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Home Culture Rapper Killer Mike: Killer Mike’s Mass in B minor: an evening of rap with a symphony orchestra | Culture

Rapper Killer Mike: Killer Mike’s Mass in B minor: an evening of rap with a symphony orchestra | Culture

by News Room
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Dj’s lazy or, worse, too drunk, out of tune voices, embarrassing shows… the fan of hip-hop live he quickly learns to deal with disappointment. Hence, last Tuesday’s event at the Kennedy Center in Washington, a temple of music and performing arts on the banks of the Potomac, was a special occasion: to Killer Mike, one of the rappers most relevant of the moment, he was accompanied that night by the National Symphony Orchestra.

The artist, reference of hip-hop from Atlanta, took full advantage of the possibilities that came with the invitation of an institution that had previously accompanied other stars of the genre, such as Nas, Kendrick Lamar or Common. In addition to the orchestra, which he translated into symphonic language the bases of a repertoire centered on the music of Killer Mike’s latest album, Michael (2023), he was accompanied by five singers dressed in tunics, a pianist, who doubled as organist, a bassist and a drummer, as well as a gospel choir and a dj, who launched the rhythms from a mixing board on an altar of props. That’s also where Tuesday’s concert distinguished itself from the classic show by hip-hopin which the protagonists usually have a hard time filling the space: with so many people on stage (there was even a sign interpreter), the leader’s movement capacity was limited.

That of the altar was not the only religious reference in the show, much less the first time that the Kennedy Center used the Christian liturgy: the show with which the performing arts complex was inaugurated in 1971 was the mass (in Latin). with a rock air that Leonard Bernstein composed for the occasion. Killer Mike framed his evening as a tribute to the church and gospel music, two central elements in the African-American experience and culture.

Killer Mike, during his performance at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, on May 21Julian Thomas

There were flowers and a choir, and the singer referred to Sunday mass as essential in his education and in the forging of his memories, the main source of inspiration for the rhymes of his latest work, which has earned him three Grammy Awards, and also an arrest the night he received them, after an altercation with an “overly zealous” security guard. Michael It was his first solo work after 12 years during which he focused on his project Run the Jewels, a duo of hip-hop politician together with producer EL-P, one of the most interesting groups on the current scene.

For the cover of Michael, The rapper and occasional actor chose a photo of him as a child, outfitted with a halo of holiness and devil ears. The album is, to quote Nas, “a trip down memory lane,” as well as a treatise on the contradictions of fame and, alas, wealth, as well as a proposal for the deconstruction of black male masculinity. contemporary (although without going overboard: in one of the interior photos of the album, Killer Mike poses surrounded by half-naked women). The result is also (and above all) a tribute to his mother and his grandmother. The two came out several times during Tuesday’s concert. And, as on the album, he remembered his opera teacher and the rest of his teachers in high school, in another demonstration that Michael Render, who has just turned 49, seems to have been caught by the midlife crisis. side of nostalgia.

The orchestra was conducted by Steven Reineke, who usually replaces the baton of the principal conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, who recently took the group on tour through Spain, on the national symphony’s frequent excursions into pop culture. They performed Tim Davies’ arrangements, and at times it was difficult to understand their subtleties, in the midst of the noise of the electric instruments and the amplified voices of the singers. The members of the different sections seemed abstracted, as if thinking about their own things, faced with an interpretive challenge that was lighter than usual, easier than, say, playing the Seventh Mahler.

“A legend”

Before Killer Mike came out 20 minutes late, Reineke introduced him as “a legend from Atlanta” and recalled that the NSO is the only group of its category to consistently propose “meaningful collaborations” with rappers. The singer returned the compliment when they dusted off an old song from his beginnings, Never Scared (2003), which he signed with Bone Crusher. Reineke reproduced the deranged sound of that classic song from hip-hop Southerner, Killer Mike looked at him with admiration and, instead of referring to him with the usual “teacher,” he gave him a compliment typical of a street rhyme fight. “You’re a real bastard!” he exclaimed.

The night had begun as it begins Michaelwith the theme Down By Law, so the first bars that played actually came from the string arrangements that soul singer Curtis Mayfield composed for his anthem We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue, which Killer Mike samples in that song. From there, topics such as Two Days, Get Some Money, Shed Tears o Ric Flair, titled with the name of the famous WWF wrestler, and in which Pau Gasol rhymes with tall. It sounded in the second part of the two-hour evening, which began with a 20-minute intermission, a custom that is not common at rap concerts. Neither is seeing an audience like that at a Kennedy Center recital: young, mostly African-American and dressed for the occasion with his best finery and enviable self-confidence.

The last album, which the rapper played in its entirety, although not in order, is full of cameos, including a parade of other Atlanta rap stars, from CeeLo Green to Future, and from Young Thug to André 3000, from the duo OutKast. Killer Mike excused this one when the orchestra attacked Scientists & Engineers. “I didn’t have the budget to bring it,” he said. Maybe he couldn’t have been in Washington that day either: the legendary mc He is on tour in the United States, entertained by his newly launched role as a composer. new age, to which he has dedicated an album in which he changes the microphone for the flute.

Killer Mike, second from the right, waves at the end of the concert holding on to his backup singers, with conductor Steven Reineke in the background, last Tuesday at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
Killer Mike, second from the right, waves at the end of the concert holding on to his backup singers, with conductor Steven Reineke in the background, last Tuesday at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Big Boi, the other half of OutKast, was also present thanks to their collaboration in Kill Bill, inspired by Tarantino’s films. And the voice of comedian Dave Chappelle was heard in the recording of the monologue that opens Run, in which he compares the “experience of being black in the United States” to “taking the beach at Normandy.” “You see one guy get blown up, another guy runs away, another guy collapses,” Chappelle recites. “But you have no choice but to move forward. Continue the assault on the beach, black. Keep running.”

Killer Mike is supposed to have a considerable capacity to influence the African-American community, especially that of Atlanta, and he uses it to support Senator Bernie Sanders on his truncated path to the White House, who meets with the Republican governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp. These contradictions have earned him some criticism. His role as an agitator of consciences remained, however, in the background compared to others, such as that of a preacher with overtones of self-help (as when he said: “if I didn’t have a dollar in my pocket, I would feel just as rich”) or that of a plain preacher (although he claims to have renounced the Christian faith, his latest rhymes are full of biblical references).

He also remembered the death of his mother in Motherless; of that girlfriend of her 16 years, that she had to abort, in Slumbering; or the drug problems of her aunt, addicted to crack (Something for Junkies). After such a review of the triumphs and tribulations of a “guy who grew up on the West side of Atlanta,” Killer Mike addressed the audience at the end of the concert, who were repeating his rhymes with their hands in the air, and said, “Do you see? How far have I come?” He sounded like James Cagney in the unforgettable final sequence of the film noir classic White Heat: “Look, mom, I’m on top of the world!”

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