Killer Mike is an underrated rapper. We knew he could rap when most of the world discovered him through Outkast’s “Snappin’ & Trappin’” and later on the Grammy-winning “The Whole World” (also by Outkast). He has released well-made projects like the 2012 album R.A.P. Music and has achieved much success as half of the duo Run The Jewels. I won’t even delve into all the things Killer Mike has done outside of rap, such as giving back to his community and being a social and political activist.
Killer Mike is still an underrated rapper, but he aims to change that with his new album, MICHAEL. Mike has stated that with this project, he aims to let fans know, young and old, that he is one of the best MCs in Atlanta, if not the world. Let’s check out Killer Mike’s sixth studio album, MICHAEL.
1. DOWN BY LAW
Featuring CeeLo Green; Produced by DJ Moon
I would have loved for the man speaking at the beginning of this album to be Big Rube, but since it’s Rico Wade, I’ll give it a pass. Either way, the words “I just think timing is everything” help set up the first song, “Down By Law,” with Killer Mike’s first line being “Hello my niggas.”
Over a bass-heavy interpretation of Curtis Mayfield’s “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue,”ft5t Michael references the likes of Master Fard Muhammad, Larry Hoover, Betty Shabazz, and Rakim all in the same spirited verse. This is also a reminder to anybody that Killer Mike can really, really rap.
Is CeeLo Green still canceled? I don’t really care but I don’t think anyone else could fit on this song. Good intro and start to the album.
My name is Michael, I’m down by law
2. SHED TEARS
Featuring Mozzy; Produced by No I.D.
I like the black gospel influence on “Shed Tears,” and Mike is really delivering powerful and painful verses here:
I shed tears every morning in the bathroom mirror
Face to face with fate, had to face my fears
It was me, I’m the reason that I fell
That was hell, locked in self-guilt like jail
Lord, I cried, almost died, empty inside
The devil whispers in your ear, you contemplate suicide
Props to Lena Byrd Miles, who does the chorus, and you can even hear her ad-libbing behind the verses. Her voice helps make this song.
I’ve heard Mozzy a lot, but I never really delved into his music. The most I know about him is when he was shouted out during Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy for Best Rap Album speech. Mozzy’s verse was good, but he kind of got overshadowed here by the big production and Mike’s verses. You don’t need to skip his verse or anything, though.
Featuring Young Thug; Produced by No I.D.
I remember when the music video for “Run” dropped and it had “featuring Dave Chappelle” in the title. Nah, Dave is not dropping any bars here; he talks in the beginning (“Mike, the one thing about being a nigga in America, it’s like storming the beach in Normandy”).
I like the pairing of Young Nigga and Killer Mike. Yeah, they’re both from Atlanta, but not the same Atlanta musically. I also like it when rappers feature other rappers you wouldn’t normally think of.
That being said, the song is okay. It feels like there should be another gear somewhere that it never reaches. However, I still like the message of “keep going”.
Featuring 6LACK & Eryn Allen Kane; Produced by Cool N Dre
Has Cool N Dre still been producing this whole thing and I just didn’t know it? That would explain why “NRich” sounds like something Rick Ross would rap on. That’s not a bad thing, and I would sub in Rozay for 6LACK on this track (Also, the song title is basically “Nigga Rich which is basically what Rick Ross is about).
That being said, I like the way Mike comes on the track:
Rollin’ with my nigga, rich niggas, these is my nigga rolls
Jesus was a nigga, my nigga killed ’em, my nigga rose
I know you love me runnin’ the jewels, but these my nigga flows
I had to get used to the generic hook, but I kinda like it now. This one grew on me.
5. TALK’N THAT SHIT!
Produced by DJ Paul & TWhy
This is technically the only song where Killer Mike appears by himself. The track is essentially Killer Mike on a Three 6 Mafia-style track, and it works. The beat changes multiple times, and Mike switches up flows to match each switch and showcase his talent. As I mentioned, this combination works even better than expected. However, I’m not sure if this was a good choice for the album’s single.
Featuring Jagged Edge; Produced by Cool N Dre
I’m gonna be honest, when I saw that Jagged Edge was featured on the track, I assumed that Mike was going to do a throwback R&B Atlanta song. But no, “Slummer” goes a lot deeper than that. It tells the story of a younger Mike and his then-girlfriend, their teenage love, pregnancy, and eventual abortion. The song is very honest in terms of the regret and rawness expressed in the lyrics (“I was rubbin’ on your tummy when your mommy asked for money/Told me, ‘Your procedure’s Monday and she gon’ need like four hunnid’”).
Cool N Dre samples Warren “Donell” Hickman and the San Francisco Inspirational Choir’s “We’ve Only Just Begun” as the backdrop and backend of the song, elevating things even more.
This one is a must-listen, even if it’s a hard listen for some.
7. SCIENTISTS & ENGINEERS
Featuring André 3000, Future, & Eryn Allen Kane; Produced by André 3000, No I.D., DJ Paul, James Blake, & TWhy
An André 3000 verse can still generate some buzz, and for that reason, “Scientists & Engineers” is easily the song on this project that will garner the most attention. It’s frustrating when the billing on a song is impressive but the actual song falls short; fortunately, that is not the case here.
