"Finally, the world is on your dick."
By the time big-boned ATL word-crusher Killer Mike proffered this metaphorical tribute to El-P on Monday, May 21st, the veteran MC/producer/label head was already coated by a slick sheen of sweat, a permanent smile pasted on his face. Arguably hip-hop’s most dominant force of 2012, the backpack-rap graduate was about to release the second album of his own production in as many weeks, a terrifying extraterrestrial expulsion of hot fire masquerading as his third solo LP, Cancer For Cure. And he had just ripped through a raucous set featuring the entire album, some late 90s/early aughts classics, and hip-hop impresarios Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire (QRO photos on tour with El-P), Despot, and Heems (QRO album review) of Das Racist (QRO album review). Even indie-rock stalwart Nick Diamonds (Islands, Unicorns) dropped by Santos Party House (QRO venue review) to lend vocals to the David Letterman-approved "Stay Down". There was reason to celebrate.
After placing his label, Definitive Jux, on indefinite ‘hiatus’ in 2010, El-P remained firmly entrenched in the cut, quietly assembling tracks for two monster full-lengths. The week before his record-release party, Adult Swim’s Williams Street label dropped Killer Mike’s (QRO photos on tour with El-P) R.A.P. Music, a critically acclaimed gem produced in its entirety by El-P. Both albums bathe in El’s menacing mixture of space-age electronics and mangled samples, with a melodic crossover sensibility absent from his Def Jux and Rawkus-era output.
But it would be unwise to imagine Cancer For Cure as a move towards the mainstream. The self-proclaimed "garbage-pail kid calamity artist’s" lyrics are as raw as ever, eviscerating all pretenders (and the concept of common decency). Truly a "‘holy fuck what did he just utter’ marksman," his references to "pyramided ocular un-lidded insignias" and paranoid nightmares of government drones flying over Kings County beg to be read, reread, and dissected.
A certified lyrical genius, El has never been known for his live prowess. But the intensity on Monday night was palpable. Large swaths of the underground hip-hop scene (Action Bronson, Company Flow’s Mr. Len, Das Racist’s Kool A.D. and Dapwell, East Village Radio’s Julianne Escobedo Shepherd) lurked back- and on-stage to watch El’s motley crew "burn like an LA sunset/colorful, toxic/sniff stuff deadly and erotic." Feeding off the crowd (and each other), hip-hop’s new underground returned the crowd’s love for the music (and the spectacle) in full.
El’s studio-rat proclivities became more evident as the show progressed and he began to lean on his barrel-chested hype man to help manage his breath control. But when Killer Mike’s imposing figure graced the stage, even technical issues (no vocals in the monitors) couldn’t hold him back. Towering over the audience and his fellow MCs, he followed up a glitchy performance of C4C‘s "Tougher Colder Killer" by destroying his verse, a-cappella.
No one missed a beat.