Halfway through his set at New York’s Irving Plaza, Killer Mike made an affirming proclamation. “I do this shit for the whole fucking world,” the Atlanta rapper said, pointing to various people in the crowd with a massive grin plastered on his face. Three of the four rappers on Friday night’s bill were New York City natives, but despite the homecoming for El-P’s “Into The Wild” tour, the atmosphere reached beyond the birthplace of hip-hop. Of course the obligatory shout-outs were made to the five boroughs, with Killer Mike relating stories of growing up with cousins from the Bronx and El-P showing love to his hometown, but this was warm appreciation for the city, not holier-than-thou hubris.
Taking the stage after openers Despot and Universal Republic signee Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Killer Mike kicked off his 40-minute set with a calm, smooth performance of “Untitled,” a track off his recent collaborative album with El-P, R.A.P. Music. After stomping through “Big Beast,” the first single off R.A.P. Music, Mike recognized the intensity of the crowd and reviewed proper hyped-up show behavior, before launching into his verse on Bone Crusher’s 2003 hit “Never Scared.” Things took a turn for the serious when Mike introduced R.A.P. Music cut “Reagan” and brought out special guest Immortal Technique. “When you see a bold-faced lie, call that shit out,” he said before thoroughly enunciating through the aggressively critical track. Though Mike visited R.A.P. Music throughout his set, playing “Butane (Champion’s Anthem)” with El-P and “Anywhere But Here” with the Phenomenal Handclap Band bassist Emily Panic, he also touched on older material, ripping through PL3DGE tracks “Burn” and “Ready Set Go” and performing his verse from Outkast’s “The Whole World.” But the icing came with his closer: taking a special request from eXquire’s mom, who names the song as her favorite, the hulking rapper ended his set with an anarchic performance of the Purple Ribbon All-Stars’ 2005 smash “Kryptonite (I’m On It).”
As he did at his May record release show at NYC’s Santos Party House, El-P chose to play through his new album Cancer For Cure in full, sparing no detail in his performance. El-P teased the crowd with the first notes of C4C single “The Full Retard,” before pausing to bring out Mr. Killums, the coke-snorting, pedestrian-assaulting miscreant squirrel puppet from the track’s music video. El-P hit album highlight “Oh Hail No” with particular fury, rapping alongside featured guest eXquire and initiating a rowdy call-and-response with the audience to fill in for the absent Danny Brown. Das Racist’s Himanshu Suri emerged to provide vocals for “True Story,” shouting the stuttering chorus with blunted vigor. El-P was especially sharp on the anxious and paranoid “The Jig Is Up,” with his jagged flow reflecting the emotional panic of the track. But while the vibe was celebratory, the underground trailblazer took a moment before album closer “$4 Vic/Nothing But You + Me (FTL)” to honor his deceased friend Camu Tao, who passed away in 2008 from cancer.
The mood didn’t stay somber long though, with El-P quickly retreating and retaking the stage for a 15-minute encore, featuring I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead tracks “EMG” and “No Kings” and a fun-loving semi-rendition of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” El-P closed his set with two fan favorites: the early Company Flow cut “Vital Nerve” and “Deep Space 9mm” from his 2002 debut solo album Fantastic Damage. Hip-hop has had quite the year so far, but there’s something special about a rejuvenated El-P putting out two of 2012’s most critically praised albums. “I’m having the best time of my fucking life,” he admitted in the middle of his set. It must be nice a feeling.