When saying goodbye, weeping can come with the territory. In its own way, the party-starting Baltimore rap duo AK Slaughter knows this painfully well.
At a recent cover shoot for their forthcoming and final EP, "It's Not You ... It's Us," Emily Slaughter and Aran Keating hoped to depict the aftermath of a break-up. They wanted to truly cry for the full effect, but an onion they sliced failed to produce tears. So the two friends improvised.
"So then Aran takes the onion juice and puts it against his eyeball," Slaughter, who described the shoot as "exhausting," said outside of the Bell Foundry performance space in Station North last week. "So then I did it, too."
"There's a psychosomatic thing that happens, too, when your body starts crying and the emotions follow afterwards," Keating added. "After we were done, I felt very purged."
It was a fully committed effort to execute a joke, which seems fitting for a duo that took the craft of rap seriously even with both tongues firmly pressed against their cheeks.
Since 2006, AK Slaughter has made unpredictable, high-energy rap with a smart, nearly surreal sense of humor that fit comfortably in the city's DIY, anything-goes arts scene. And on Friday night, the group will play its final show (along with releasing the EP), and its members are still figuring out how to feel about the amicable split.
"This was a big part of my creative world for a long time, so it's important," Keating, 30, said. "At the same time, it's inside me now. It's all good. It's not like I'm losing something."
All parties eventually end, and earlier this year, Slaughter and Keating decided it was time to call it quits. There was no tension or bad blood — just two adults realizing their lives no longer had the time to properly dedicate to a rap group they started eight years ago. (Slaughter works in development for a nonprofit organization, while Keating runs a mobile DJ company and is the artistic director of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society.)
"I'd love to produce more, but ultimately, it's not where I am in my life right now," Keating said. "If I don't have time to make beats then AK Slaughter can't rock and roll."
Keating, who was raised in Riva, and Slaughter, a transplant from Concord, Calif., met through mutual friends as students at Goucher College. Keating deejayed campus parties Slaughter attended, and both — unknowingly at the time — were interested in beatmaking. When Slaughter asked Keating for production tips, he knew he had found his hip-hop partner.
"I dropped a Kool Keith and Princess Superstar record off at Emily's dorm room and was like, 'Be my Princess?'" Keating said.
She agreed, and AK Slaughter was born. The group's first show was at Goucher's annual Battle of the Bands, and the duo lost to a jam band comprised of soccer players.
AK Slaughter would go on to self-release two frenetic EPs — 2008's "A Personal Matter" and 2011's "The Pleasure of Doing Business," along with a DJ mix in 2009 — but neither member was in it for the recording process. Performing live and feeding off a receptive crowd were always their reward, while making records was a means to an end.
"We've always been oriented around, 'OK, it's got to pop off live,'" Keating said. "I feel like we almost exclusively write for live [settings]."
And after a "very open and frank conversation," Keating and Slaughter put an exit strategy in motion: Put out one last record of unreleased material and throw the biggest farewell show possible.
The final concert will feature longtime friends and supporters Mickey Free, Secret Weapon Dave, Soul Cannon and other special guests from the city's independent rap scene. Keating and Slaughter expect the mood to be celebratory, but they know goodbyes are rarely so simple.
"I'll miss having a creative partner that I feel this comfortable with," Slaughter, who plans to record a solo project, said.
"To me, the core of this project is about very fun, good hip-hop music combined with two people, who are the opposite of fronting, just saying exactly what they feel and being exactly how they really are," Keating said. "That can be entertaining to people. It's a beautiful concept."
If you go
AK Slaughter performs Friday at Metro Gallery, 1700 N. Charles St, Station North. Mickey Free, Soul Cannon and special guests will also perform. Doors open at 8 p.m. 18+. Tickets are $10. Call 410-244-0899 or go to themetrogallery.net.