After eight years of performing together as the clever, inventive rap duo AK Slaughter, Aran Keating and Emily Slaughter tend to find themselves on the same page in most situations. "At this point we have a really good idea of what the other person is thinking," Slaughter says. They were even of one mind, as it turns out, about the decision to end the project. "We kind of, on our own, decided to break up, but hadn't spoken to each other about it."
Slaughter and Keating met as students at Goucher College, and both, now in their early 30s, began to feel like the group had run its course. The energetic live shows, with both rapping and Keating DJing, grew more sporadic, and they wrote their last new song about a year ago. Still, when Slaughter decided to finally broach the topic with her groupmate, she didn't know how it would go. "He looked at me like he had never thought that was an option, like I was just breaking his heart. But then he was like, 'Yeah, so I have all these ideas about our final show.' You knew what you were doin'!"
Plans for a full-length AK Slaughter album had long been in the wings, but the two decided to cut their losses and finish recording their last batch of songs for an EP, "It's Not You, It's Us." "This ongoing idea of making an album got pushed back further and further and further," says Slaughter in Keating's living room, before the first of several rehearsals for their farewell show. That show, on Aug. 1 at Metro Gallery, will double as a release party for the EP.
"We have to end big," Keating says about the final show. "I wanna have a climax, you know, I want it to blast." Slaughter, who never met a sex joke she didn't like, is quick to pile on. "He wants to blast all over the place, that's what he likes to do."
Over the years, AK Slaughter has become part of Baltimore's tightly knit indie-rap scene, and many of the artists they've performed and collaborated with have come together to help make the show special. Height, Mickey Free, Eze Jackson, and Disturbed Individuals are all writing new verses to add to existing AK Slaughter songs. Two DJs and a drummer will back the group. And the epic setlist they're assembling will draw material from the whole AK Slaughter catalog, which includes 2008's "A Personal Matter EP," a 2009 mixtape titled "The Mixtape 2009," and 2011's "The Pleasure of Doing Business EP." "Probably not costumes or sets, though," Slaughter says, to which Keating immediately replies, "I actually want to talk to you about that."
"It's Not You, It's Us" features songs that have already been in the group's live set for a while, including the previously released collaboration with Greglan Ward of Rapdragons, 'We Don't Suck Dicks.' Tracks like the opener 'A For Action' retain the dedication to old-school minimalism and lighthearted humor that have long defined the group, but Slaughter also finds time to gripe that she's "going on 30 and crochety as fuck, this adulthood shit is starting to suck." The EP even features an unlikely experiment in catering to dance floors with 'Exonumia,' a collaboration with Baltimore club producer DJ Just K, who will also be one of the DJs accompanying the group at the Metro Gallery.
Although the group remained a cult phenomenon that only occasionally toured, they always found attentive audiences in Baltimore, which still shocks Slaughter. "People are mouthing the lyrics I'm saying. That's crazy to me, that that happens." AK Slaughter always knew how to balance absurdity with autobiography, a natural result of the two MCs mixing their styles together. "If there's nonsensical, fun-to-listen-to stuff, that's all Aran, and if it's long-winded and has a point, that's me," she says.
The artwork for the EP and the show's promotional posters, featuring the duo crying in formalwear, continues in the AK Slaughter tradition of making a joke of the oft misunderstood personal dynamic between Slaughter and Keating. "There's this idea out there that we have this relationship that does not exist, because we're just friends," explains Slaughter.
"I, for several years, will be walking with my boyfriend who is not as tall as Aran, and people will be like, 'Oh, AK Slaughter, you guys!' No, this is a different white man who happens to be standing next to me," she says, laughing. A few minutes later, after mentioning that her boyfriend will be playing drums for the Metro Gallery show, she shrugs. "So I guess technically he will be in AK Slaughter, as everyone guessed."
The dramatic end of AK Slaughter is ultimately about freeing the two up to focus on other projects, even if they continue hanging out and bouncing ideas off of each other. Keating is the artistic director of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, DJs professionally, and recently began playing saxophone in the jazz sludge-metal band Snakefeast. Slaughter is a member of Height With Friends, directs music videos, and has begun to think about a solo project that may show another side of her. "I've been writing stuff over the last couple months, with a very different vibe from AK Slaughter in mind," she says. "All the stuff I've been writing is super dark. In January my mom died, and that whole experience just shaped my overall perception of life. So that has kind of changed my creative mood."
In the meantime, however, AK Slaughter are going out in a blaze of glory, with the same kind of playfully old-school and expressively experimental hip-hop they've been making for the past eight years. They've always appreciated the irony that their group name, drawn from his initials and her surname, sounds like it should belong to a gangsta rapper. In fact, it did: A North Carolina MC released music under the name "Ak Slaughter" a little bit before they started using it.
"He got one break where he was on a 9th Wonder track, but that's like all he did," says Keating of the other AK Slaughter. "We saw him and we're like 'Shit!' and we bought AKSlaughter.com and did the Twitter, covered all the bases, just in case," adds Slaughter. Not that it matters much now, with the group retiring the name. "He can have it back," Keating says, shrugging. And for once, Slaughter disagrees with him. "He can't have it!"