It’s only right that my Hip-Hoppreneur ™ column returns to the world’s most dangerous site upon my discovery of the world’s new most dangerous MC.
It all happened two weeks ago while driving from New Jersey to Washington D.C. As is my custom, each Tuesday I listen to all of the major new album releases regardless to genre. I put it all in shuffle and knock it, regardless.
God as my witness I was about to select Heroes – a new album of re-released classics and more recent collaborations by Willie Nelson – when I noticed the album cover for R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike.
I could not believe not just what I heard but what I felt – after only 4 tracks: "Big Beast", "Untitled", "Go!", and "Southern Fried", I went from being somewhere in between Zone 2 (bearable existence) to Zone3 (general happiness and well being) on the Dianetics Tone Scale.
It was the rise and fall of a psychoneurosis.
I know you are like, what the hell is Cedric talking about?
I’m talkin ‘bout what I quote in Volume 3 of The Entrepreneurial Secret from George Pickering:
“Psychoneurosis arises when there is a conflict between a wish and its fulfillment. The more passionate the desire the more likely is its frustration to lead to psychoneurosis. This in turn may make possible the fulfillment of the wish, or act as a spur to the mental catharsis which produces a great creative work. This seems to be the basis of the relationship between psychoneurosis and creativity. In brief, a psychoneurosis represents passion thwarted, a great creative work, passion fulfilled.”
I’ve longed to hear what R.A.P. Music represents and judging by the responses on Killer Mike’s always lively Twitter page, so have a legion of others.
The album and the reaction to it feels like R.A.P. Music has worked out an issue for an entire mass of us.
So is listening to Killer Mike’s new album a form of therapy?
Well, actually yes.
What I conceptualized with the 2004 mixtape, The Streets Are Political, I thought I saw in the 50 Cent-Beanie Sigel collaboration; emergence of Jay Electronica; the Nas-Damien Marley collaboration, and Rick Ross’ B.M.F. manifests more fully in R.A.P. Music.
Killer Mike is a mathematician without equal on scene today working the formula few dare to calculate: Conscious Rap + Gangster Rap + Coke Rap = Community Development.
And that’s dangerous in 2012.
He’s walking a tightrope in rapping about robbing rappers ("Big Beast"), applauding the demise of a U.S. President ("Reagan"), representing the sensuality of his region ("Southern Fried"), introspecting his own manhood ("Willie Burke Sherwood"), and celebrating the best part of Black musical culture ("R.A.P. Music").
Understanding that my own viewpoint may be biased from years of being deprived of the album I’ve yearned for – which balances street aggression and political activism – I sought my Creative Partner, Producer, and Songwriter, Martin Cameron Smith, for his sober perspective of the album, where it places Killer Mike, and the unchartered territory that remains for further growth. I asked him to test and challenge my view as much as confirm it.
Martin Cameron Smith: I’ll give you an overview of what I think of Killer Mike as an artist, who I compare him to and how this album is his best work to date. That “best album” will take recording a few others first (think Stevie Wonder 1970s leading up to “Songs In The Key of Life”).
Classic albums are like classic fights – they take a lot out of all involved and everyone walks away changed forever – for better or worse.
JoJo’s Chillin‘ – Mike as narrator over uptempo, boom bap drums with a frenetic, rushed pace. Reminiscent of Slick Rick. The story is matter of fact, not redeeming or cautionary but a glimpse into a day in the life. Shows another side of his pragmatism.
Don’t Die (Williams Street) – Mike uses his voice on songs like Don’t Die as an instrument – adjusting tone and timbre to match not only the subject matter but the track’s tempo. Mike creates mood in the way Coltrane would with a sax. This song is also one of the more melodic of the collection, which is a change for Mike.
Big Beast & Untitled – Mike is believable. He is a bull in a china shop. He matches up well against Bun B and T.I.. On paper I would think the guest would out rap Killer Mike, instead he is able to immerse himself into the track, find the perfect spaces and create cadence.
Southern Fried – Mike gets a chance to display his word play and we get to hear his braggadocio mack game. Make no mistake, Killa Mike is not a gentleman or a gentle man.
Go! – Is a lyrical excercise. Mike exhibits his lyrical dexterity, use of metaphor and how much he can add a new rhythmic dimension to any beat. He even imitates J J Fad and says he’s even saying something when he’s saying nothing.
R.A.P Music – R.A.P. Music is a brilliant idea that speaks to the evolution of Black Music speaking to the people of its time. It will evolve and morph into whatever form it needs to in order to cut through the clutter of the day. Juxtaposing rap music to every other hip form of Black Music that preceded it is an interesting idea and shows Killer Mike understands the importance of music not only in his life but that of the listener. That he did it over a track that sounded completely electronic makes it that more impressive.
