El-P, Killer Mike, Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire, Despot The Granada Theater Thursday, June 21
Listening to the recorded works of El-P, it's easy to get the feeling you're dealing with a robot who has somehow discovered the emotional razor wire that is living a human life. Last night, El-P pushed back the curtain a bit, revealing a warmer, more intense version of the rapper who's been a leader of the underground rap community since the game-changing crew Company Flow. Their 1996 LP, Funcrusher Plus, is an untouchable piece in the non-mainstream hip-hop canon.
His hyper-technical runs of complex syllables, laid over the metallic intensity of his production, had fans in awe, but he allowed us to see the man behind the machine.Throughout the night, El-P wore the boyish grin of someone who was wholly amused by himself.
His 2012 full-length, Cancer 4 Cure, which is a top contender for hip-hop album of the year, ruled the night, as El-P performed the album in its entirety. And while there were a couple rough spots and fumbles, a rapper of such technical prowess can hardly be blamed. When a technician specializes in precise incisions, it's hard not to investigate his work under the view of a microscope. In other words, even with a few little mistakes, El-P still scores high based on a degree of difficulty. C4C is an emotionally intense body of work, and it was thrilling to see the cracks reveal the strain that came with putting together the album.
While the focus was on his latest material, he did manage to throw a bone to his longtime disciples, playing some of his older solo stuff in the encore, including "Everything Must Go" and "Deep Space 9mm," but everyone got all swoony when he busted out Company Flow's "Vital Nerve."
El-P was the crown jewel atop what was easily the best rap show I've seen this year. Supporting him was Atlanta's Killer Mike, whose new album R.A.P. Music, produced by El-P, is the other candidate for hip-hop's top release of 2012 1/2. The self-proclaimed country rapper appealed heavily to his Dallas audience, repeatedly paying homage to locals such as DSR, Tum Tum, Big Tuck and The D.O.C. Mike is a giant of a man, and as he stalked the stage he showed that he is one of the most able, solid and intense rappers of this generation.
And by intense, I mean downright militant at times. A "fuck Ronald Reagan" chant? Yeah, he definitely was the orchestrator of that. The big man roamed the stage with a swagger that filled the room in a way rarely seen in the Granada, and he went out to the Purple Ribbon All-Stars classic, "Kryptonite."
Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire jammed a ton of jovial rap into his short set. He appeared on stage in USA-themed face paint, a neck full of wooden bead necklaces, and no shirt. He had no problem letting his jiggle jiggle, and as he bounced through a few of his better-known highlights, including "Huzzah!," he evoked the image of the Happy Buddha.
Despot takes the cake as funniest rapper out right now, as his solid raps were perhaps overshadowed by the deadpan delivery he employed between songs.These interludes played out as more stand-up comedy than rap, a welcome change in a genre that has historically taken itself far too seriously. His version of crowd participation? Group aerobics. I want to see this guy again, for sure. While Despot (still no album, sorry) is one of the more able emcees plying his trade out there right now, his comedic timing ensures he may have other career options.
OKC rapper Jabee set the night off with a solid set of smart rap. His song "Super Ugly" surprised a lot of the early arrivals. Keep doing your thing, Jabee.
Random notes: The grungy, squirrel-looking miscreant hand puppet from El-P's "The Full Retard" video made it out, enjoying plenty of on-stage time and even stealing a kiss from Despot.
Big-ups to the guy who fashioned a giant turban entirely from his own dreadlocks.
A mosh pit during El-P's "Stay Down"? Oookaay.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.