Killer Mike, Venerable Rapper/Activist, Talks New Album, Drug War, and Maybe Running for Office
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Killer Mike is a venerable force. Atlanta's self-described "Pan-Africanist Gangster Rapper, Civic Leader, and Activist" has embarked on a career you could tell your kids about: 12 years of cultural and artistic influence that began with his cohorts in OutKast and propelled through five classic albums, as well as a parallel life as a community leader who's just as regularly called upon by Sharpton's National Action Network as he is by hip-hop radio personalities. With his distinct, gritty-warm tenor and triple-time Southern rap style, he hovers in the top tier of hip-hop artistry, handily linking the day-to-day of the streets with larger sociopolitical issues and the knowledge that they're never separate. He may deploy a lot of adjectives about himself, but most simply, he's a truth-teller.
Recently, with his outspoken involvement in the movements for Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin, he's become ever more visible to activists and politicos outside of his home state of Georgia. And his sixth album, R.A.P. Music, completes the cycle. Recorded entirely with Brooklyn rapper/producer El-P on beats, and charged by the political climate, Killer Mike has made his greatest statement yet: a hulking, unflinching work that indicts the war on drugs and young black men, ignites a fire among would-be revolutionaries, and puts forth a statement that is human, adult and personal. I spoke with Killer Mike over the phone about recording the album, his stance on the drug war, how he's voted every year he could, and whether we can vote for him anytime soon.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd: I want to talk to you first about your album, and then about politics. So can you tell me about R.A.P. Music, and the idea behind collaborating with El-P?
Killer Mike: The title comes from Maurice Garland, a cultural writer and great advocate from Atlanta. He’s just a great guy. In a random Twitter rant, he put up “RAP: Rebellious African Peoples' Music” and after one minute, I put up, I’m using it. A friend of mine named Jason who is working at Cartoon Network was like, “How’d you like to do a record that’s just stuff off the beaten path that people might not expect?” El and I got into the studio together and after the first two days, I hit Jason back with, “Do you think he’ll do the whole album?” Because our chemistry was just that. El was working on [his solo album] Cancer for Cure at the time, so he wasn’t sure he would be able to do it, but I pestered the shit out of him. After [he spent] a week in Atlanta, I ended up going to Brooklyn last summer, stayed there for four or five weeks and we recorded the whole album on the Lower East Side.
I think it’s akin to when Ice Cube left Los Angeles and went to record Amerikkka’s Most Wanted with the Bomb Squad. When Scarface left Texas to record The Fix with Kanye in New York. I really look at this like a pilgrimage record. Like all my influences from the time I discovered rap at 19 years old to now are on there. Either in reference or feeling, how I convey certain songs and certain flows. Pledge is a classic record, my last album, and then I went to top that with RAP, so it seems like I’m in a good place right now.
JES: Do you think getting out of your element culminated everything you’ve done? You’ve done a lot of great stuff with a lot of iconic people, and to then do a whole album with El-P, that’s a big statement.