The Swag Shop is currently under renovation. Mike’s near the front door, talking the details over with roofers. He then digs into his pocket, pulls out an envelope full of cash. After he dishes out the last $100 bill, he looks over and asks, “Have you heard the album yet?”
R.A.P. Music is not a Grind Time Official release. Rather, it’s coming out on Williams Street Records—a subsidiary of the Cartoon Network, for whom Mike has done voice-over work on Adult Swim’s now defunct Frisky Dingo. The first couple of songs to hit the Web off the album announce a bold new sound for Mike. “Big Beast,” featuring Bun B, Trouble and T.I., and “Jojo’s Chillin’” rock to a fiery, golden-era-rap thump concocted by backpacker hero El-P. The former Company Flow MC-producer’s percussion, it turns out, is a perfect match for Mike’s volatile verses—so much so that he ended up producing the entire album.
“I wasn’t down to do the whole album,” says El-P. The Brooklyn native has his own solo album, Cancer 4 Cure, coming out this summer too. “I was making my record, and they wanted me to come down. I was like, ‘All right, look, I’ll come down. I like Mike’s shit. I’ll do some shit, but I can’t do the whole record. I’ll do like three or four cuts or something.’ I went down there, and honestly, man, after the first day, the shit that had popped off, just like the vibe between us, was just so amazing.”
It makes sense. The acronym in the title stands for “Rebellious African People,” and while El-P is White, the two artists share a dark, uncompromising musical vision. On tracks like “Untitled” and “Anywhere But Here,” Mike sounds like a mix between early Ice Cube and later Cornel West, while El-P fills the spaces with sinister loops and real, finger-on-the-vinyl scratches.
To illustrate, Mike puts on “Reagan,” a lyrical standout on the album. In the first verse, he spews, “We brag on having bread/But none of us are bakers/We all talk on having green/But none of us own acres/If none of us own acres, and none of us grow wheat/Then who will feed our people when our people need to eat?”
Ask anybody at the barbershop if Killer Mike purposely tries to be a shit starter and they’ll say no. What he is, though, is a truth-spitting MC who’ll let you know real quick if something doesn’t smell right.
“I give a fuck about people,” Mike says. “And I rap about it. So, I should wear this shit as big as y’all wear them lab diamonds y’all wear and the fake-ass sterling silver chains y’all got. If the fake niggas is loud, why not be loud with ’em?”