Review Summary: oh my
Killer Mike’s sorta self-titled should
have been a very interesting album (oh boy). First solo record by critically acclaimed artist in over a decade? Check ! A long overdue return to roots, both stylistic and thematic? Double Check ! ! Marketing suggestive of confessional, retrospective, all-beans-spilled extravaganza? Check, Check, A Thousand Times Check ! ! ! Can you tell where I’m going with this yet?!?!?!
This soul/gospel textured follow up to 2012’s excellent RAP Music
and now inescapable EL-P collab project starts, to its credit, damn well. Bombastic baritone boogie bangers are to be found within opening duo “DOWN BY LAW” and “SHED TEARS”: flows all over the shop, tight and aflame, exuding spirit and conviction and anger and joy
, bountifully. Their victory lap vibes are achieved rather tastefully, mixing well deserved back pats with bracing sermons on work yet to be done, and setting Michael
up as the triumph most fans/critics anticipated. It’s only after this tasty one-two punch, however, that the inconsistencies start to appear (uh oh). Hearing the ‘kill your masters’ guy brag about raking in rent, canoodling politicians and further fortuitous frivolities atop his ivory tower (see “SPACESHIP VIEWS”) feels jarring and ick
, doing a great deal to undercut the clout and goodwill earned from previous projects (see also the self-proclaimed champion of the people dabble in childish anti-woke homophobia on “TALK’N THAT SHIT”). Old-school braggadocio and new-school introspection do not mix well, it would seem, at least not with the lack of precision, humor and/or self-awareness displayed on cuts like “NRICH”: a Memphis-adjacent tome on overcoming struggle that’s undercut by tactless self-aggrandising and vigorous ego-stroking (yes, Mike, your pockets are well-lined and bulging, bravo).
Similarly confused messaging reappears on late-album cut, “MOTHERLESS”. Despite the heartfelt and thoughtful bars throughout, Mike presents as calmly (oddly) indifferent as he mumbles out eek
chorus, “My mamma dead, my grandmama dead”; perhaps the intention was to depict the numbness that pervades grief through barefaced bluntness, but, regardless, it’s handled so unceremoniously as to detract from the bigger picture that, evidently, means a great deal to him. The same cumbersome delivery is echoed in “SOMETHING FOR JUNKIES”, where a bizarrely pejorative depiction of the people it seeks to reach out to undermines its wholesome message, culminating in a melee of hamfisted unsubtlety. It’s frustrating, given Killer Mike is clearly capable of better, of substance, of nuance, of GOOD MUSIC(!), as his rich back-catalog and the likes of “SLUMMER” demonstrate - the latter slamming the dunks via an impactful cautionary tale, told through gorgeous choir arrangements and actual vulnerability///candor. The literal chuffing tidal wave of features does not help: meant (probably) as a respectful nod to the South and clearly symptomatic of Mike’s return to homeplate, this smattering of varied voices nonetheless ends up chipping away at the LP’s intimate hallmarks that, contrary to first impressions, it refuses to engage with in a consistently meaningful manner.
The ick wouldn’t be so significant, perhaps, if the beats did the type of heavy lifting typically seen on Mike’s recent collaborations. The scoop: they do, sometimes
. Elating gospel arrangements save the day on “SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS”, coating the driving-ricochet bars in warmth and grace, only to disintegrate into the entirely soulless flop of “TWO DAYS”, whose wet guitar plays second fiddle to under-seasoned organs and meh trap tings. Funk flourishes and soul sprinkles work well on snappy singalong “EXIT 9”, but again fall short on the gaping nothingness of “RUN”: an energy-free snoozer whose struggle bars and dated aesthetics should not have made it this far from the cutting room floor (do not pull up Genius it is painful oh my). That the most coherent tune on Michael’s personal journey is the RTJ throwback of “DON'T LET THE DEVIL” is also, erm, awkward, as is the fact that EL-P’s brief verse therein may be the most versatile, engaging and honest to god fun(!) performance on the entire record (draw conclusions at will).
Whilst by no means an unmitigated disaster, Michael
fails to do much of anything beyond that which we already knew was well within its namesake’s capabilities. As well as falling short of apparent aspirations, its various resultant inconsistencies are not even of the interesting variety, of that which Kendrick’s Mr Morale…
(for example) turned into an art form of its own. For its flaws, that
LP’s ugly, fumbling, contradictions opened genuine windows into another human’s very-fucked-everything, making it a rewarding mess to sift through, regardless of whether one agreed with every take presented. Michael
, in contrast, does not do these things, instead acting unexpectedly cagey for all its surface-level openness, whilst throwing out conflicting pseudo-deep nuggets of little substance by way of compensation. Viewed holistically, its idiosyncrasies present not as part of some grand plan, but as accidents, and are all the more boring for it. Expectations were unrealistic, probably, but that Mike is willing to jiggle his pride so brazenly doesn’t engender all that much sympathy when his boasts ring hollow. Add it up, tally the scores, and the inevitable conclusion is about as regular and uninteresting as it’s subject: Michael
is not as good of an album as I thought it was going to be and that is a bit of a shame.