2023 marks the 11th anniversary of Killer Mike's fifth studio album, R.A.P. Music. Released on May 15, 2012 via Williams Street Records, R.A.P. Music was produced entirely by El-P, making for their first collaborative album before they formed Run The Jewels a year later. The album contains features from Bun B, T.I., Trouble, Scar, Emily Panic, and a verse from El-P. Mike has not released a solo album since R.A.P. Music, which will change very soon as his latest solo album, Michael will release on June 16.
Though Killer Mike had released four successful albums before it, R.A.P. Music was a reset for him. Compared to his previous releases, it was his most experimental album and is now regarded as his magnum opus. Here is a look back at Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music album for its anniversary.
An Unlikely Pairing
Before they started working together on R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike and El-P had already established themselves as highly respected artists in different areas of hip-hop. Killer Mike was a member of the Dungeon Family, collaborating with Outkast and cementing his name through the I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind series. El-P, on the other hand, came up in the underground rap scene with his group Company Flow. Throughout the early years of his career, he produced for Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock, Murs, and more, and released two solo albums. Killer Mike's 2011 album PL3DGE was the last on his own Grind Time Official label and the only one that he had released on T.I.'s Grand Hustle Records.
Around that same time, El-P's historic underground label, Definitive Jux had dissolved. Both artists were aware of each other and connected through a mutual friend, Adult Swim's Jason DeMarco. After being introduced to each other, they worked on R.A.P. Music and released it on DeMarco's Williams Street Records, which distributed original music for Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.
El-P's alternative take on New York hip-hop production and his abstract rap style is much different from Killer Mike's tough, southern, and straightforward bars. El-P's approach to Kille Mike's southern sound on songs like "Big Beast" is a prime example of the magic of R.A.P. Music. The two took big risks on the album through the unconventional production but the results are very rewarding as the album displays Killer Mike and El-P's early chemistry. They come from different musical backgrounds but that contrast in style is what makes the pair unlikely yet so perfect.
R.A.P. Music, which stands for "Rebellious African People," furthered Killer Mike's political themes from previous solo offerings. Ice Cube's influence ran deep across the tracklist, specifically, Cube's Amerikkka's Most Wanted. Killer Mike uses R.A.P. Music as a vessel to address injustices across America including police brutality, the United States legal system, and the oppression of Black people. His political views fuel records like "Don't Die" and "Anywhere But Here." In "Untitled," Killer Mike reflects on the potential consequences of standing on his own political views and morals, referencing the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Then, there's "Reagan," Killer Mike's most notable record in his catalog. Mike details the roles politicians like Ronald Reagan had in furthering the exploitation and oppression of Black people. Similarly, he cites the loophole within the 13th Amendment that allows modern slavery. Throughout the song, Killer Mike addresses the racial implications of the war on drugs on black people, government surveillance, and trickle-down economics. The chilling production from El-P and the conviction in Killer Mike's voice make the song such a masterful statement of American corruption.
The text on the album's cover reads, "Readers of the books / Leaders of the crooks." The phrase encapsulates the album concisely as the album consists of thoughtful and educational topics but also embraces Killer Mike's southern gangsta rap roots. There are personal and emotional songs like "Willie Burke Sherwood" but Killer Mike leaves plenty of room for bangers. There is the previously-mentioned tough southern rap posse cut, "Big Beast" ft. T.I., Bun B, and Trouble, the explosive "Go!," and the comical yet descriptive "Jojo's Chillin."
The Legacy of R.A.P. Music
Overall, R.A.P. Music is undoubtedly Killer Mike's magnum opus. It is widely regarded as Killer Mike's best album. The album is also his most well-known and critically acclaimed work. It showed the undeniable chemistry between Killer Mike and El-P and their potential as a duo. Such a monumental release paved the way for the abrasive sound and politicized style and subject matter of Run The Jewels. With the highly-anticipated solo follow-up to R.A.P. Music releasing within the next month, the album's longevity and the Run The Jewels catalog have set the bar incredibly high.