I highlighted André 3000’s verse because it’s a rarity, but he did not outshine Mike or Future on this track (The use of Future here is perfect). Killer Mike mentioned on The Breakfast Club that 3000 has never out-rapped him on a track, and he can continue to say that after this song too.
The production has a feel reminiscent of a song that would appear on an updated version of ATLiens (if that makes sense). Naturally, it’s excellent when you have a lineup of André 3000, No I.D., DJ Paul, and James Blake behind the boards.
8. TWO DAYS
Featuring Ty Dolla $ign; Produced by Don Cannon
I would have preferred if Killer Mike had rapped over a Don Cannon track similar to “Go Crazy” or “D Boyz” or something like that, but “Two Days” is still a good song. It’s a quick song, barely over two minutes long, but Mike delivers some bars:
I got partners comin’ home from rockin’ twenty in the pen,
Tryna make amends with baby mamas, get to know they kids,
And they cannot sell no marijuana, law won’t let ’em in,
Man, them crackers let a nigga out, but will not let ’em in (In).
I’m usually not that into Ty Dolla $ign, but I don’t mind him here either (maybe because he sounds kinda different?). Check this one out.
9. SPACESHIP VIEWS
Featuring Curren$y, 2 Chainz, & Kaash Paige; Produced by Honorable C.N.O.T.E.
Seeing Curren$y and 2 Chainz as features and the song being called “Spaceship Views,” I assumed this was the “weed” song on the album, but it’s not really that (although the hook is still mostly about smoking weed, but whatever). It’s a serviceable album track produced by Honorable C.N.O.T.E., but I feel like the beat could have been better. Nonetheless, it’s not a bad song.
10. EXIT 9
Featuring Blxst; Produced by Beat Butcha & Will Yanez
I previously mentioned that “Scientists & Engineers” sounded like something you would hear on an updated version of ATLiens, and now “Exit 9” sounds like something that could be on a Goodie Mob album. The song has Killer Mike reminiscing about his younger days and driving around Atlanta. It’s another album track, but these songs are needed to flesh out the project, so I approve.
11. SOMETHING FOR JUNKIES
Featuring Fabo; Produced by Don Cannon, No I.D., & Little Shalimar
This is literally a song for addicts, users, and substance abusers. In interviews, I have seen Mike explain that it’s important to treat even junkies as human beings, and he expresses that sentiment here. On the second verse, Killer Mike even raps about his drug-addicted aunt and having conversations with her while she was in the middle of smoking crack.
There’s even a verse from Atlanta legend Fabo, and while he is not known for his lyrical prowess, I still like his verse too. It’s a win for the junkies.
Featuring Eryn Allen Kane; Produced by No I.D.
On the soulful track “Motherless,” Mike pays tribute to his mother Denise, who passed away in 2017. The song explores Mike’s mother’s history (“A Black boy born to a teen mama”), the wisdom she imparted to him (“I miss all the jewels and I miss all your wisdom too”), and how much he misses her (“If God set me back to normal to be next to you, I would gladly trade it all ’cause I be missin’ you”). The lyrics, as well as the production, convey a sadness that fits the theme (The music video for “Motherless” also captures this emotion).
Eryn Allen Kane makes another appearance on this track, and her presence is impactful. Just like on the previous songs, she infuses this track with passion and a touching feeling, not to mention her beautiful voice.
13. DON’T LET THE DEVIL
Featuring El-P & thankugoodsir; Produced by No I.D., El-P, & Little Shalimar
This might seem obvious since El-P is featured on “Don’t Let The Devil,” but if somebody told me that this song was originally meant for a Run The Jewels album, I would believe it. I understand why Mike wanted to have an El-P appearance on this album. That being said, it’s not the best RTJ song; it’s kind of average. You could take or leave this song off the album, and I probably wouldn’t miss it.
14. HIGH AND HOLY
Featuring Ty Dolla $ign; Produced by Tec Beatz
Killer Mike stays smoked out and prayed up on the final track of the project, “High and Holy.” I often mention in these reviews when closing songs sound like the ending of an album, and “High and Holy” accomplishes this. It serves as the thesis statement for Killer Mike’s career as well as this album. The piano at the beginning of this track sounds like something that would be played during the credits. Mike even starts off his verse as if he is giving a victory speech:
To all the real niggas, it’s my honor
To pay you homage
And extend the same respect to all your baby mamas
‘Cause we’re just trifle
We carry rifles
Granny carries Bibles
We carry hatred for our rivals
The song serves as a worthy outro to the album as Mike raps about the ills of men and the meaning of life. It all fits together. That marks the end of MICHAEL.
MICHAEL is a great example and showcase of Killer Mike’s talent. It covers issues close to the man, documenting his early and present life, all delivered in a passionate and compelling way.
While the album is not perfect, I can see it not being for everybody, especially the younger audience. Mike has also been criticized in the past for not being all over the place with social and political messages. If you look hard enough, you will find those views here too.
In the end, MICHAEL is a great body of work and easily the best album by Killer Mike, marking a high point in the musical life and times of Michael Render.