The day the United States government shut down for the first time in 17 years, there are few better artists to see live than Killer Mike, and he didn’t take long to address the situation. After opening his set last night at Brooklyn Bowl with “Big Beast” and “Untitled” off his highly acclaimed R.A.P. Music album from last year, he began rapping his withering “Reagan” a capella, spelling out the massive frustrations that exist in the country right now. It’s hard to tell which line is more poignant for the moment. Is it, “We brag on having bread, but none of us are bakers / We all talk having greens, but none of us own acres”? Or maybe, cutting straight to the point, “‘Cause free labor is the cornerstone of U.S. economics”?
Either way it was the most apt way to celebrate the nation’s collective failures—talk about it, name it, get it out of the way and turn up the party. And that’s exactly what happened, as Mike ran through a number of his hits from R.A.P. Music and sprinkled in a few gems along the way, such as Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared.” El-P came out for a Run The Jewels reunion, rapping the title track and “36′ Chain” before rounding out the mini set with “Get It.” “This is a motherfuckin’ hip-hop show,” Mike said to the crowd at one point. “Two rappers and a DJ…it’s like every 9-year-old’s fantasy!” “And yet we’re so old,” El added in, laughing.
After set-closer “R.A.P. Music,” making the crowd scream the chorus, Mike promised one more verse, hopping off the stage into the audience and delivering an a capella, soulful version of “God In The Building” while those around him soaked it in, giving him space to speak and not mobbing him like what may have happened elsewhere. “Thank God for rap music, because we are truly in church tonight,” he told the crowd as he left.
But that wasn’t all—Mike was on the Shoes For Running Tour supporting Big Boi, after all, and the show was just getting started. With a live band, two hypemen and his red throne behind him, Big emerged to a medley that included “ATLiens” and tracks from Aquemini, his third album with OutKast that celebrated its 15th anniversary Sunday such as “Skew It On The Bar-B” and “Rosa Parks.” His live show is loose but coordinated, funky and choreographed, with Big and his hypemen dancing in tandem to the songs.
Big also delved into his solo material, performing “Shutterbug” and “Daddy Fat Sax” from his solo debut Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, and “Thom Pettie” from his second album, Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors. But the undeniable highlight was when he ripped off a string of songs with almost no breaks for breath—”Ghetto Musick” into “Bombs Over Baghdad,” then “So Fresh, So Clean” and “Ms. Jackson” with Sleepy Brown, who spent the rest of the set chiming in with Big on stage. Killer Mike joined the two again for their Grammy-winning track “The Whole World” and then brought out El-P for a run through “Banana Clipper” off Run The Jewels, which has a video on its way. And again, with nearly no pauses to collect themselves, there were Big and Sleepy inviting women to dance on stage along to “The Way You Move.” By the time he closed out his set with singalong “Tremendous Damage” from VLDR, the whole crowd seemed almost out of breath, waving their hands in the air in an almost admission that Big had brought so much energy that that was the only way to go out.
Mike had mentioned before the show that he and Big were about to crush the show. They wound up shutting Brooklyn Bowl down. —Dan Rys (@danrys)