Words by Anthony Obst, photos by Dominique Taylor.
“Home better go harder than all the other places out there.” Mr. MFN eXquire plainly laid down the rules for Friday night’s Into the Wild New York tour stop at Irving Plaza during his set. With three NY natives on the bill (him, El-P and Despot), and Killer Mike, who would later go on to remark on the city turning into his “second home” – to the point where Despot was actually showing him brownstones to buy – everybody involved was ready for an exceptional evening.
The homecoming kicked off with Despot taking the mic. Looking more comfortable on stage than ever, he brought out the entire entourage for a curious aerobic workout of sorts, with everyone from El-P to Killer Mike and eXquire laying down a borderline professional dance choreograohy, which served as an indication that these guys have really grown into a fun-loving, familial bunch during the course of the tour.
The gang was again reunited during eXquire’s set, joining the fur-hatted Brooklynite for “Huzzah,” which raised the room’s rambunctiousness and show of hands to heights that prompted El-P to pull out his iPhone for some crowd-recording. After going through some of his popular street-anthems, eXquire ended his set with a trademark in-crowd performance declaring – presumably quite truthfully: “I woke up this morning, feeling like that n***a.”
With Killer Mike arguably seeing eye to eye with El-P as co-headliner that evening, Irving Plaza bristled with anticipation in the minutes leading up to Mike’s performance. When the Atlanta native launched into a high-powered rendition of “Big Beast” after starting things out in second gear with “Untitled,” arms went shoving, fists when pumping and feet went jumping all around. Just as on his brilliant R.A.P. Music album, Killer Mike managed to effectively build a bridge between the “hardcore G sh*t” and activist politics. At one point, he caused an eruption of sorts by launching into his verse on Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared,” inspiring a couple of politically interested New York Magazine readers to migrate towards the corners. At another point (during “Reagan,” in case you were wondering), he brought out hip-hopolitical spokesperson #1 Immortal Technique to join him on stage. And when IT left to booming applause, Mike continued with the carefree and timeless “The Whole World,” switching lanes yet again.
The difficult task of topping Mike’s performance was of course one that El-P had become accustomed to over the course of the Into the Wild Tour – and it didn’t seem as though the Company Flow veteran was in any way worried of not coming up to par. With 3 musicians, 4 synthesizers, a drum kit, a guitar and a trombone right there with him to create as much noise as possible, El Producto joyfully drowned the place in apocalyptic cacophony. Reaching an ecstatic peak on “Tougher Colder Killer,” for which all tour-players were once again assembled, the energy level during the in-full performance of Cancer 4 Cure actually had our brave photographer worried about all sorts of flying liquids ruining her equipment.
Before El went on to deliver some older tracks, as well as an interpretation of A Tribe Called Quest‘s “Can I Kick It” as part of his encore, the sold-out Irving crowd even got to see surprise guest appearances not only by Das Racist’s Heems, but also by El-P’s already infamous puppet-friend, Mr. Killums. It didn’t seem like an overstatement when El declared about halfway through his set: “I’m having the best time of my f***ing life.”