When: Fri., July 6, 8 p.m. 2012
The amount of attention paid to recent genre-bending hip-hop phenomena—quasi-ambient "cloud rap," postmodern deconstructionists Lil B and Riff Raff, white-girl MCs such as Kitty Pryde—has predictably provoked grumbling from the type of orthodox rap fan who'd rather see all this talk directed at the new Slaughterhouse record. But as with most things, the best way to advocate for traditional hip-hop values is by showing, not telling (or leaving salty comments on blogs), and right now Jaime "El-P" Meline is making a compelling case for the continued relevance of classic elements like big, mean beats and hyperarticulate flows. His long-awaited Cancer for Cure (Fat Possum) is a claustrophobic, paranoid, and exceedingly mean record that meets the high technical standards he established in the late 90s with Company Flow, but it still feels thoroughly modern. His borderline-industrial beats sound like something you'd hear on a rap radio station beamed in from an alternate universe where New York is a perpetual war zone, and his knotty, gnarly vocals hit just as hard. Meline's lyrics are if anything more dense and intricate than his production, but untangling them is rewarding enough to be worth the trouble.
Meline is also responsible for the production on R.A.P. Music (Williams Street), the new album from Atlanta MC Killer Mike. The "R.A.P." is supposed to stand for "Rebellious African People," but backronym aside, the title works well as a statement of purpose. The man also known as Mike Render has a long-standing relationship with OutKast and a semi-hit under his belt ("A.D.I.D.A.S."), but in recent years his audience has mostly been limited to southerners and hard-core hip-hop heads. The collaboration with El-P has boosted his profile considerably, but it's not simply a case of coattail riding. Render and Meline are synergistic partners—Meline's beats are funkier and more reminiscent of early Def Jam than on an El-P record, and the aggressive sonics bring out a hardness in Mike (check out "Big Beast" for proof) that hasn't shown through on recent albums. "JoJo's Chillin," with its throwback breakbeats and heavily filtered synth bass, sounds like what they might play at the strip clubs on Cancer for Cure's alternate Earth. —Miles Raymer El-P headlines; Killer Mike, Despot, and Mr. Muthafuckin' Exquire open.