I’ve been scared of Killer Mike for a while. Like the rest of the world, I first heard him on Outkast’s “Snappin’ and Trappin'”, and for better or worse, I’ve never been able to shake the bullying nature of those verses. On what may have been Stankonia’s hardest song, Mike sounded like a giant, a modern-day Goliath that would step on anyone who had the balls to tell him that needing women “to gobble up jism like school lunches” was pretty misogynistic.
Turns out Killer Mike is a giant, and a decidedly non-misogynistic one at that. Last night at Park West, he gushed over his wife and radiated a general sweetness, despite his hulking frame and current status as the torchbearer of aggressive, politically charged hip-hop. Don’t get me wrong, his lyrical barbs were as gruff, impassioned, and precise as they were on last year’s stellar R.A.P. Music , if not more so. Mike’s DJ dropped out for several poignant verses on “Untitled” and “Raegan”, knowing full well that his partner’s words were what mattered, not hype men, merchandise, or throat-rattling bass. This bare-bones approach gave Mike’s music a directness and coherency that could only be achieved without distracting bells and whistles.
Who knows if the specifics of his filibusting initially resonated with the mostly white audience, but his power and approachability got everyone to listen when he talked about assassinated Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, even if most of the crowd—myself included—didn’t know who he was (they do now). Killer Mike’s greatest connection to his fans came at the end of the set, when he wandered into the audience for a sublime version of “God In the Building”, transforming the venue into a self-described “rap church” with nothing more than a DJ, a microphone, and his voice.
If Killer Mike’s performance was an exercise in sharpened minimalism, Big Boi’s showed both the pros and cons of sloppy maximalism. On one hand, the man knows how to throw a party. Just the sheer number of people onstage (DJ, guitarist, drummer, backup singer, posse, and Dungeon Family cohort BlackOwned C-Bone) was thrilling, and, coupled with his ceaseless energy, it turned the audience into a perpetually bouncing wave for most of the evening. I doubt there was a soul in the building who didn’t enjoy themselves, especially when everyone was invited to dance onstage for “The Way You Move” and the house party finale of “In the A”.
On the other hand, the music itself felt rather thrown together, particularly the Outkast songs. Big Boi’s been performing solo versions of his most famous tunes for years, but they still feel skeletal without the presence of André 3000. This isn’t his fault, of course, as Dré seems content to stick to guest spots, fashion, and Gillette commercials these days. It would just be nice to see Big pack his live show with more material from his two excellent solo albums rather than greatest hits that have literally been cut in half. He also underutilized most of his resources.
There were two live musicians onstage, but the DJ still played the prerecorded guitar loops of several tracks, most noticeably on “Apple of My Eye”. Killer Mike was in the house, but remained curiously absent from “Bust”, although he did make a welcome return for “Ready Set Go”, “The Whole World”, “Thom Pettie”, and “Kryptonite”. Even if none of this ruined the show, some better planning and more attention to detail could have elevated Big Boi’s set from a good time to the transcendent celebration of his opener. How about having a horn section onstage instead of the gaggle of family and friends who alternated between getting down and staying glued to their smartphones?
Like I said, everyone had a blast.
Photography by Joshua Mellin.
Elevators (Me & You) (Outkast song)