(Killer Mike has seen his rap name pop up on other hip hop blogs pretty frequently this year, and HHID really should be no exception. So of course I'm deferring to a Reader Review, because that's how I roll this week. Justa, who actually had a different review run a few weeks ago but so what, picks up the slack, though, taking the artist also known as Mike Bigga's debut project, Monster, through the paces. Leave your notes for him below.)
I know this isn’t exactly the Killer Mike album you wanted to read a review for on this site. But I am almost one hundred percent sure that Max will get around to writing about his recent release, R.A.P. Music, sooner rather than later. (Not sure how that particular rumor started.) Besides, if you want to begin something, you usually start from the actual beginning, right? So I thought I would take you back to the distant year of 2003, when OutKast member Big Boi was a popular- and influential-enough artist to warrant having a protégé of his own: the aforementioned “Killer” Michael Render, and his debut album Monster.
Now you need to remember that, back in 2003, OutKast still functioned as a duo, and both Andre 3000 and Big Boi were in a league of their own. After three critically acclaimed albums, they had finally achieved a bit of commercial success with their fourth project, Stankonia, and decided to do what most successful hip hop artists-slash-newly-conceived-corporate-entities do after generating acclaim (read: money): expand their brand. This, of course, included at least one feature film venture (that would be Idlewild), clothing lines, pitbull kennels (which, actually, is still going strong), and of course, their very own vanity record label, which they would name Aquemini Records.
Among the first artists signed to Aquemini was Killer Mike, the ATLien featured not only on Stankonia, but also on OutKast's next single, “The Whole World”, off of Big Boi and Andre Present...OutKast, the duo's (contractually obligated) greatest hits collection that contained two brand new tracks (a ploy record labels will use to sucker the fans who already owned all of their albums (before iTunes and Amazon) into buying the album). That song garnered tons of radio play from what I remembered, and even earned enough outside interest to win a Grammy award. So it makes sense that Big Boi and Andre would choose to establish their brand on the shoulders of Killer Mike.
Well, it’s been a long time since those glory days. OutKast hardly functions as an actual group, the vanity label no longer exists (not even on the Internet searches I conducted before writing this review), and it seems that, after both falling out and falling back in with Big Boi, Killer Mike Bigga is more well known today than he was when I first purchased Monster (back in the day for $6.99 as a value-priced Tuesday release). It has been a long, and I mean very long time since I listened to it, and being a fan of his I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind series and his latest El-P produced album (Dear Max: Please review R.A.P. Music. Thank you. Hopefully that will ward off any other comments concerning that request), I am interested to see if my original apathetic feelings and opinions towards this album will change.
Guess there is only one way to find out.
1. MONSTER (INTRO)
Well, well, well, what do we have here? Yet another spoken word rap album intro? While I enjoy the piano solo that accompanies it, I have to say there wasn’t anything outside of the norm that you wouldn't find on any other spoken word rap album intro. In other words, there is no reason to listen to this.
An instant assault on the ears. Coming off of a soft, tranquil spoken word intro and being forced headfirst into an aggressive Mr. DJ production? Didn't see that coming. This was pretty dope; Killer Mike sounds right at home as he rips through the beat, just like the Monster he truly is. (See what I did there?)
3. AKSHON (YEAH!) (FEAT. OUTKAST)
Andre 3000, who produced, would sound great on this production of his, and he does, during the short intro. Big Boi also comes across as alright, as he assists on the hook. Unfortunately, Mike fumbles the ball, as he chooses to attack the beat instead of adapting to it. His aggressive style doesn't translate well over the track; as a result, it ends up being almost a waste. While this would sound at home on nearly any OutKast project (sans Idlewild), it's classified as an instant “skip” on here.
4. RAP IS DEAD
Back to the harder-edged beats, which is what I like to hear Mike over. While the instrumental sounds a little dated, this wasn't bad. Interesting to note that Killer Mike had already touched on this topic long before Nas announced that “Hip Hop Is Dead”. Not mad at this track at all.
5. SCARED STRAIGHT
I can’t roll with this track. There is nothing that works with this song: the chorus is boring, with the insert-female-vocalist-here sounding uninspired, and the terrible backing beat doesn't play to Mike’s strengths, as it is, once again, too laid back for his overly-aggressive vocal tone. Even though he is trying to demonstrate his storytelling skills, everything is too out-of-whack for me to enjoy it. This one definitely gets a skip.
6. ALL 4 YOU (NICEY'S SONG)
Cool & Dre, who you may remember from their production work on The Game's “Hate it Or Love it” from his first album, bring us that chipmunk soul sound which was very popular at the time. While not a overly impressive track, it’s good to hear Mike settle down a bit. He holds back on the aggression just enough to share his story and to discuss and the dominant social issues within his community. Although I commend the effort, though, this isn't something that I would want to listen too in the future.
7. A.D.I.D.A.S. (FEAT. BIG BOI & SLEEPY BROWN)
I remember this track, as it was one of Monster's singles, and I can recall listening to it back in 2003 and loving it. Today? Still love it. Mike follows his then-mentor Big Boi’s first verse and rides the beat smoothly, and as an added bonus, he even throws a few jabs in R. Kelly’s direction during his final verse, which adds another level of enjoyment for me. A great track right here.
