Rap roundup: Killer Mike and Joey Bada$$

Joey Bada$$ – 1999 mixtape (free download – DatPiff.com)

Last year, when I heard Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All for the first time, I was dumbstruck. Here were a bunch of kids – literally teenagers – making impactful, impressive, shocking music, the kind that can shake someone out of a bout of apathetic or lethargic living. I was especially taken with the rough and gravelly flow of the group’s de facto leader, Tyler The Creator.

I’m still impressed by Tyler’s raw skills, both on the mic and behind the boards, but after I listened to more of the “Golf Wang” catalogue, I started to realize that A. a lot of the beats weren’t that good and B. the whole “I’m a put-upon nihilistic teenager with a death wish” shtick is a little one-note. So to summarize, I remain impressed by the hustle of those kids as they enter their 20s in the upswell of a professional music career, but the music itself really isn’t for me.

Not to sound like I’m looking for a teenage rap savior or anything, but a few months ago I watched a video/interview/mini-documentary about a Brooklyn high school student/rapper who goes by the name of Joey Bada$$. Like Tyler and his friends about 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, Joey and his friends were busy making something at passing period and after school. They call themselves the Progressive Era collective or ProEra for short. Like Tyler, Joey is obviously the leader of this group by virtue of his incredible mic talents. Unlike Tyler, though, Joey’s music is almost wholly informed by and an evolution of the classic boom-bap hip-hop sound that originated in the boroughs of New York City.

Joey’s debut full-length mixtape, “1999” (which is the year he was about 5, so maybe the year he started rapping?), is equal parts Tribe Called Quest, Nas, MF Doom (whose beats provide the backdrop for a pair of tracks on the tape and whose flow Joey obviously has internalized to some deep subdural level) and Pete Rock. He pays homage to his musical forebears without ripping them off, which is high praise indeed for any artist, let alone one who just matriculated from primary school.

This is a free mixtape but the cost is not a reflection of its worth. This may be one of the best five or six albums released in all of 2012.

Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music (purchase link – Amazon.com)

I admit I’ve never been a fan of El-P, the Brooklyn born rapper/producer/head of the defunct Definitive Jux album label. He’s done some things that click for me, but most of his output has been a little – shall we say, avant garde for my taste. 

But clearly my taste has evolved, because when I heard El-P had paired with, of all people, Atlanta-based brainy gangsta rapper Killer Mike, one of my favorite voices in the genre, I went and checked out some of El-P’s DefJux-era output on YouTube to see if he was as weird as I remembered.

Yeah, he’s weird, but now I see the genius in his work. And for Killer Mike, he sat down and put on his chameleon outfit to help mold his weirdness to something that sounds good under Mike’s growling, sometimes yelping flow.

I’ve listened to this album about five times and I’m always disappointed when it’s over. Mike’s messages about American political warfare and life in the black ghettos are just as sharp as ever and El-P’s unique, sinister take on hip-hop is a fitting backdrop for this thought-provoking music. This is a hip-hop classic and it, too, will be one of the best albums of this year. Had it come out last year, it may have been the ATR Best Album of 2011.

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