Show Recap and Gallery: El-P and Killer Mike flips through SF
words and pictures: Kevin Lee / July 2, 2012
This group of emcees, El-P, Killer Mike, Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire, and Despot, is a bit of an esoteric lot, and it's not apparent how these four should do a tour, that which stopped in San Francisco last Friday at the Regency Ballroom. Especially so was the pairing of headliners Killer Mike and El-P, the former who was once mainly backed by the melodic sounds of Organized Noize, and the latter, who as a member of the storied underground crew Company Flow and the head of his own company of complex, abrasive rhymesmiths in the form of Def Jux records. But between Killer Mike's righteous sneer and El-P's dismissive and flippant irony it turns out is merely a coin that each were just one side upon. For instance, El-P's beatmaking on Mike's latest LP R.A.P. Music fits Killer Mike's flow like a glove, especially their shared tendency to rattle syllables off in pitter-patters before smearing and accenting key words for emphasis. So, why not tour together?
Here in Frisco, we got to see the two live for ourselves and see how it all works out live. And well, they are two different acts afterall. Killer Mike is still an Atlanta representative and despite the glitchy new digs he got in his new album, he plies the craft like a southerner. One thing about his set that contrasted with the rest of the night's entertainment was the charged political material. For instance, before going through "Burn", he emphasized it was the killing of Oscar Grant (by a police officer in Oakland) that inspired the song. He then segued to "Reagan", his indictment of the now revered president and rips his policies and legacy, along with some of President Obama's current-day policies as well. He made a point to show love toward the activist heart of the Bay Area, including the occupy movement, which he gave his full-throated endorsement. All the while, he took a few to do a few reminders of his past work, like his cameo on Bone Crusher's "Never Scared", which was short enough to just to contrast everything else, like it was a hint that he's moving past that growling southern archetype he once followed that only got him a small amount of radio airplay.
As simple as Killer Mike's presentation was, El-P's was as elaborate. Accompanied by a live band with guitars, a trombone (that mostly wailed discordantly) and keys, he went for the full effect (or retard), banging his way through the set with loud music and big lights. Just to set the mood, the set began with a long, electronic intro with enough strobes to nauseate the sensitive, like it was his way of clearing the room of oversensitive people. For the rest of the night, plucking from mostly his newest Cancer 4 Cure release, he would bang as many of these tracks out like it's a special kind of punk rock meant to be played at 90 bpm, while throwing out a few abrasive nuggets. "I don't care–sports are for fags!", he tosses out so casually when someone said something about his Yankees ballcap. Embracing the macabre, he brings out Mr. Killums, the antisocial and homicidal one-eyed puppet he made infamous in his "Full Retard" video, and sticks him on a mic post, like he's been traveling around the country with this rotting slack-jawed lifeless corpse, hoisting it like a hunting trophy. But this is vintage El-P, who has cultivated an audience that eats this shit up, along with his dense and thoughtful rhymes, like spaghetti. To his credit, his sincerity appears when he lavishes his audience for their loyalty since the Company Flow days. He shows that appreciation in the encore, playing a few cuts from his Def Jux catalog, including "Deep Space 9mm".
Mr Muthafuckin eXquire, despite his Brooklyn origins, definitely had an East Bay vibe to him, where his fur cap, metallic teeth, and thick glasses look made him look like he got his look from a Los Rakas necklace pendant. He spent his set doing rather un-New York-like things like bend his voice up and down, jumping across stage despite his girth, and exposing his ample midriff, shaking it around so much he'd make the Goonies proud. His buddy Goldie Glo and partner on stage lent a nice visual counterbalance, like Laurel to eXquire's Hardy. eXquire spent the last few minutes of his set on the edge of the railing between the photographer's pit and the crowd, half-naked (he ripped his undershirt off a few moments before) and threatening to tip over.
Despot, the longtime Def Jux signee who never got an album out before it folded, started off the show to appease the earlybird Def Jux geeks that came early. Coming out to the theme from "Teeny Little Super Guy" from Sesame Street (dude is just a bit taller than dwarf-short), he kept his ironic cool (like he's always the last person to get picked in gym class and the last to give a shit) throughout the whole show and played a few tracks with that Def Jux flow that the house (all fifty of them at 8:30 PM) loved. He'd resurface a few times between eXquire's set and at the end of El-P's, where he stage dived like he would never have to worry about being too heavy to catch. In all, he set the tone for the night, providing that initial quiet period for quiet, loud (eXquire), quiet (Killer Mike), loud (El-P) dynamic for the night. Different sides of the coin, but it's the same coin afterall.