Killer Mike Talks Ghostwriting, Corporate Rap & Why Scarface Is The G.O.A.T.
Exclusive: Killer Mike holds court with three of HipHopDX's editors to give his take on ghostwriting, women twerking to "Reagan" and more.
November will mark the 12-year anniversary of Killer Mike’s initial appearance on OutKast’s “The Whole World.” It’s an appearance that won him a Grammy Award and launched his career as a soloist. But in at least one sense, the world might as well be getting re-introduced to him all over again.
“With each progression, every album, I have been able to give people more of Michael Render,” says the self-described Pan-Africanist gangster rapper, civic leader and activist. “People have seen so much of me at this point, they know it’s not bullshit. They know it’s just not a song ‘cause Trayvon Martin died or just ‘cause Oscar [Grant] died. They see that this is his lifestyle. This is who he is as a human being. As a human being, Michael Render gives a damn about humans.”
At a time where everything and sometimes everyone seems to have a price, that human dynamic can make all the difference. It’s the raw honesty that allows Mike to proclaim, “Martin Luther King Jr. was a nigga with an attitude—so told to me by Andrew Young.” And it’s why—according to Mike—he can have a dance floor in motion with “25 white women twerking to ‘Reagan,’” a song which contains the phrase, “I’m glad Reagan dead.”
Unflinching social commentary and the bouncing of asses to melodic basslines were often mutually exclusive in the segmented era of “underground” versus “mainstream.” But Killer Mike will gladly connect yesterday’s Civil Rights icons to today’s Rap heroes and perfectly articulate why a lionized, Republican hero may be the political devil incarnate. All of which can be done with a freshly rolled blunt in hand courtesy of his lovely wife. Hello world, Killer Mike would like to re-introduce himself.
Killer Mike Explains How Quentin Tarantino Influences His Music
HipHopDX: It always feels like you and the infamous HipHopDX comment section need to sit down and hug it out.
Killer Mike: First of all, let me establish to all the HipHopDX commentators—I like white people. So I’m sorry that y’all think I don’t. Y’all somehow got mad at me, but my DJ is white. My best friend, Jaimie Meline—he’s white. My accountant is white, and a paternity test proved that a half-white child wasn’t mine, but it’s love. So shout out to white folks. In fact, a white man called me to do this interview. Thank you, Soren [laughs].
DX: You referenced Strange Days and at least one other Tarantino movie on R.A.P. Music, and there’s this crazy story of you and a stripper re-enacting the union of Isis and Anubis on “Don’t Come Down.” Where does this cinematic quality in your music come from?
Killer Mike: I did, I did. You’re smart. I am a Quentin Tarantino fan. I don’t care really how much his movies say “nigger,” because I find that they’re usually used in the proper context. I have been a fan of his since I was a kid, and I would read who wrote what, and these movies have had a tremendous effect on me. I thought True Romance was a good movie and was well written, but I still think that if he would’ve directed it, it would’ve been even a better movie. So that reference was really just a reference in name and a nod that he wrote it. I like the movie, but I don’t love it like I love his other stuff. You guys hear Reservoir Dog references. For Run The Jewels, I kind of put myself in a Reservoir Dogs mind state. You know, like, “This is where we are.” It’s like a heist, and anything can happen. I use his movies to visualize a lot, so thank you, Quentin. I’d like to be in one of your movies, and I think I can pull it off.
In terms of Strange Days, it’s probably like—I go sci-fi but not as gratuitously as my partner is credited for. [El-P] is into books and shit, but my sci-fi is mainly from television and movies. I’m a big fan of Star Trek, Star Wars and Planet Of The Apes—the original two and three movies. I think that those movies—Lord Of The Flies, Animal Farm, the original Star Trek series and the Planet Of The Apes movies deeply effected me. Reading Animal Farm as a child helped me be conscious of social classes, order and technology—you know—for the purposes of using things and people for slavery. So it just opened my “third eye,” if you will…using a ‘90s term.
