El-P and Killer Mike at Varsity Theater, 7/19/13
with Despot and Kool A.D.
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Friday, July 19, 2013
We of the millennial generation grew up in the golden era of the Dynamic Duo. On wax and on the basketball court, players and artists that could have been superstars in their own right formed partnerships greater than the sum of their own talents. Jordan and Pippen, Eric B and Rakim, Shaq and Kobe, Mos and Kweli, Duncan and Robinson, Salt-N-Pepa. The list goes on. In the age of the iTunes single, true collaboration is scarce, replaced by look-at-me features assembled cross-country through emails and Pro-Tools magic.
That's probably why the recent combination of Atlanta-bred Killer Mike and Brooklyn's own El-P feels so refreshing, and yet so familiar. Despite the cutting-edge production on their new mixtape Run the Jewels, the way Killer and El Producto play off of one another on the mic is pure throwback. They're the John Stockton and Karl Malone of underground rap, and their tag team live show Friday night was the definition of "Dynamic."
Show opener and Bay-Area native Kool A.D. certainly seemed a little lonely without his old partner up there. Best know for his work with the avant-rap group Das Racist, which also featured the inspired microphone talents of Queens-spitter Heems, Kool A.D. has been striking out on his own in the wake of the group's 2012 breakup. While his hazy, free-associative verses are better suited for blunted headphones-examination than rocking large stage, A.D. is armed with his own unique charisma and a wickedly dry sense of humor that made for an entertaining performance. Starting the show by proclaiming himself "probably the best rapper of all time...give or take..." the slothlike MC continued to pepper his bars with hilarious asides like "I feel like Macklemore right now" while surveying the undeniably pasty crowd. Finishing his set with a 10-minute long song that showed remarkable endurance, Kool A.D. and his producer/DJ Amaze 88 left the stage victorious despite a few skeptic hecklers.
Second act Despot's name isn't probably too familiar to many midwesterners. Despite his 10-plus years in the east coast rap game, the Flushing-based MC has yet to release an official full length album. Sacrificing time in the booth for time spent playing and organizing grassroots shows in his home city, Despot's confident and aggressive rapping was a definite shift from the mellow verses of his offstage friend Kool A.D. Connected to the headliners through his time at Def Jux records, the MC shares a similar musical palate but tends towards grimier, more street-level subject mater. Between songs, the diminutive rapper was a bit more left-field, stringing together monotone bits about modern dance and even inviting El-P and A.D. back up to the stage for an aerobic synchronized dance routine.
Killer Mike wasn't involved in the aerobics. Killer Mike has such a fearsome delivery that he doesn't even really need to move. Standing at a monolithic six foot something and built like an NFL lineman, the Killer is a master of the hardcore ATL style, nimbly switching between a swaggering baritone and a growling bellow that command attention whenever he touches the microphone. Ringing in the headliners with the massive, El-P produced "Big Beast," the MC mugged like a reigning heavyweight while the songs piercing uptemo trap beat caused a surge in the crowd's front rows.