In May, Atlanta MC Killer Mike released one of the year’s best hip-hop albums — “rebellious African people’s music” — in collaboration with producer/rapper extraordinaire El-P.
“Reagan” is one of the album’s most fiery tracks, addressing the former president’s “war on drugs” and how it disproportionately targeted African Americans while actually making black neighborhoods more drug-infested. Mike ultimately proclaims, “I’m glad [that] Reagan[‘s] dead,” but he lumps all recent presidents together as serving the same unseen forces, launching overt and covert wars to make the rich richer.
Like words themselves, Atlanta rap veteran Mike Render (a.k.a. Killer Mike) has the potential to be misunderstood. The hardcore southern rhymer — who first came to prominence thanks to his affiliation with Outkast — is a self-proclaimed “pan-Africanist gangster rapper, civic leader, and activist,” and his profile as the latter has been elevated recently by outspoken campaigns for Trayvon Martin, Troy Davis, and the Occupy movement.
Since disbanding at the end of the ’90s, underground hip-hop favorite Company Flow has had fans clamoring for more. Now, following a few one-off reunion gigs, El-P, Bigg Jus, and Mr. Len are hitting Chicago for the first time, and we’re giving away two tickets to a random ALARM reader.
Morrow: With a background in hip hop as well as hardcore and punk, New Jersey rapper GDP approaches his genre with a unique perspective, coupling an unfiltered vocabulary with sociopolitical themes, banging beats, and a decidedly Aesop Rock-style delivery.
His newest full-length, Useless Eaters, quickly gets at the underbelly of America, whether discussing drugs, war profiteering, climate change, or big-brother distrust. “Neural Circuitry” begins the album with high-energy hi-hats and a nearly G-funk synth groove, but it hits hardest with its subject matter: hardcore drug use. There’s underlying intellect, however, and in making a passing reference to Afghani opiates, GDP rhymes, “Soldiers aren’t dying for us / they’re risking their lives for the change / a full ride to college or a meaningless grave.”
Hajduch: Australian producer Aoi makes clanging, colorful synth-based beats that remind me somewhat of the kaleidoscopic dubstep pushed by people like Hyetal. It’s glammy and full of square waves, and for all the clamor and seeming lightness, it still bangs. The fidgety beats fit GDP’s restless rhymes well. He’s equally comfortable deploring battle rap as he is deploying it.
Das Racist occupies a unique place in hip hop. Its free-associative rap goes a mile a minute, riddled with the sort of postmodern deconstructionist lyrics that make publications like the New York Times rave. Much has been written about the group and its perceived seriousness, which, in turn, is turned into more fodder for Das Racist’s rhymes (as evidenced in the track “hahahaha jk,” posted below).
Whatever your opinion of its music, there’s no question that Das Racist wears its cultural and political awareness on its proverbial sleeve. With that in mind, we asked Ashok Kondabolu of the Brooklyn-based trio to name his favorite political rap songs.
1. Public Enemy: “Shut ‘Em Down” (Pete Rock Remix)
My favorite remix of all time. Pete’s short verse is ill (and sort of hilarious), and the beat’s insistence over and under Chuck D‘s screaming-ass voice is incredible. The clipped rapping on here serves really well as some “movement music.”
“I testified My mama cried Black people died When the other man lied”
I mean, that’s an awesome way to start a song about corporate redistribution of wealth!