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Killer Mike, Venerable Rapper/Activist, Talks New Album, Drug War, and Maybe Running for Office

The OutKast affiliate and longtime Atlanta figurehead speaks on the eve of his new album, "R.A.P. Music," aka "Rebellious African Peoples' Music."

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KM: I have to be. I’m a black man in America. My dad was an ex-police officer and I still remember him sitting me down on my 17th birthday, and me thinking I’m gonna get something great. Like when he called me into the room thinking, Oh shit, he’s gonna give me a fucking car. But what he gave me was a speech saying,  "You’re 17 years old now and in the eyes of the law, you’re looked at as an adult, and there are foolish things that you’re not going to be able to do." And it made me understand the gravity that I grew up with. My 17-year-old wife didn’t have the same problems or worries or issues. My 17-year-old friends who came from wealthy families, black or white, didn’t have the same problems or worries or issues. My dad, we’re working-class people, so that’s just saying: always stay out of trouble.

I have to recognize that I am a target in this country. You talk about crime, people think about someone who looks like me. People talk about welfare going through the ceiling, they’re talking about someone who looks like my sister or my mother. These facts don’t have to be true, that’s just how they’re presented. So I feel as an African-American man in this country, I have a responsibility to be on the side of the people who are on the bottom and always speak truth to power. I have to be politically active because I am viewed as a political linchpin, whether it’s ESPN talking about how hip-hop athletes are ruining the sport or disrespecting Congresswoman Maxine Waters with the crack pipe joke in reference to Whitney Houston. I feel I have to be politically active and I have to be a credit to my race.

JES: You’d still be doing this if you were not—?

KM: I was doing this before I was a rapper. I’ll be doing this if I don’t rap tomorrow. I voted in every election, local and major, since I was 18 years old. I’ve been to every presidential election since the early '80s, since my grandmother started taking me to vote. She marched with Dr. King. 

JES: What do you think are the most important things to be outspoken about and involved with?

KM: As an American, I feel that we’re trading in our rights for safety. I’ve seen too many things pass in the past 10 years that have limited the rights of Americans. And people need to know, I’m not a political zealot, but yo, I want everybody to be politically active, but I want people to have the freedom to do what they want to do. The reason I’m such an asshole about politics is because: I like smoking. I think you should be able to go to strip clubs. I don’t care if you wanna marry the same sex. Whatever you want to do is cool, as long as you’re not infringing on other people.

But on a very local and very personal level, black males are the highest unemployed people in this country. When we talk about "unemployment is at 9 percent" and that’s shocking, but black males are at 16 and 17 percent, and that is a problem. Prisons are [privatized] and they profit when they lock these boys up—and if you can’t get a job, you’re going to sell petty drugs or do petty crime, but you’re gonna get major time. That’s not right. There needs to be a job program for young men who look like me. I think that [people should] start investing in small localized businesses, be it franchises, fast food, liquor stores, whatever will give people in the community jobs. I have to think in terms of my community, because I’m one of these young men. That’s my reality in terms of the political process. As an American, I want my rights not to be limited.