I really enjoyed Strange Days, because the premise of the movie, the liberator in that movie was a rapper. And I’ve always kind of seen rappers as artistic liberators. We are here to push the limits. This is what we do. Rap often represents the most downtrodden of people in the American caste system, and that’s the black male. In that movie, Jericho One represented that. The police structure was not only against him, but everything he represented. [In a similar way], Hip Hop was tied to a greater cause—so it’s just part of the reason I love that movie. I was happy to do that. I also use Terminator as a reference. When I say, “Like John Connor’s mom, I be running every day,” it doesn’t mean I’m jogging. It means I’m evading the police [laughs].
With Isis and Anubis, that’s just some more stuff that’s esoteric, but it shouldn’t be. Christianity is founded upon the mystical systems of Egypt, East Africa and down into Middle Africa. So for me to get an opportunity to slide that into a rap, and for you to pick it out makes me happy, because I put those type of gems in a rap to be discovered by people who have useless knowledge. Useless knowledge is only useless until you use it. So it felt good to put something that was Afrocentric or Pan-Africanist thought in a strip club and drug environment so that a brother like you could appreciate it. Saying stuff like that doesn't make you sound all “conscious” and hoity-toity. So I’m glad that Ms. Baraki—my social sciences teacher who is a student of Asa Hilliard and John Henrik Clarke—thank you, Ms. Baraki. I’ve now had a chance to equate Isis with one of the most beautiful strippers I’ve ever seen, and I think it’s more than appropriate. Shouts out to my white history teacher too, ‘cause I know y’all are looking for that.
Why Killer Mike Is Fine With Ghostwritten Top 40 Singles
DX: You’ve spoken about how you've ghostwritten for artists before. Hip Hop has always been predicated about this idea that in order to keep it real, the emcee needs to create their own rhymes. We’re clearly in an era of collaborative writing and collaborative production.
Killer Mike: Among the big guys, especially.
DX: How do you feel about that? Would you look at an artist differently if you knew his music was ghostwritten?
Killer Mike: It depends on the song. There are some records that are for people that, even though I wrote the record, they needed to say the words. I wrote the record for them…from their perspective. To me, that makes sense, and that’s more than appropriate. When it comes to pop hits or radio records, it really doesn’t matter who is writing it, ‘cause it’s almost like a commercial or a jingle—so you can take it however. I’m usually writing a record that’s not a radio record, so for me, it’s heartfelt and is based upon some type of emotion. When I write that record, I want to make sure I’m best representing that artist. Now if I just bring that person that record, and that’s not who they are, I don’t like those records as much. I don’t appreciate them as much, because I feel like a person undeserving got a great song. I feel like a person who really doesn’t live or convey those words has a song that has been wasted. And that’s where I take contention. But if you got a Top 40 hit, and I wrote or someone else wrote it, I’m not mad at that, ‘cause I understand we’re in an age where, “This is rapping and Hip Hop,” and there is songwriting for commercially driven artists.
Even though I’m not in that field, I understand the game, so I can’t criticize that world. I understand it, and I get it. Now, I do know when I walk into a room, I’m a better rapper, ‘cause I write. What goes down on my records comes directly out of my head. You are not writing records for me. There have been times when I’ve collaborated with hooks and things of that nature. Melody is something I’ve learned, and I learned that by writing with people, so absolutely… But I know that when I walk in a room, I am one of the five best rappers in that room, ‘cause I know all of your writers, and I write for some of them.
DX: So why do you think that Rap is the only form of music where it reportedly matters if you’re writing your own lyrics? Why is that?
Killer Mike: Well Rap is poetry, and you expect the poet to be the writer of it. And it matters, but I don’t think it holds the same way it did. Rap is predicated upon [the concept of], “I am telling the truth about my life and my environment.” So as long as rappers are presenting Rap in that way, you are going to be expected to be a writer of your life and your environment. It’s that simple. It’s not hard or overly complex. As long as we take the stance, “Nigga, I’m real,” we really expect you to write. That’s it.
Killer Mike Details Why Scarface Is The Greatest Rapper Of All Time
DX: Under that context, does the title greatest rapper alive…
Killer Mike: The greatest rapper alive is Scarface, and no one else can have that because no one else has a 27, 26-year career of no wack albums. If you read the preface of The Art Of War, it tells the story of three brothers. One brother can see sickness and disease before it ever forms, he can tell you what to do to change that, and his name is not known outside that house. Another brother can see disease when it’s first starting to form. If you start to cough, he can give you some herbs and remedies and stuff—that brother is known around the village. He is a village doctor. And then there is another brother who doesn’t really know much. He knows a little about what his brothers taught him. He knows how to cut you, bleed, put leeches on you and operate. He’s the greatest doctor in the land, and he works for kings and queens.
