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Killer Mike

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Killer Mike & El-P

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Big Boi & Killer Mike

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Photographs by Sean Ryon (@wallysean)

This past Wednesday, April 24, Big Boi and special guest Killer Mike stopped by the Brooklyn Bowl on the seventh stop of the "Shoes for Running" world tour. The concert was a raucous, jam-packed gala that found two of the South's reigning kings tearing through a litany of revered classics and new bangers.

The evening kicked off with a performance from FishHawk, a lively Atlanta band that fuses the Southern-fried licks of Lynyrd Skynyrd with the indie-electro stylings of Passion Pit. Despite the group's sonic mash-up of rock and electro, FishHawk's soul is decidedly rooted in funk, making them a logical opening act for two musically eclectic MCs like Big Boi and Killer Mike. FishHawk gave an energetic performance that found lead singer Nick Nickerson channeling his inner Mick Jagger as he strut across the stage belting out tunes. Similarly, lead guitarist Andy Slagle played the perfect anchor to Nickerson's flamboyant antics, creating a Steven Tyler/Joe Perry dynamic between the two. Despite the group's best efforts, the crowd was blasé to the Atlanta group's intentions—perhaps from musical disconnect, or perhaps from stereotypical Williamsburg apathy. Regardless, FishHawk gave a great performance that offered an unusually cohesive prelude to a sonically off-the-wall evening of hip-hop.

After FishHawk closed off its performance, Killer Mike quickly took the stage with all the authority one would infer from his self-imposed moniker "the Elegant Elephant." Mike's set began with thunderous performances of tracks like "Big Beast" and "Untitled" from his most recent critically acclaimed album, R.A.P. Music. The Atlanta rapper brought every iota of his larger-than-life musical personality to his stage show, bruising his way through his discography with a commanding presence and unmatchable energy. At the same time, however, Killer Mike displayed a certain level of sincerity in his performance that made his set more meaningful that the run-of-the-mill live hip-hop performance. Mike cut the instrumental during his rendition of "Reagan," transforming the song into an impassioned piece of political oration. Even his performance of Bone Crusher's "Never Scared"—arguably one of Mike's earliest moments of mainstream success—was somehow emotionally resonant. Midway through his set, Mike brought out his Brooklyn cohort El-P to perform their crew cut off R.A.P. Music, "Butane (Champion Anthem)." Even though the track is a menacing braggadocio—with El-Producto's manic verse making it all the more frenzied—the two MCs were grinning as they shared the stage. After El-P exited, Killer Mike closed off the set with an in-crowd a capella performance.

Shortly after, Mike Bigga's fellow ATL representative and one-time Purple Ribbon Gang partner Big Boi took the stage to thunderous cheers from the packed crowd. Opening with Outkast classics like "ATLiens" and "Rosa Parks," Sir Luscious Leftfoot brought his tried-and-true showmanship to the Brooklyn Bowl, fusing Temptations-like dance steps with the swagger of a hip-hop veteran. The ATL legend quickly transitioned into his own solo material, performing fan favorites like "Shutterbug" and "General Patton," as well as his latest single, "Mama Told Me." It was during these renditions that Big Boi infused an almost free-form funk element into his stage show with the inclusion of a back-up singer and live drummer. At one point, he even played the part of the band leader, orchestrating an improvised call-and-response between his drummer and DJ during a performance of "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)." After performing another few songs from Outkast's discography, Big Boi brought out Killer Mike to perform their stand-out collaboration "The Whole World" and the more recent work "Thom Pettie." Although it's been nearly five years since the two squashed their short-lived beef, it's hard not to view their tour together as a triumphant reunion of sorts given their onstage chemistry. Shortly after, Big Boi capped off the evening with a performance of his own "Shine Blockas," offering Brooklyn a final farewell before exiting the stage to deafening applause.