Ghetto Gospel – Mike establishes how relevant his syncopated flow is to his brand of story telling. If there are any questions about how he raps this song drives the point home for the listener that Killer Mike is Hip-Hop. The syllabic style he uses is routed in the earliest masters of rap (Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel). Whether intentional or not Mike is one of the few to keep a style and tradition alive that allows the telling of the story where it doesn’t get sacrificed for style. His rap style has its roots in The Bronx and Harlem. He reminds me of Just Ice.
I’ve said here at AllHipHop.com – more clearly than anywhere else – that I sadly believe the current model and pattern of conscious MC’ing, political rap, or activism in Hip-Hop now resembles a religious movement that seeks to be ‘right’ more than it desires new converts. I’ve asked, “The Decline Of The Conscious MC: Can It Be Stopped?", and I’ve even pondered, “Souljah Boy As Saviour: Ending Rap’s Demographic Death”, and I’ve predicted “Africa, The Next Throne Of Hip-Hop”. But the crisis continues. Too many artists with knowledge and lyrical ability seem to hate the science of business and marketing and too many entities built on the science of marketing and business seem to hate people or even themselves. Those with a little of both appear scared to threaten or are too content with their own success to risk it on a bigger prize.
There are few it seems who want not just to be ‘right’ or ‘successful’ but also dangerous.
With that base laid, I can say that Killer Mike has made the most dangerous album since Death Certificate by Ice Cube – a comparison a friend of mine, Eric Canada – who co-executive produced ‘The Streets Are Political’ mixtape with me – gave to me after I asked him to listen to the album. And while doing so, he also reminds one of Public Enemy, not just It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back but their more street-relevant debut, Yo! Bum Rush The Show, where you felt like you were about to get stomped out more than asked to read a book. It’s energy that Killer Mike channels well when he states (over Bomb Squad-like sound effects), “We the readers of the books and the leaders of the crooks.” He embodies it well by interpolating the energy of KRS-One’s “9mm Goes Bang” (‘wah dah dang…wah dah dah dah dang…).
Unlike any artist I’ve seen in 20 years, Killer Mike understands that if you are going to be relevant in 2012 to entrepreneurs, intellectuals, activists and the streets you have to marry the gangster edge of the debut album with the evolved consciousness that comes with the sophomore album. Both are classic material formula. That math is Criminal Minded + By Any Means Necessary; Yo! Bum Rush The Show + It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, and AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted + Death Certificate.
Killer Mike’s album is powerful because the production, charisma and lyricism are all in alignment. It works because it’s confrontational as much as it is intellectual. It motivates because it transmits energy much more than data. The shortcoming of the street poet is that he doesn’t understand his energy is universal not local. The imperfection of the politically conscious MC is his approach elevates knowledge over application. Both types resist the kind of expansion and reach that their formula and success implies and too often they both believe that making adjustments in language – depending upon audience – is an act of compromise or weakness. I went in on that mentality in “Don’t Dumb Down, Just Speak The Language of The People.”.
The next step for Killer Mike is taking the test that every MC since KRS-One has failed – do you want to be a leader as much as an artist?
Can the insecurities that are inherent in the artist personality be balanced by the confidence that is inherent in the leader? Can the tendency to stay loyal to a core audience inherent in the artist’s mentality be expanded by the evangelical impulse that stimulates every great leader? Can the habit of romanticizing change in the past that motivates us in the present be matched by a compelling vision for the future which places the interests of the unborn and youth above our own? Can he become internationally relevant and necessary – giving deeper meaning to the “A” in R.A.P. Music on the basis of not just sound and lyrical message but also global stance?
It sounds like Killer Mike has that potential but time and circumstance will tell. Let me bring the voice of sobriety in my inner circle back for more reality and encouragement:
Martin Cameron Smith: This album was the best thing to happen to Killer Mike because it was a piece of art created by him and for him. Many of his Atlanta peers are not as relevant as he is. He has managed to outlast many who appeared to have much brighter, longer lasting careers than his. Apparently he’s doing something right, now the key is to build a reputation for putting out consistent hits during this decade. That will be his training for “The Big One”, the definitive Killer Mike album.
The studio and the street are his next proving ground.
I think it was also a misstep to not include photos and video. This generation is used to accessing those easily and dismiss artists when they don’t have updated visuals. I personally need to see a logo of some sort to represent him. WuTang’s best move was that “W.”
Can Killer Mike be an Icon without an Icon?
One of a seemingly endless array of questions the Atlanta MC has sparked.
If nothing else – with one album – he’s made things a lot more dangerous today than they were yesterday while providing some much needed therapy.
A 20-year psychoneurosis has come to an end, at least for me.
If there is a ‘Mike’ to be like in 2012 – it’s this one…
Cedric Muhammad is author of The Entrepreneurial Secret and CEO of Africa PreBrief – an economic consulting firm guiding U.S.-based investors. He’s a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and, along with Martin Cameron Smith, provides Branding, Leadership, and A&R consulting to artists.