Former Dungeon Family understudy releases his first major label album in years; despite typical major label rap issues, he shines as bright as usual.
For those of you who missed the should-have-been worldwide event of Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II's release, allow me a moment for a brief recap. Killer Mike received one of the best debut blessings an Atlanta rapper's ever received when OutKast threw him on their Greatest Hits throw-in "The Whole World", one of OutKast's biggest crossover successes. But it was sort of a strange marriage that saw Mike spending a lot more time with Big Boi's Purple Ribbon camp than Dungeon Family proper, and eventually Mike left on unamicable terms to forge his own path as the leader of his Grind Time crew.
The rough period continued as his sophomore album, Ghetto Extraordinary, languished in label hell despite being more Dungeon Family-connected than his debut, Monster, until hip-hop site HipHopDX finally dropped it for free shortly after New Years, 2008. The album carried a political bend reminiscent of the Fam, but it turned out to be a mere warm-up for the sequel to his Atlanta-dominating Pledge Allegiance to the Grind mixtape.
That sequel, man, some people dismissed it for its admittedly low budget production, but that was literally the only crit I could accept for it. Killer Mike had persevered through all his label drama and evolved into the closest thing to prime Ice Cube we've ever had, a street-ass bearded ladies man who just so happened to have his ears and soul much closer to the essences of street living and black religious culture than most would be able to witness at first glance. Three years later and Mike is the rare rapper that can flit between songs about strip clubs and Gucci bags one moment, and deconstructions of the Eddie Long controversy the next without ever sounding unbelievable. As such, the motivational potency of his music is matched by a very, very select few on the current hip-hop landscape. He's a star that's just like us, a success story more interested in teaching his listeners how to pattern their life after his rather than simply brag about what he's accomplished.
Because of this, within Southern rap circles PL3DGE has been cooking in the Grand Hustle studios with an anticipation possibly unmatched by any other record. Expected to be the first album in years to properly measure street culture and political content, PL3DGE for all intents and purposes should be a star-making vehicle. But does it reach it's goals? Yes and no. The first stretch of the album is a certified monster: "So Glorious" captures the same "Get Up, Get Out" vibe of Pledge II's "Intro", while "That's Life II" matches the political vitriol of "God in the Building" (also receiving sequel treatment here) and the original "That's Life". Those tracks are followed by some really interesting sample choices, whether it's No I.D.'s ridiculous Flying Lotus-like "Ready Set Go" or the hilarious use of Ric Flair soundbytes on "Ric Flair" and practically straight up re-interpretation of Funakdelic's "You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks" that is "Burn".
But the vibe is sort of fudged with "Go Out on the Town", a feel-good song that just feels more like a Jeezy song than a Mike song and felt a lot more at home on the Bangx3 tape Mike released only weeks prior to this album's release. "God in the Building II" tries to bring things back home, but it's followed by another out of place track on "Player's Lullaby" and the strip club anthem "Animal". The latter is especially noteworthy with its animal samples and trap by numbers drum sequencing; at times I absolutely despise it, at times it's kind of fun to hear Mike cut loose. But paired with "Player's Lullaby" (not a bad song at all, though) and "Go Out on the Town", suddenly PL3DGE feels a lot less focused than it's predecessor and, unfortunately, a bit of a disappointment. Which is hard to say, I mean this is an album on which Mike says: "God bless America, home of the Rockefellers, home of the Carnegies. Home of the end justifies the means legitimized through larceny. 'Fuck your king, fuck your taxes' is what they told they masters... before they became our masters."
PL3DGE is a hard album to criticize because I honestly believe Killer Mike is one of the top rappers America currently has to offer the world, and his message is too admirable to ignore, even on the more plodding tracks like "Everything (Hold You Down)" (easily the most out of place in the set) and "Follow Your Dreams". But I think it's very fair to say expectations weren't totally met, whether because of the aforementioned issues with sequencing or because some of the biggest highlights ("Swimming", either version of "Ready Set Go") have been around for years, and he just gave us "Go Out on the Town" and the "Ready, Set, Go" remix on Bang x 3.
Those decisions sap PL3DGE of some of its potential for freshness, not just its consistency. I'd love to come in front of everyone and say that yes, once again, Killer Mike has released a prime candidate for album of the year and put on the sort of performance you should die trying to hear. But, I just can't. PL3DGE is a very good album that makes some common major label mistakes, not a life changer like it's predecessor. That's fine, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a little personally disappointing. No doubt it will grow on folks like me with unbelievable expectations, and perhaps if you missed the other two Pledges it won't miss it's mark. But I'd definitely suggest grabbing a copy of Pledge II with PL3DGE, if only to witness Mike on his most kingly of king shit.