8. CREEP SHOW (FEAT. BIZARRE)
When I was in college, I used to think that Bizarre, of D-12 fame, was hilarious. But I haven’t been in college for a long time. I also never really claimed a spot on the D-12 / Eminem bandwagon that was rolling through the country around 2003, and I feel that this song sounds more like something for those guys rather than for the artist whose album it appears on. In other words: Next!
9. U KNOW I LOVE U (FEAT. J-SWEET)
Not a bad song, but I don’t understand why, on a track about his wife, Mike feels the need to come across so aggressive from the get-go. Although I suppose it kind of makes sense; as the song progresses, the content does become a little more violent. The beat never really demands for that particular tone, though. It’s almost like when I saw Aaron Rodgers in his first game as a Packer (no claim to fandom with Green Bay, mind you): he fumbled a few times off the back because he wasn't cool and collected, and he really just needed to calm down. At this point, Mike fits that (admittedly poor) metaphor perfectly, as he could benefit for settling down a bit on this song and others. I also could have done without the J-Sweets-sung hook.
10. HOME OF THE BRAVE (FEAT. SLIMM CALHOUN)
Cool & Dre’s second production effort on Monster features Mike's Aquemini Records labelmate Slimm Calhoun, whose album I also purchased, although I can't remember a single song from that project as I write this sentence, nor have I ever really thought much about the purchase since it happened. (That’s a bad look for the now non-existent label, if you ask me.) I have nothing positive to say about this song: it's a complete mess, with second-rate production that sounds like it was lifted straight from Soundclick.com, offering very little for the rappers to work with. The end result is a total train wreck. On to the next.
Although I feel that Mike must have been contractually obligated to write more tracks than he has concepts. “L.I.V.E.” is actually one of the better offerings. However, the subject matter about him and groupies and such grows tiring.
12. BLOW (GET DOWN) (FEAT. ROCK D)
This song sucks. Rock D, who sounds like a incredibly drunk and slightly brain-damaged T.I., isn't someone you want to hear anything from in this or any other lifetime. Next track, please.
13. SEX, DRUGS, RAP & ROLL
While this song works on some levels, it ultimately boils down to yet another oddball pairing of artist and music. These deeper-south, Goodie Mob/Rap-A-Lot/Scarface-type productions didn't quite play to his strengths at this point in his career.
14. DRAGON (FEAT. FASS BLACK)
Makes for a weird transition after the last song. “Dragon” is a more somber track where Killer Mike deals with the loss of a friend. While I wasn't blown away, this was one of the more cohesive tracks on Monster, and that is a feat in itself at this point. So props for managing to create something listenable, Mike.
15. RE-AKSHON REMIX (FEAT. T.I., BONE CRUSHER, & BUN B)
This remix features Bone Crusher, a guy whose appeal never made any sense to me, and the beat is entirely different than the song it allegedly re-imagines. Which should make this a catastrophe. But insert T.I. and Bun B, and make said beat one that finally matches Mike's antagonistic tone, and you've made significant progress. I actually liked this song more than the original, as it actually sounds like something someone like Killer Mike would actually want to record, as opposed to it being something he was forced to write to by a guy from the label holding the checkbook. While it holds less commercial appeal (which is weird, considering the guest list), it definitely fits the mold of a classic street banger.
(The final song on Monster is labeled as a bonus track, and it appears after fourteen blank audio tracks, hence how the final song is counted below.)
30. HARD NARD (FEAT. BIG ZACH)
Why was this a bonus track? This sounds better than three-fourths of the actual album. Maybe it’s the Big Zach appearance that caused Mike to hold it back, but even with a subpar weed carrier cameo, this track still bangs. Two in a row. It seems my ears have been rewarded for listening to Monster all the way through to the end.
FINAL THOUGHTS: After my excitement for R.A.P. Music subsided, I remembered that I hated Monster when I first heard it, but then again, that was almost a decade ago. While I don’t hold as much contempt for it now as I did then, it definitely hasn't aged well. One of the biggest problems with Killer Mike's debut album is the fact that his style failed to match the production, and vice versa (I'm beating a dead horse, I know). Much like his appearance on OutKast's “The Whole World”, he doesn't lend himself well to the slower, deeper, funkier-type beats that label owners thrived on at the time, and yet time and time again we find Mike stumbling, track after track, trying to find his footing with a sound that isn't a good fit. As a result, I felt like I was listening a very poorly-planned debut mixtape, instead of a properly-produced full-length album from a protégé of OutKast (by the way, Janelle Monae fared much better with that specific classification, don't you think?).
BUY OR BURN? Burn this one. I can in no way co-sign this project (outside of the three tracks listed below, which stood above and beyond the rest of the slop). This was a classic case of an artist who was the exact opposite situation that where he belonged; he just didn't know it at the time. Good thing he jumped off that sinking ship and was able to salvage his career.
BEST TRACKS: “Re-Akshon Remix”; “Hard Nard”; “A.D.I.D.A.S.”
P.S I also now have a deeper understanding, and appreciation for the breaks Max takes on this sites. Reviewing stuff like this definitely takes a toll on you mentally.
(Questions? Comments? Or are you simply twisting about this mortal coil without a care or an opinion? Whatever.)