Album Reviews

Killer Mike – MICHAEL

(Loma Vista) UK release date: 16 June 2023


The Atlanta rapper’s first solo record in over a decade delivers virtuosity, emotion and excellence

Killer Mike - Michael It was perhaps a consequence of rap’s maturation as a genre that, sometime in the early 2010s, its mainstream vs. underground divide all but collapsed. Kanye West got inspired by Death Grips, Kendrick Lamar’s debut album went triple platinum, and Killer Mike started working with El-P. A decade later Mike is reasserting himself as a solo artist in style (“I know you love me running the jewels, but these my nigga flows”) and working with a dazzling array of artists.

Indeed, one of MICHAEL’s greatest achievements is that it’s such a personal, heartfelt record despite so many other rappers and singers coming along for the ride. Take SCIENTISTS & ENGINEERS, for example, where Andre 3000’s fascinating stop-start flow gives way to a woozy Future verse backed with gospel choir. A lesser performer would be content just to have such a line-up on his track, but Killer Mike takes it as a challenge (“I am a menace that’s moving on vengeance, I promise my opp that my anger is endless / it ain’t enough that I took out my opp and his block, we burned down his whole fucking village”).

A recurring theme on the album is Christian faith: SHED TEARS focuses on how Mike’s belief in God has got him through hard times, and SLUMMER features his negative feelings about abortion colliding with his love life (“I was rubbing on your tummy when your mummy asked for money / told me your procedure’s Monday and she gon’ need like 400”). This also represents the first time Mike has consistently worked with producers besides El-P since 2011, and the beats here are as wide-ranging as the subject matter. TALK’N THAT SHIT! sees Mike blitzing his way through three grimy Memphis arrangements courtesy of DJ Paul, and several tracks utilise electric bass, wah-wah guitar and organ in keeping with classic Organized Noize productions.

SOMETHING FOR JUNKIES is particularly effective, as a ticking backbeat and bleak, lo-fi piano loop develop into something grander while Mike and Fabo show empathy for those caught up in addiction, such as Mike’s aunt and Fabo’s ex-partner. There’s something indicative about the rapper best known for his contribution to D4L‘s Laffy Taffy pouring his heart out on the track: Killer Mike has taken a meticulous approach to ensure MICHAEL paints a nuanced, vivid picture of him and his community, and the effect is inspiring.


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