s concise and crisp, visceral political raps that span the social consciousness gamut, I couldn’t get enough of that album.
Though “R.A.P. Music” didn’t quite match the type of album sales that Kendrick’s album achieved, it’s still an album that deserves to be heard … and deserves to be listened to. Remember back in the 90s when hip-hop artists were prophets preaching the gospel on societal injustices? Well, “R.A.P. Music” fills the void, and carries the torch, when other popular hip-hop artists fail, or neglect, the obligation.
Ever since I picked up that limited edition LP, I’ve been dying to see Killer Mike in concert. It’s been over two years in the waiting, but with Run The Jewels performing as a headliner for one of Red Bull’s “30 Days In LA” concert series, I knew that this was a show that I couldn’t miss.
When I arrived at The Echoplex, 20 minutes before the doors were supposed to open, the line to get in was already about 75 people long. Thankfully, having been approved with a photo pass, I’d have the opportunity to stake out some territory up front … as long as I hit the head before the mad rush of fans came into the venue.
First up on the bill was Inglewood native, Thurz. Originally a member of the rap duo U-N-I, he broke out on his own in 2011 with the album “L.A. Riot,” and album that overflows with socio-economic and political content. With a marketing campaign that focused on questions like, “What do your Riot For?” and releasing a “Riot Manifesto”, I anticipated a set that would be filled with heavy messages and serious content.
Taking the stage with a full band, the vibe I got was more The Roots than Ice Cube, and it was definitely more playful and funky than what I had anticipated (Editors Note: Poor due diligence on my part as I hadn’t hear his latest EP which is posted above). Thurz played off each player in the band and throughout his set continued to raise his level of energy. From bringing out producer OverDoz and vocalist Jarrell Perry, among others, to perform with him to waving on his entire entourage to the stage to keep the audience hyped, it all culminated when he called upon, Compton native, and hip-hop royalty, DJ Quik to close out the set. I heard from a friend that Quik was working with Thurz on some music. If that’s the case, I’m excited to hear what they come up with. I did find it a bit weird that Quick performed by himself, and not with Thurz, but I wasn’t going to complain.
Thurz was followed by Mystery Skulls, another Los Angeles based artist whose music was not hip-hop, but electronic pop.
I’ve seen Mystery Skulls before, and he’s quite good at what he does. His music has shades of house music that reminds me of artist’s like Breakbot and his vocals, tinged with a soulful R&B vibe, are very club worthy and totally danceable. The music is definitely mainstream pop-worthy.
But the crowd at the Echoplex that night wasn’t interested in smooth vocals with an electronic house beat, and unfortunately the hecklers were out in full force.
It was a shame to hear someone yell for him to get off the stage when he was finished. He certainly didn’t deserve that kind of send off. If anything, I’d blame Red Bull for seemingly forcing him on the bill. I’m sure they could have found another hip-hop act more suitable to perform that evening.
It’s taken me a while to figure out what to write about Run The Jewel’s set. I could have written about how amped the crowd was, and how difficult it was for me to get any decent shots of the performance given the mass of bodies constantly bumping into me and the house photographers bursting their flash throughout the set. I could have written about how it was my birthday. I could have written about the plethora of surprise guests who performed cuts off their latest release with the duo (Gangsta Boo performed “Love Again”, DJ Z-Trip performed “Get It”, Zack de la Rocha performed “Close Your Eyes (Count To Fuck)” and Travis Barker played drums on “All Due Respect”), but given the recent state of civil unrest throughout the nation, and Killer Mike’s subsequent reaction to it, I scrapped it all.
Following the announcement of there being no indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown, Killer Mike took the stage in St. Louis and delivered an emotional speech prior to Run The Jewels’ performance at the Ready Room (which is very close to Ferguson).
I watched Killer Mike’s emotional plea, and I was moved. In fact, when his voice wavered … my own throat became taught.
I’ve always respected what Killer Mike has meant to the rap game. My level of appreciation reached an all time high after watching him pour his heart out. I’ve always assumed it, but now I knew it. He lives what he preaches, and what he preaches what matters. It matters and it’s the truth.
It made me realize that what I witnessed on that stage at the Echoplex was something that audiences don’t often get to experience. Authenticity. Unadulterated verity. With more heart … more guts … than 90 percent of the garbage that’s out there on the radio.
Killer Mike’s collaboration with El-P is music that matters. Their latest release, RTJ2, is hard hitting and even more poignant today than it was it yesterday. Their song “Early” (a track about police brutality)? It couldn’t be more appropriate given the times.