Matson on Music
Killer Mike — Morehouse man — and his great 'R.A.P. Music'
"The deciding factor for me getting into Morehouse was probably my homeroom teacher," says Killer Mike, 37-year-old Atlanta rapper, talking on the phone from home. "He was a classist, an elitist. He was a snob. He dressed fly, sleek, stylin' and profilin' with the Rolex watch, the whole nine. He was a Morehouse man. His name was Mister Lee-Roy Arnold. But he pronounced it — because he was a Morehouse man — LeRoy."
The significance of Morehouse College is this: If Killer Mike hadn't attended Morehouse in the mid-'90s, he would not have befriended Big Boi of the massively popular Atlanta rap duo Outkast, whose album, "Stankonia," gave Mike his mainstream debut.
Killer Mike performs Sunday at Neumos with headliner El-P, the New York City rapper/producer who produced Mike's slamming new album, "R.A.P. Music." It's one of the essential hip-hop records this year, musically unique and emotionally deep, good right away and better with more listens.
El-P brought together country soul and metallic industrial tones into an inconceivable combination that works. Mike supplied emphatically delivered stories about ghosts, strip clubs, politics and stories about being addicted to literature.
Love of language was instilled in Mike by his grandma, his stepfather, uncles and teachers like Mr. Arnold.
"I think [Mr. Arnold] saw something in me, because he pushed me and messed with me for five years, to the point where he bet me all my book money for the first year that I would not get into Morehouse," said Mike.
Arnold's hard-and-sweet approach is reflected in "R.A.P. Music." The album is often dark and angry, as on the bleak "Reagan," but in the end offers light. The penultimate song, "Willie Burke Sherwood," outlines how "Lord of the Flies" got Mike through sixth grade, then relates the consecutive bummers of Mike's adolescence, post-college life and early career as a rapper: "I got robbed / and Ronnie got shot"; "UPS / where they treat you like BS"; "mostly I got stunted on / fronted on."
Just when everything seems too harsh to bear comes the reassuring chorus: "I'm with you." It's the best song on the album — a life story told with great impact, hard and sweet in a way that would likely make Mr. Arnold proud.