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El-P and Killer Mike at Fine Line, 7/5/12

El-P and Killer Mike at Fine Line, 7/5/12
Photo by Erik Hess

El-P, Killer Mike, Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, and Despot

Fine Line Music Cafe, Minneapolis
Thursday, July 5, 2012
El-P recently crafted two albums likely to wind up on a number of critics' best-of-the-year lists: his own solo record Cancer4Cure, and Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music, which he produced in full. If the news of Def Jux's permanent hiatus worried some about the state of independent hip-hop, the former label head's work since has been proof not only that it is alive and well but thriving in new and interesting ways. About a decade ago when Atlanta's Killer Mike was spitting verses alongside Outkast (he featured prominently on the Grammy-winning "The Whole World") and dropping an album that made it to the number 10 spot on the Billboard charts, this world of mainstream rap and the independent scene seemed to have little to no connection. Last night's Into the Wild Tour featured a cast of characters -- El-P, Killer Mike, Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, and Despot -- that provided a unique intersection between all sides of rap, and proved that it might well be more alive than ever.


Though opener Despot has yet to drop an album (a debut with production from Ratatat was promised and previewed), he's been in the game a while, though is only really now popping up alongside the crew featured on this tour. He had a Mitch Hedberg-like tone and a slight frame, and brought a sort of understated energy to a decent set of well-penned verses.

El-P and Killer Mike at Fine Line, 7/5/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Random asides and audience aerobics added some humor and prepped the people for Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, a current blog favorite thanks to his grimy lyrics and hulking presence. Entering in a ski mask ("This is my gangsta-nerd experiment") but quickly removing it in favor of a ganked audience member's fox-head hat, he proceeded to spit his trademark dirt raps as he rubbed his potbelly for confidence.

El-P and Killer Mike at Fine Line, 7/5/12
Photo by Erik Hess

He is definitely a sight to behold, and his rhyming seems to recall classic Brooklyn while sounding contemporary. The crowd managed to bring real energy to every performer throughout the night, which is rare on a multifaceted bill like this.

As Killer Mike entered to the drones that begin "Untitled," it was clear this was a co-headlining tour, despite most of the press attention that led up to the show focusing on El-P. The seasoned rapper's aura is kind of astounding; he seemed remarkably genuine and excited to be performing. A good chunk of R.A.P. Music was played, along with some classics from the rapper's previous albums and guest spots. His style is very focused on conveying his message, and every word he rapped seemed enunciated, projected, and felt by listeners. "I never thought nine years into my career," Killer Mike said at one point, "that I'd be just beginning"; these words summed up his set well, showcasing years of experience but the heart of an upstart.

El-P and Killer Mike at Fine Line, 7/5/12
Photo by Erik Hess

He referred to the front section as "Gangland" and cheered them on whenever they went berserk, building off energy from powerhouse tracks like "Big Beast" and "Ric Flair" and culminating in a crunk mosh pit for the throwback "Kryptonite (I'm On It)." Political tracks like "Reagan" played incredibly well, releasing a beautiful catharsis as the whole venue raised middle fingers and screamed, "I'M GLAD REAGAN'S DEAD" at full force. An inspiring and solid set.

 

El-P and Killer Mike at Fine Line, 7/5/12
Photo by Erik Hess

When El-P took the stage, with two multi-instrumentalist backing members playing everything from keytar to conga, the audience had already seen a full and solid show, but the energy level still managed to increase. El-P played his new record Cancer4Cure front to back, and hearing it live really helped solidify it as a real contender for album of the year. The beats were helped along by the live aspect, and El-P can still rap like a motherfucker. He powered through the songs and brought a spirited energy that amplified with appearances from the album's guests, who, save Danny Brown, were all on the bill.

El-P and Killer Mike at Fine Line, 7/5/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Before starting "The Full Retard" in earnest, El had Slug bring up Mr. Killums, the lowlife menace-to-society stuffed squirrel that joined El in extensive mayhem for the video of the single. El is one of the biggest icons of independent rap, so his salutes to our local scene were a nice addition -- especially when dedicating the final track, "$4 Vic," a tribute to the late underground rapper Camu Tao, to our own fallen soldier, Eyedea. The many lighters lifted were a nice touch and the subdued energy of the track may well have been the set's highlight. The encore featured some classic El-P tracks, including Company Flow's "Vital Nerve" as well as some keytar solos on classic boom-bap tracks just for shits and giggles. All in all, the night featured four powerful sets that would've stood out on their own; together, they formed a whole that will be difficult to top.

Killer Mike setlist:

Untitled

Big Beast

Go!

Southern Fried

I Ain't Never Scared - Bone Crusher

Burn

That's Life 2

The Whole World

Butane (Champion's Anthem)

Reagan

Ready Set Go

Ric Flair

R.A.P. Music

Kryptonite (I'm On It) - Purple RIbbon All-Stars

El-P setlist:

Request Denied

The Full Retard

Works Every Time

Drones Over BKLYN

Oh Hail No

Tougher Colder Killer

True Story

The Jig Is Up

Sign Here

For My Upstairs Neighbor (Mums the Word)

Stay Down

$4 Vic

encore:

EMG

No Kings

Can I Kick It - A Tribe Called Quest

Vital Nerve

Deep Space 9mm

Personal Bias: Killer Mike and El-P's albums are already etched into my year-end list.

The Crowd: This is the first time I've seen the men's bathroom have a line while the women's was free. So, lots of dudes.

Overheard: "Real hygienic rap crowd!" -- someone in said bathroom line, seemingly hoping folks will forgo washing their hands in order to speed up the line.

Random notebook dump: Killer Mike had some great quotes about his potential assassination ("Killer Mike was visiting Washington, D.C., and mysteriously dropped dead; he was bit by a rare Egyptian lotus,"), following your dreams ("We can have Ric Flair dreams too. Nothing wrong with Rolexes, women, and cocaine"), and the cheered Randy Moss reference ("Randy Moss never gave me a jersey, that motherfucker -- Daunte Culpepper did").

See Also:
Slideshow: El-P and Killer Mike at the Fine Line
El-P on Prince, his mother, and full-band rap shows as "dusted out Phish concerts"
Killer Mike on being unhappy with Obama, and zombies 


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