So when you’re talking about the greatest ever, you’re going to be talking about someone you don't know, but someone who inspired or inspires someone you currently worship. Let's go down the list of artists that have collaborated with, rap like, or are influenced by Scarface. Killer Mike, Ice Cube, Tupac, Jay Z, Beanie Sigel, DMX, Das Efx. I can keep going. We ain’t even start naming Texas rappers yet. So when I say Scarface is the greatest rapper of all time, I am saying it from the stance that I am a rapper hoping to have a career that could potentially last as long as his. I’m hoping I could have a 30-year career of no wack albums. There’s just no argument with that for me. Y’all could argue who got bars and silly stuff, but no one has given you the truth, the validity, for as long as Brad Jordan. Nobody’s done it, and nobody ever will. So we should value him. We should treasure him. And I know he likes white people too [laughs].
DX: So why do you think he isn’t as heralded even though he has platinum records?
Killer Mike: He has had multiple platinum records, and he has had more than two classic records. Why isn’t he as heralded? But the fable goes, the brother who knows it before it even forms is in the house. The house is Hip Hop, and a lot of times we are fans of Hip Hop, and we debate Hip Hop. But a lot of times we in the yard but not in the house. I’m in the house. I hear what the rappers that you worship talk about when the cameras aren’t on. We talk about Scarface.
Killer Mike Calls Martin Luther King A “Nigga With An Attitude.”
DX: What do you think Martin Luther King would say about Hip Hop?
Killer Mike: This Martin Luther King, right here [points to shirt] was a nigga with an attitude—so told to me by Andrew Young. He was there, not Al Sharpton who wasn’t. This Martin Luther King was at a crux. This Martin Luther King owned a gun. This Martin Luther King still probably had a little perm you could see...hair slicked back. This is a different King. This was Martin Luther King at the crossroads Hip Hop is. This is him becoming a man, seeing what the greater purpose is. Hip Hop was only born in 1973. Hip Hop is just now 40 years old, so Hip Hop is not a very old man. Hip Hop is just getting to the point where it can actually become a legacy music, because at 37, 38-years-old, now you have people who are getting financially comfortable and can go to shows. You get people who are financially able to say, “I can invest in that.” These are also people logical enough to know that, “I’m going to play this after the kids go to sleep.” So Hip Hop is just becoming what this Martin Luther King would become. But I think Martin Luther would be a supporter of Hip Hop. He shot pool. He went to Selma, Alabama. He went to Tuskegee. They wasn’t singing Gospel in pool halls when he was organizing that; they were singing the Blues. If he was listening to Blues, then he definitely would’ve been listening to Hip Hop...and Scarface.
DX: And what would he say about all this boycott Florida stuff?
Killer Mike: What would he say about boycotting Florida? I think he would encourage it, because he understands that commerce can bring about change. We live in a capitalistic society. Most people, when they think about Florida, think about Orlando, Miami—maybe even Tampa or Jacksonville. These are tourist hubs, they have professional sports teams and they’re urban environments. But most of Florida is a lot like South Georgia. Most of Florida is still very rural and has not progressed past a certain social point due to political games by both parties polarizing people. Florida is still kind of country, and I think that the only way you progress past that is letting people know economically that we don’t have to live in fear of driving through middle Florida to get to South Florida. And the only way you do that is take your dollars away.
It’s very easy to turn a state bankrupt, and that’s just to stop going there. But I think that bigger than boycotting Florida, what Dr. King would be calling African-Americans in particular to do, is reinvest in their communities. I think he would question, why in Atlanta—the neighborhood he grew up in, that used to have black store keepers and black storefronts—does not. I think he would wonder why a street named for Martin Luther King has less than 10 black-owned businesses in them. I think that he would wonder why black athletes are not reinvesting in their community like Hank Aaron, who owns Hank Aaron BMW and who owns numerous restaurants. I think that his focus would be on economic independence and basically saying, “I told y’all to segregate not take dollars and not bring ‘em back.” I think that that’s where his focus would be. I think he’d focus where Josiah Williams—who was an actual lieutenant of his—focused. And that’s in feeding the hungry and homeless year round.
