The Ghetto Gospel: Killer Mike took ’em to church in Calgary [Review] #SledIsland
Calgary, AB – On Jun. 19, Killer Mike returned to Calgary to perform a headlining set as part of the annual Sled Island music festival. Sled Island took over Calgary from Jun. 18 through Jun. 22, with more than 250 musical acts, as well as comedy, art and film. You might remember that catastrophe that was the cancellation of Sled Island 2013 (due to the devastating floods in the Calgary area). But the festival came back this year – and it went hard.
But anyways – let’s get back to the Killer Mike show of piffery smithery status. The thing about Sled Island is that it’s the ultimate indie music festival. By indie, I don’t mean hip music aficionados walking around in flower crowns and boho skirts. Just kidding. That happened. Also, I did wear a flower crown at one point (sorry, not sorry). But it also means that the festival directors are all about giving shine to the underground music scene; regardless of genre. So while it would have been an easy-sell to bring any number of radio rap cats to the YYC, Sled Island decided to show love to the underground. And Killer Mike is the king of the underground. Actually, he’s the pastor of the underground. And he turned ish up for Midnight Church.
The night started off at 9 p.m. with a performance from Calgary’s own Humble Giants duo. MCs Beni J (TBT) and Halfcut were joined on stage by DJ C-SIK for a monstrous opening. At the start of the set, there were maybe a dozen-or-so folks by the stage. But once HG got into their tuneage, the venue packed up and turned up. HG’s got a catalogue of tracks that has yet to make it on to a project. But if you’ve caught even a couple of shows from them, you’ll probably already be familiar with bangers like “Who The Livest?” (spoiler alert: the answer to said question is the Humble Giants; they the livest).
Halfcut also hit us with some of his solo work off his recent From Dungeons To Rooftops album release. Remember that ridiculously vibed-out joint entitled “Gone” (shameless self-promotion: I wrote about it over here)? That happened live. It was beautiful. Beni and Halfcut are two of my favourite local MCs. Beni is probably one of the most well-known cats on the Calgary scene; but that’s all due to his 10 at 10-related duties and other hip-hoppity dealings. I’m ‘a just throw this out there: Beni should be known for his work as an MC. Humble Giants need to release a project right away. But word is that they’re planning on dropping something on us soon. Eeeps.
Halifax MC xxx clvr was also scheduled to open up the show. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to make it over to the YYC. So Calgary’s own Sabo Forte stepped in to take his place. Here’s the deal with Sabo – he makes hip hip-hop. It’s carefree and breezy. It’s very Sled Island. It was great to have another YYC MC on the mic for the night. Shout-out to Sabo for stepping up to-the-plate last-minute and rocking the stage.
The last opening set for the night came to us from Montreal R&B singer, Black Atlass. Atlass had performed a set at the Central United Church on the previous night, and festival attendees were already hailing him as, “That dude who kind of sounds like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean.” Not necessarily a bad thing, though. I mean, Abel Tesfaye is the closest thing this earth has to a legitimate sex god. So being compared to that is kind of massive. Ya feel me?
Finally, it was time to go to church. Midnight church. With Killer Mike. I’ve taken to telling people that Killer Mike is one of my favourite live performers. And now it’s reaffirmed: Killer Mike is all sorts of gnarly. Here’s the backstory for you – I went to the Run The Jewels show last year. I wasn’t really all too familiar with Mike, El-P, and RTJ. But things set off. First, Killer Mike did a solo set. Then El-P did a solo set (shout-out to El-P’s hype man: Shannon T Moore. I fancy him). Then Killer Mike and El-P hopped on to the stage together and destroyed as the Run The Jewels duo. It was all sorts of insane.
People are always talking about “turning up,” and stuff like that. But that show was the definition of turned up – the venue was completely packed. And everyone was thrashing around and jumping and sweating and spitting every lyric to every RTJ joint. It was a beautiful next-level experience. I grew up and became a woman that night. Sort of.
That night, I felt this deeply spiritual connection to every single person in the room. Especially when Mike took ’em to church. He always drops this schpiel about how everyone in the room is united; it doesn’t matter what religion, skin colour, gender, or anything else it – we’re all there together and we’re all one congregation. And that’s one of the things I love most about being a hip-hop head. I have my people; you people – the congregation. So on Thursday night, church was back in session.
Mike keeps things realer than real. Rap shows are usually a lot of flex. But Mike’s not trying to put on for anyone. He shared a story about his wife (shout-out to the fiercely sassy Shana Render) – a red-haired, freckled babe of wifey status. Apparently she’d gotten sick prior to his show. Regardless, Mike explained that his wife shared some sage words of wisdom with him prior to his performance: “Turn the f**k up.” Also, here’s another cool fun fact for you about Mike’s wife: her favourite Killer Mike joint is “Southern Fried.” Actually, if we’re being completely honest, here – Mike talks about his wife a lot. I just Google Image lurked her, too. Um. Hi, girl crush.
Mike performed a combination of his solo work (mostly from his 2012 R.A.P. Music album release), as well as some Run The Jewels jewels. When he got to “Reagan,” he told the crowd about what went down last time he came through Calgary – a girl came to the show dressed up as Ronald Reagan. IT HAPPENED, PEOPLE! It didn’t happen this time around, unfortunately. But the swarms of fans yelling “F**k Ronald Reagan!!!!!” at the top of their lungs was due compensation. I swear – I know Mike’s already got that barbershop business going on. But if he’s ever looking to get involved in another day job, he could make some serious cheddar as a motivational speaker.
Towards the end of the night, “Sea Legs” happened and everybody lost it. El-P wasn’t there to make it a total RTJ experience. But that’s okay – Mike got help from the crowd. Everyone knows the lyrics to “Sea Legs.” And while feelings and emotions were at an all-time high, Mike had to wrap his set. This was the worst part of the night. The part where we had to part with Killer Mike. Ugh. So of course he went out into the audience and shared a big group-hug with all the Sled Islanders. There was sweat. There were feelings. And now I’m already itching for the Mikester’s return to the YYC.
Photography by Sarah Sussman