Killer Mike and his Midnight Revival choir brought one of the most heartfelt shows I’ve seen recently to Dallas’ House of Blues. Throughout a night punctuated by inspiring gospel, soothing soul, and hard-hitting rap, Mike and his opening artists threaded the idea of cherishing one another and yourself between crowd-energizing music.
After a period of anticipation soundtracked by classic reggae and dub, the first performer burst onto the stage: Dallas native Bobby Sessions. Although performing in his home city, Sessions isn’t a small-time rapper. Even if you don’t know his name, you definitely know his work; the rapper won a Grammy in 2021 for co-writing the Billboard #1 hit “Savage” with Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé. Sessions has also collaborated with Freddie Gibbs, Gucci Mane, and Rick Ross; his track “Made a Way” was featured on EA’s FIFA ‘21 soundtrack; and in the music video for his song “Triple Deity”, Dallas-born hip-hop and R&B legend Erykah Badu made a featured appearance.
Sessions slung satisfying verses from his 2022 single, “iii”, hyping up the crowd for Killer Mike’s set while also showing off the lyrical prowess that had netted him a Grammy. Audience members in the front row dapped him up while he rapped, and the crowd yelled approval and assertions. Chants of “Bobby Sessions, Young Legend” erupted between songs.
Surprisingly, Sessions completely shifted the mood when he performed “Alone Time”, a song about his struggles with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. With the music cutting out, he bore his heart for the whole crowd: “I wanted to take a .22 to shoot myself ’round twenty-two…If a gun a was at my head for real, would I have the guts to pull it? I don’t know ’cause I didn’t have no money for the bullets.” A somber silence hung in the air after the song finished, interrupted by Sessions acknowledging the intensity of the track and reminding the crowd to check on their loved ones, and to have love and compassion for themselves. Despite the tonal shift, the crowd was just as supportive, appreciating the authenticity on display.
After the striking opening performance, a table was uncovered and two turntables surrounded by candles and flowers were revealed. It was time for a smooth selection of soul classics from Trackstar the DJ, tour DJ for Killer Mike and Run the Jewels (Mike’s prolific hip-hop partnership with rapper El-P).
Providing a calming interlude between two powerful rap performances, Trackstar manipulated his turntables with precision as he treated the crowd to tunes like Sade’s “Hang On to Your Love” and Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby.” He effortlessly blended each track into the next, mixing a strong set with impeccable flow. His skill of setting a mood that the whole audience could vibe to reflected his experience curating music on platforms like Apple’s Beats1 and SiriusXM.
Finally, it was time for the main event. The light shifted; a small choir adorned in deep green church robes danced their way onto the stage, striking tambourines and dancing – a preview of the spirited praise that was to follow. With a grand voice-over introduction, Atlanta’s Michael Render made his way in front of his congregation for the evening.
When Michael dropped, the album that sparked this tour, it had been over a decade since the rapper’s previous solo release, 2012’s R.A.P. Music. After a world-dominating reign churning out acclaimed alternative rap with Run the Jewels, it’s refreshing to hear how Mike has reinvented himself on his own terms with this latest release. He hasn’t abandoned his partnership – El-P features on the album, and another RTJ release will inevitably keep duo’s massive hype going – but this solo venture has allowed Killer Mike to infuse more of his personal experience and emotion into the work.
Kicking off the set with “DOWN BY LAW,” the rapper’s electrifying stage presence was immediately apparent. Interspersed with his hard-hitting flow, the crowd sang along to CeeLo Green’s featured vocals. Killer Mike’s unshakeable confidence along with a knowing sense of humor were present throughout his entire set, keeping the audience dancing, laughing, and completely engaged.
Mike wasn’t there just to entertain. On the album and on stage, he had plenty of meaningful statements to make. During the track “TALK’N THAT SHIT!” he repeated one line several times – “I don’t give a fuck who the president is if the president ain’t for me!” Mike has been a vocal supporter of progressive social and economic policy for over a decade, a virtue evident via his various forays into music, television, and even campaigning for political office.
After “SLUMMER,” a melancholy song about a past relationship involving an abortion, Mike emphasized the need for sex education. He stressed to the crowd to make sure the young people in their lives know how to use a condom while affirming a woman’s right to have control over her own body, a central value of the pro-choice movement.
During “Reagan,” a 2012 song bashing former president Ronald Reagan’s harmful economic- and drug-related policies and the state of US politics, audio clips of Reagan denying the trading of weapons for hostages were interrupted by Mike proclaiming, “That was a lie.” Killer Mike’s history as a political activist was displayed with full force alongside expressive lyrical performance.
Following some challenging subject matter, Mike took it back to a couple crowd-pleasers, with André 3000’s recorded verse on “SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS” bringing venue-shaking cheers and a member of the Midnight Revival unleashing his captivating version of Ty Dolla $ign’s singing on “TWO DAYS.” Mike gave a hearty rendition of Run the Jewels’ “Don’t Let the Devil,” shouting out close collaborator El-P and making their iconic gun and fist hand sign.
Killer Mike asked the crowd to raise their hands if they knew someone struggling with addiction, prefacing the compassion for “addicts…users…and the substance abusers” in “SOMETHING FOR JUNKIES.” He then moved on to another crucial function of a church as a community space: a place for death to be recognized and life to be celebrated. Performing “MOTHERLESS,” a song lamenting the loss of his mother and grandmother, a black-and-white photo of his mother was uncovered. Afterwards, Mike pleaded with the audience to have understanding, not contempt, for their parents – people whose cluelessness in the process of raising their children stems from the naturally difficult coming-of-age we all experience.
At the very end, Killer Mike surprised the crowd by bringing out The D.O.C., a prolific artist, songwriter, and producer who lost his voice in a 1989 car crash but went on to pen music for the likes of N.W.A., Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg. Mike thanked the Dallas native for sharing his musical talent and giving a platform to so many influential artists before clearing the stage for the night. The crowd was left feeling not just inspired and entertained but understood by a talented rapper that truly works to promote connection.