Thursday night at the Echoplex was more like a lap of honor than a standard tour date. The main support act at Check Yo Ponytail 2 was Killer Mike, whose latest album R.A.P. Music has garnered the best reviews of the artist’s career and has been described by the man himself as the finest music he has ever worked on. Headlining was none other than El-P, formerly of Company Flow, CEO of Definitive Jux, and creator of two excellent solo albums with a legacy established even before he dropped Cancer 4 Cure this year. Oh, and these guys are real buddies. El-P happened to be the sole producer on R.A.P. Music. Throw in the support of Mr. Muthafuckin’ Exquire and Despot, and we had ourselves a heavyweight line-up in Los Angeles.

Killer Mike’s set bore a more standard rapper/DJ set-up, and as such it relied entirely on the big man’s presence. As he swiftly went through a medley of new songs in his time slot (as well as the odd favorite from his back catalog, such as “Ric Flair”), his trademark Southern drawl seemed effortless, and the man has an undeniable charm on stage. Where the set did suffer was from one too many a capella riffs, as he seemed a little too eager to show off his skills in front of an audience that did not need convincing of his talents. Overall though, his was a set full of enough warmth and energy to get the crowd going for the main act.

El-P took to the stage in an immense cloud of club smoke, so that at first it was difficult to see how many people had joined him for rampant opener “Request Denied.” He proceeded to rip through Cancer 4 Cure in its entirety with a variety of special guests. Having LA resident Gaslamp Killer as your warm-up DJ is almost too good to be true, but El-P was also joined by Zola Jesus for the creepy “Works Every Time,” which was drenched in her echo-filled vocals and live saxophone. Fellow rapper Murs was on stage for most of the set, and all of the support acts took the stage for guest spots on the incredible “Tougher Colder Killer,” which saw all four men in top form.

Listening to the songs of Cancer 4 Cure being re-imagined as a live cacophony did occasionally become a case of too many cooks, and there is evidently a lack of suspense in sticking so rigidly to the album’s track listing. However, the man himself looked and sounded every bit the underground legend he has now become. He showed the audience what it was like to drop breathless tongue-twisting rhymes in a constant barrage of imagery and make it look easy. His reliance on live performances of so many aspects of these songs really brought them to life, particularly during an intense rendition of the mournful “Stay Down,” performed live as on record with Nick Diamonds of Islands fame. By the time El-P wrapped up the encore with a performance of old favorite “Deep Space 9mm,” we had seen a true master in action.

If this was a lap of honor, it was a well-earned one. It was, after all, a celebration of two of the year’s best albums so far, and of a collaboration between two stars to whom geography and background are much less important than just making really good music. Considering the nonsense that occasionally surrounds the world of rap music, we should be thankful to just be talking about the tunes.

Check out the weird-as-hell video for El-P’s “The Full Retard” below:

To find out more about El-P’s fantastic new album, visit the Definitive Jux website.