Remembering KMG, and Above the Law’s Enduring Influence
In memory of the cool, calm, and collected half of the criminally overlooked West Coast rap group
Above the Law’s KMG the Illustrator, who died on Saturday, begins “Murder Rap” from the West Coast group’s 1990 debut Livin’ Like Hustlers with some Flavor Flav-like words of encouragement for his rhyming partner and producer, Cold 187um: “Yo, Cold 187, they tryin’ to give you a murder rap / And you ain’t even like that / Yo, serve the niggas, cause they deserve to get dissed.” KMG often played the tough-guy cheerleader to Cold 187’s swaggering quarterback, though those times when he does rap more extensively, he earns his moniker “The Illustrator.”
From Livin’ Like Hustlers‘ title track: “KMG, the number-one mack daddy / Eatin’ chicken like a motherfucker, rollin’ in my caddy / With my brim cold bent to the side, I bump and slide / Go mack in the back, 187 to the side / Street pilgrims, pioneering the land / Above-the-law status, with a gat in my hand.” Those first few lines are, well, pretty damned illustrative, presenting a clear and cogent picture of blaxploitation badassery, rendered with quiet confidence and colloquial regular guy-ness (the boast of eating lots of chicken is an added, low-rent bonus) and aided by a sneaky, relaxed flow that’s the opposite of gangsta rap’s tendency to Incredible Hulk its way through boasts and sound-offs. Referring to hustlers and dealers as “street pilgrims” is just good writing. It suggests the single-minded, risk-filled spirit of hustling, and if you want to be all Howard Zinn about it, well, it indirectly invokes the damage done by criminals and drug dealers to their community, not unlike the pilgrims’ arrival and subsequent violation of what they would all call America. Boasting “above-the-law status” is, besides invoking the name of the group, a more delicate way of saying, “Fuck the police.”
And that’s KMG — the quiet, wizened half of a very underrated, mostly forgotten group (if you’re just a little baby, you may know “Murder Rap” from the film Pineapple Express). Standing back quietly, waiting for the right moment, he’d dropkick his way through with an eminently quotable verse. Inspired by his buddies in N.W.A (Livin’ Like Hustlers was released on Eazy E’s Ruthless Records), KMG formed the G-funk attitude as much as Cold 187um helped co-found the sound with mentor Dr. Dre, always figuring out a more refined, smoothed-out way to deliver reality raps. He will be missed.