True to Killer Mike’s authenticity, the white flowers adorning the Apollo Theater stage were not tour-battered props, but aromatic bouquets of real roses, carnations, and hydrangeas. Mixed with the regalia of his five-person choir, The Midnight Revival, their pew, the candles decorating Trackstar the DJ’s altar, and the lectern, the spiritual symbolism was clear. Mike pulled big praise when he grooved out onto the stage, looking saintly in all-white clothes: plain tee, pants, and bright Nike Air Force 1s with black swooshes. His attire was complete with a diamond watch and of course, other heavy-looking chains and glittering jewels. “Is Harlem in the motherfuckin’ hooouuuse?” he inquired, receiving a huge response. Killer Mike’s High & Holy Tour celebrates Michael – his sixth studio album and first solo record in eleven years – and the gospel vibe of the stage design initially influenced its catchy-as-hell tracks.
Though the contrast of explicitly secular verses in an overtly churchlike atmosphere could perhaps raise some traditional eyebrows, Mr. Render explained the restorative intent of the chosen theme. “This is an experience – bringing a Southern experience to the stage of the Apollo, man. I know James Brown did it… It means a lot to me, so I’m gonna tell people that may not be familiar. I know we’ve got a lot of Christians in the house. I know we’ve got Catholics up north, Episcopalians. You know it’s kind of like you get to church and it’s about thirty minutes, right? Well, when I was a little boy, man, my grandma would take me to these things called revivals. You go to a revival and it was cool because everyone wore street clothes. So we were going to these rivals, and I said to my grandma, ‘Why are we going?’ and she said, ‘That’s where people have fellowship. They might put a gun to your head on Friday, but that’s where people go to get revived.’”
“And I asked my grandma, ‘Why are people sad and mad? It looks like they drove up in nice cars and everything. They’ve got air conditioning in their cars.’ And she said, ‘Sometimes, you’ve got to go through a little suffering to appreciate. You’ve got to fall on your ass to appreciate getting back up. I’ll be damned. I don’t care how much good you do. There’s gonna be a motherfucker somewhere talkin’ that fuckin’ shit,’” he recalled, rolling straight into a fiery “TALK’N THAT SHIT!” Smiling all night, the artist-activist was visibly moved by the sizable and outspoken crowd that had flocked to Harlem’s historic [circa 1913] Apollo Theater for his solo show. Mike’s powerful choir – who quickly ditched their robes to reveal stylish white outfits – kept coolly swaying in sync, even when all sounds ceased and Mike rapped a capella.
This being the New York tour stop, hopes were high for some special guests, especially given all the noteworthy features on Michael, including CeeLo Green, Mozzy, Young Thug, 6lack, Eryn Allen Kane, Jagged Edge, André 3000, Future, Currensy, 2 Chainz, Kaash Paige, Blxst, Fabo, El-P, and Ty Dolla $ign. Sure enough, causing explosions of positive commotion from the floor to the balconies, NYC was indeed treated to two historic surprise appearances. About halfway through the 21-song set, Harlem native Cam’ron came out to cover his own “Touch It or Not” with Mike, and their synergy further intensified the audience’s awe. Then, lighting the place up with the show’s penultimate track, “DON’T LET THE DEVIL,” Killer Mike’s Run The Jewels counterpart, El-P, dashed onto the stage to throw down in his hometown. At home with Trackstar the DJ behind the wheel, they raced around the stage and revved up the room even more. The duo concluded this unexpected treat by forming the trademark fist and gun position with their hands.
Impressively, around 70% of fans way up in the mezzanine were voicing the lyrics with precision right in time with Killer Mike. Roughly 90% of these focused folks, at least once, pulled out a phone to grab videos or livestream his razor-sharp delivery of sagacious self-awareness. Dancing exuberantly to the soul and funk grooves embedded in his new music, the Atlanta legend made each word of his passionate poetry pop. On top of fans’ evident lyric memorization, Mike’s congregation fervently expressed their devotion. Between screams, they hollered, “Hallelujah!” “That’s right!” and “Let’s smoke!” The last exclamation, surely to Mike’s delight, tended to precede an orchestral crescendo of lighter flicks and an ember-orange constellation of strains.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley