They’ll never come out and say it, but the Grammy’s are essentially structured so an album containing a song that more or less calls Ronald Reagan the Anti-Christ has a small chance of winning. With all due respect to Drake’s Take Care, and the other nominees, Killer Mike would beg to differ.
“I feel I got snubbed for the Grammys,” Mike offered, after a performance at the 2013 Paid Dues Festival. “I definitely feel like I deserved the Grammy nod for Rap Album of the Year.”
As it happens, critics still fawned over Mike and El-P’s R.A.P. Music, and were right to do so. The mix of sci-fi inspiration, and at least referencing Ice Cube’s work with The Bomb Squad in hopes of progressing the genre hit at the perfect time. And El-P’s off-kilter, sometimes double-time drums surely helped bring in a few EDM fans—intentionally or otherwise. And no amount of open letters in the New York Times from Steve Stoute may convince the Academy of how significant that was.
In the meantime, Killer Mike still knows the crowd that both financially and critically supports him. And, without becoming stagnant, he gives nods to both this site and a few select others for spreading the word. Besides, anyone who’s been following him knows Mr. Michael Render doesn’t need a gramophone (gold or otherwise) to make sure he’s heard.
Killer Mike On Being Snubbed By The Grammy Committee
HipHopDX: R.A.P. Music had to be one of the dopest albums of last year. Do you feel like you got a different response with that album than you did on your previous albums? Do you think hooking up with El-P connected you with a different audience? Or do you feel it was the same audience...just amped it was you and El-P this go round?
Killer Mike: I think I brought my audience, and we got introduced to a different audience. And it’s a big audience.
DX: How do you feel about the response to it critically, and how do you feel about the response to it commercially?
Killer Mike: Commercially we all want to sell a million records. That’s not as possible as it used to be. With that said, I’m very happy; it’s been economically profitable for me. It has been on every major list, including Time magazine #10, Rolling Stone #20, Spin magazine #8. I feel I got snubbed for the Grammys; I definitely feel like I deserved the Grammy nod for Rap Album of the Year. I think it was a writer for the Chicago Sun-Times that put me down for being snubbed for Album of the Year, and Rap Album of the Year. I think that’s just a powerful statement, for a music critic to first even hold Rap in that high regard still, and to hold it high enough to feel it should have been in the Grammys. And I feel it should have won.
DX: Considering you got all the praise you got from all the publications, why do you think it got left out at the Grammys?
Killer Mike: Well Atlanta is waking up to it late. Shante Dawes, who’s on the Grammy Committee over there, and I’m on the Grammy committee—once you win a Grammy, you pay and you vote—she worked very hard at creating the awareness. And we just didn’t have enough time. You get voted on by a board of people from your city, and those guys, their eyesight was somewhere else. I returned to Atlanta last night and conquered. I returned last night to a capacity show that was just Killer Mike and couple opening acts. When I left Atlanta, really I left Atlanta five or six years ago with the Pledges, and really started running up and down the East Coast and the West. And for the last three years, I’ve just been touring and building off those. So returning back to Atlanta in that way, and going back June 7th with Big Boi, it’s just a different Atlanta.
I don’t think it’ll happen again out of Atlanta. But I just think that there’s a critical mass happening in Atlanta, and the people who got it—the Kawan Prathers, the Shante Dawes, the Big Boi’s, the Andre 3000’s, the Tip’s, and Jason Geters….I’ll never forget, [Young] Jeezy hit me out of nowhere like, “Man, that shit you did…” Now, people outside of my core fans…see, my core fans in Atlanta knew, they made their friends listen. So now, you get some of the last guys to jump on board are actual the radio guys. So the radio guys actual get it now. And we’re shooting “JoJo’s Chillin’” in Atlanta, so that’s gonna create some more awareness I hope.
DX: Speaking of how you went home and did the solo show In Atlanta, how do you feel about performing at events like this...big festivals, as opposed to doing your own show?
Killer Mike: It was a pretty big show, but this is where I’m meant to be. I’m meant to be on world tours. I just got back from Europe about six-to-eight weeks ago. We did a great run over in Europe...had a ball over there, knocked that shit down. I’m happy. I’m old enough that when I first saw Rap, I saw it in an arena. So as impressive as these festivals are, they aren’t arenas yet. These festivals are impressive, and I appreciate them and being here. But the first time I saw Rap, I was in the Omni. The second time I saw Rap, I was in Fulton County Stadium.
DX: Who did you see perform?
Killer Mike: I was so young, I was standing on the benches to see over people. I saw Run DMC. My mom took us to see Whodini or some shit at Fulton County. That’s like when they would have all Funk and Soul bands and one Rap act. Like Whodini might have been the one Rap act. My mom dropped me off at like 9-10 years old at the corner by the Omni, told me and my cousin, “Go in there and watch the show. If you ain’t back after the show I’m gonna kill your little ass.” We went in the Omni by our self and watched that shit go down. I saw Luke and 2 Live Crew in the Omni— the same place Dominque Wilkins slammed basketballs. I saw Luke in a club in high school…like Spring Break. But I saw 2 Live Crew in the Omni.
Killer Mike Talks The Progression Of Rap
DX: So what do you think about the progression of Rap, if that’s where you saw it originally?
Killer Mike: Our sales have progressed. I was just talking to a promoter friend of mine who runs a venue, and unfortunately our live show, some of it has regressed. Not all of it; you still have great touring bands. Outkast, whenever they want to do it again, The Roots, when they do it. Jay, Nas puts on a show, Tip, Jeezy, put on a show. I think the guys that are at my level, some above, some below, all of us have to focus on giving a dope show. I pride myself on giving a dope show. The first question I asked you was, “Did you see my show?” So for me, I think that we’ve digressed in that, we don’t have the ability to put on the type of shows our audience deserves until corporate money is all the way behind us. We should be thinking of ways now, before corporate money is all the way behind us, to give people a dope show that they’re gonna remember...to give people an experience.
People describe my show as an experience. It’s like the Rap church. That’s what I want people to leave with. So whatever experience you want to give people, figure out a way to give that to them. With that, the audience has to be responsible for two things. This is what my friend the promoter said, he said, “It’s hard for us to stay booking Rap acts, because it’s always a coin toss about money, because of graffiti and because of fights.” So we have to know when we go, we can’t fight. We have to know when we’re tagging something, tag something on the way to the show, tag something after you leave the show, but don’t tag the show. Because as a business owner, the city fines us for that. So the city will come and say “Killer Mike, your barbershop got tagged, if you don’t replace that in two weeks, it’s gonna cost $400. If you don’t do it in two weeks, we’re gonna fine you.” So, it makes me say damn, as a business, can I keep a Hip Hop barbershop? So when we go into clubs, and we go to bigger venues, let’s not tag, let’s not fight, and let’s help Rap get back to arenas, where it deserves to be.
DX: So speaking of where Rap used to be, and arenas but arenas in a different context….
Killer Mike: Where it deserves to be, ‘cause I’m not an old dude talking about, “Where it used to be.” Let’s get Rap where it deserves to be.
DX: Yeah. Speaking of arenas, but we’re gonna use that term in another context…battling. You got bars. You can spit however they want it, whether it be subject matter wise, or whether it be just some hard aggressive stuff.
Killer Mike: Thank you
DX: A battle used to be, if you were the dude, somebody else said that guy was that dude, you ran into him, you guys had a cypher and battled it out. Now with battles, they have these battles where it’s pre-set. These cats have months to prepare and research. How do you feel about the difference in the two formats? Do you think one is harder, more complex?
Killer Mike: It’s all healthy. It’s all healthy. Nothing is as hard as true spontaneity. Nothing is as hard as, “I’ve never met this motherfucker; he’s never met me.” I earned my name in a battle. When you know an opponent, and you know yourself, it’s almost easy. That’s why I watch the people who dominate that shit, they’re studiers. Shouts out to Swave Sevah, he’s one of those people I look at, and I be like, “Damn, I’m amazed.” He’s funny as fuck. His ability to pull comedy out of anywhere to set you up for death blows. Shouts out to him, and all the guys who do the stage stuff. So I see the value in both. In terms of how difficult something is, spontaneity fucks me up. Nothings is as difficult as, “Y’all just met. Get it on.” I respect both in equal measure, because to have the courage to battle is to have true courage. Most rappers who have become even an inkling of successful, they shun that shit.
Killer Mike Challenges The Democratic Party
DX: A lot of times, you’re viewed as a conscious rapper. Now, you’ve never been one to bite your tongue in your music, do you feel like Hip Hop has gotten too close to Obama, to where they won’t speak freely?
Killer Mike: The bigger question is, are black people too forgiving of their leaders and politicians? The bigger question is what is the real place for black people in the Democratic Party? What concerns of black people are going to be addressed? In particular, a group of people within the black population…half of black population is black men, that’s double the unemployment rate. Understand the travesty of that. You have a citizenry that is double the unemployment rate, yet 60 to 70 times more likely to be incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses. You’re selling drugs to feed yourself because there aren’t jobs, yet you vote for politicians that don’t insure your men get jobs. That’s not just a strike at Obama, that’s saying black people and the Democratic Party…because there’s not an option for black people to vote Republican, because they don’t. They just don’t. The few that do, I respect and admire because they do it for whatever their own principles are. Whether I agree with them or not, because they have the courage to step out of line because they have a firm belief in something.
But for the most part, black people, before they wake up in the morning, before they eat their cereal or drink their coffee, they know they’re gonna vote Democrat. And they should demand something back. You deserve some reciprocity for loyalty given to this party for the last 50 years. You deserve more than pictures of Robert Kennedy and Dr. King on your wall. You deserve more than the feeling of feeling good because someone of your color is in office. You deserve something for that. So the bigger question, that I can firmly give an answer to, is that I think it’s time for the Democratic Party to give us something or for us to leave the Democratic Party.
DX: And, if we left the Democratic Party, what do you think would be the option?
Killer Mike: The option is bargaining with the Republican Party. The Republican Party is saying they’d like to send people money to go investigate the likelihood of getting support in black community. I would say no, reach out to people who are independents in the community. If you’re in Atlanta, reach out to Shelley Wynter, who’s a former radio host, but current independent. He’s a staunch conservative...huge Ben Carson supporter, as am I. I don’t even vote Democrat or Republican. My thing is, I’m a huge Ben Carson supporter. The Republicans should give Shelley Wynter the money to organize black men in Atlanta. That’s what they should do. Put me on the board of that; that’s a board that I would love to be a part of.
You have Shelley Wynter and Killer Mike in Atlanta, [and] I would bring on some other people. I’d bring on Democrats. I’d bring on Derrick Boazman, and I’d bring on some other people. What I would do, I’d give those men the millions you’re going to send to market, and I’d go to barbershops. I’d listen to what the concerns of black men are. I would have that panel of people go and take a census to barbershops. Then I would take those barbershops, much like the one I own, and I would take the findings, and try to find a strategic plan, that immediately injected money into the African American community to make the men in that community business owners. Meaning, men that were getting out [of jail] for non-violent drug offenses that would be willing to go back, get certain degrees, or certain trades. I would give incentives for hiring black plumbers or black business. I would also start to do small loans, where young men who have the ability to own small stores or bodegas, would then become the owners of that. If you don’t own nothing in your community, you don’t own your community. Essentialy, Republicans, I would put that money in the hands of black Republicans, who are not like the black Democratic servants that are now in our community and taking the money god knows where. I would make sure black men’s unemployment would start lowering, jobs are increasing, and I’d make it very public that we are doing this. I would also tell black men, “We know you’re living in a dangerous environment. And we’re willing, as the Republicans and the NRA, to back you all having firearms, with proper training and whatever else is needed. We’re willing to help you get your records expunged for that bullshit weed charge you got.” I would make a vested interest in the black community if I were a Republican. I would focus on stressing that Fredrick Douglass was a Republican. And I would try to be a lot more Fredrick Douglass-like, and lot less Bush-like in my policy.
The Evolution Of Hip Hop Media & Killer Mike Supporters
DX: That's a pretty elaborate plan. I want to switch gears a bit. The game has changed as far as the Hip Hop media goes. When we were younger, everybody wanted that five-mic rating, but the publications aren’t as strong as they used to be. The Hip Hop media has turned more to websites and blogs. How do you feel like that has affected the game?
Killer Mike: Well I think a big part of the reason I’m sitting in front of you is because of two websites in particular. That’s HipHopDX and The Smoking Section. A ton of websites have helped me out—2dopeboyz has helped me out, XXL mag... XXL [Editor-In-Chief], Vanessa [Satten] was one of the first people to do something viral with me that helped me out. Sermon’s Domain has shown love...Maurice Garland. Let me give you three websites, Maurice Garland, his website, Smoking Section, and HipHopDX are the first sites to carry the full Grind Time series. That introduced people to the new Killer Mike, or Mike Bigga. They kept people up on my music and videos, when I couldn’t get them played or aired. Those sites helped build the Pledge series; they helped build what you have today. Those sites were the first to post steller reviews about R.A.P. Music. So for me, it has been my life’s blood, and I appreciate you all in ways that I can’t even express. And, I still have every Source from ’92, every XXL from 1997, and 1998.
DX: I used to buy those from the liquor store every month. I didn’t even subscribe.
Killer Mike: Exactly, because it was about the adventure of finding it.
DX: Right. Is it there? Who’s on the front? What are the reviews?
Killer Mike: Every time we go, we raid their offices and bring all the old issues back to the barbershop.
DX: Speaking of the barbershop, I’ve heard you have barbershops, and you’re trying to open like 100?
Killer Mike: Yes, 150 if I can
DX: Where are they all located?
Killer Mike: Atlanta, right now. It’s called the Graffiti’s Swag Shop…or The Swag Shop is what we call it. That’s “Shave, Wash and Groom.” That’s ours...trademark, bitch! I wanted a place where you could be totally free. Where you could come as a black man, or any man, just say what you want to say, do what you want to do, watch what you want to watch on TV and hear your kind of music. We have these $1,600 beautiful, leather Pibbs chairs in there. We have beautiful portraits of Dr. King in there...beautiful paintings. More than all the cool shit the guys get, ‘cause I take all my liquor home off the road. And when I come in, we have “shot day” were people can come and have a couple shots. If you come and get a kid’s haircut, which range from eight to 10 bucks, they get a free Hot Wheels. So every kid, if you follow me on Instagram, KillerMikeGTO, I take pictures of Hot Wheels. My barbers are always hitting me with 50 to 60 kids a day coming and just enjoying it. For me, it was important to have that type of culture in the barbershop, because our barbershops have become kind of sewer-like. They’ve become kind of seedy. They’ve become drug places where the right things weren’t happening, and I wanted to do away with that. Every barbershop I open is an opportunity to affect communities, and I appreciate the communities having me.
DX: You gonna bring some of those out here to Los Angeles?
Killer Mike: Goddamn right, soon as I can.
DX: So, the future of Killer Mike…you’re expanding that. What’s up with the music, and what else do you have going on?
Killer Mike: I’m working on two albums this winter, me and DJ Trackstar are leaving for a tour in a couple weeks. Shouts out to my DJ, DJ Trackstar. We leave in two weeks, and we’re not back until August. We make music to get on the road, and after that, we’re gonna come home, we’re gonna make two more albums. Then we’re gonna get back on the road. We got a podcast, called “The Educated Villains,” so look out for my podcast to be dropping TheEducatedVillians.com
DX: So the site’s already up?
Killer Mike: Yeah, I’ll be doing more podcasts talking about stuff like what we just talked about with black conservatism and stuff like that. And shit…I’m just trying to make money. The same shit everyone else is doing. I’m just trying to make money, take good care of my wife, go to Jamaica, do drugs and shit, hang out with pretty girls.
Peer Respect & Killer Mike’s Thoughts On A Reality TV Series
DX: That’s what’s up. So anybody at the show that you’re feeling...that you saw earlier, or you’re looking to see?
Killer Mike: [Freddie] Gibbs. He’s the young homie; I have such admiration for him. I love what he does, so it was real fun for me to see Gibbs. I got a chance to see Heiroglyphics, in particular Souls of Mischief. I was just fucking happy to see them. I did a show with them earlier in the year, so it was good to see them again. But I’m here for Scarface. Anybody in the world that knows me knows I’m here for that. Oh, and I saw Jean Grae, and my wife loves Jean Grae. Shouts out to Jean. I love Jean also, but my wife is at home pissed that she didn’t see Jean. You gotta know my wife, she likes only Southern music. If my wife was a rapper, she’d be Pimp C.
DX: Speaking of your wife, I seen an interview with you before, and people are trying to get you to do a reality show with your wife? What’s the deal with that?
Killer Mike: I don’t really want to do a reality show. We’re gonna end up on TV doing something. Our relationship is just a relationship that other people like us, and they want to see us. I don’t know, we might have a cooking show. I don’t know, I love her; I want that to be public. I have two daughters, and I need for them to know the images and stuff they’re seeing on TV aren’t the only options they have. I’m not with their mothers, and that’s through thoughts of my own, and our own. But for me, I’d like to be an example of the people I encounter. My DJ loves his woman, and my business partner holds his woman down...loves his woman. The men that I know, they love their women, and I would like to be that. Whatever public way we need to be…but I don’t like what I see on TV.
DX: We need more of that, like Tip and Tiny.
Killer Mike: I love watching Tip’s show [“T.I. & Tiny The Family Hustle”], ‘cause I know he loves his wife. That’s what gangsters do. For all you disillusioned children out there, and I mean children like grown-up children…my mom was a gangster. That’s why my grandparents raised me, because my mom was having fun. Like they took care of their children. My mother’s house is a beautiful home. It was child-friendly, because gangsters take care of their children. So just know, when your favorite rapper, or your favorite gangster is off work, they want to smile. So if you’re at home, treat your wife right, treat your fucking kids. Stop watching TV.