I don’t think that his focus would just be on boycotting Florida, because that’s what Al Sharpton is for, and he is going to do a good job. I think Dr. King would be much more proactive and a lot less reactive. If you own your own community, you ain’t got to worry about these things happening. If you own your own community, people are not going to abuse you, because they understand what you represent from an economic power base and from the ability to move a vote when you own your own communities. We are victims because we are powerless; we are powerless because we don’t own our own communities. We don’t own our own communities because we celebrate dancing and rapping more than ownership and frugality.
Killer Mike Describes Working With El-P & Prince Paul
DX: You talked about the differences between you and El-P earlier for the science-fiction angle. How do you two meet in the middle-ground on a track like “Sea Legs” which to me, was definitely sci-fi inspired?
Killer Mike: Marijuana and mushrooms [laughs]. We’re friends man, you know? That’s what friends do. Both friends are into sci-fi. One is totally into it, and one is into on the outskirts of it. I am totally into sports. El knows that they’re playing [laughs]. We’re friends, and we balance one another. That is just what it is. But we are truly All-American boys. And I think that when we record, that comes out. That makes recording for us very, very easy. When you watch Kobe Bryant play—you know he makes millions of dollars—but you can see he is playing from a place where other people aren’t. Most people think up, “I want to be great. I’d like to be like Michael Jordan. How could I?” I don’t think he is thinking from there. I think he is thinking from a childlike place. I still think he enjoys the game, and he enjoys winning because it is about mastery of game. And that’s what El and I do. And that’s all we’re doing. We’re just having fun, and we work at having fun. So it’s not hard to meet anybody in the middle when your purpose is to have fun. We’re going to make dope shit, but were not going to do it at the cost of not having fun.
DX: One of the most fun elements of that album was Prince Paul’s appearance as Chest Rockwell on “Twin Hype Back.” How was the initial conversation with Prince Paul?
Killer Mike: I was nervous as shit. I just want to say that. I was nervous because that wasn’t on the, “Will you get on a record?” conversation. That was on the, “Hey, you’re going to come to Scion and you’re going to film something ‘cause I was doing Brooklyn Bowl in New York.” It was a Scion event, and Scion paid me to be there. And I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to shoot this talk show thing I never quite heard of.” No one tells me it’s for Prince Paul. And I guess they were thinking, “This country mothafucka don’t know who Prince Paul is.”
When I walk in, I see him, and I walk back out the door like, “Oh shit!” I find somebody's vaporizer, hit it to calm down, and then I just basically go jump on his dick—no homo promo. It was just like, “Yo, I had your record of this. And this is what I was doing when you dropped this record. And this is what I was doing when I dropped this record.” And I’m sure when I finished, he was just like, “You on my dick, son [laughs].” To meet your idols…to have an opportunity to be a child that said, “I’m going to do this,” and to be living that as a man, is just incredible. So he instantly got how much he influenced me. I was very thankful of just the quality of music he had put out and later on that day, El called me said, “Yo, Paul hit me. He said he’s going to get on a record.” And I just fucking went crazy.
Why Ice Cube Reinforced Killer Mike’s Feelings On Reagan
DX: We’ve talked about Prince Paul and Scarface, and Ice Cube is someone else you admired who also used cinematic elements in his music and skits. I know that meant a lot to you. Could you explain why that meant a lot to you?
Killer Mike: Why the cinematic effect, in particular that Ice Cube had, mattered to me is because I grew up in the Reagan Era. And being a child that was born in the ‘70s, life wasn’t pure. Life wasn’t pristine, but the image was, “Three’s Company,” and “The Brady Bunch.” Drugs hadn’t decimated neighborhoods. So many of us were very young watching neighborhood decay and there was no explanation. You’re taught things are supposed to get better, brighter, cleaner and peachier. But I grew up in the ‘80s. I grew up in a time when the President of the United States and his administration knowingly allowed arms to enter one country and knowingly allowed drugs to exit one country. It decimated my community, and no one in the world talked about it. No one in the world talked about it from a perspective that I could see. And even before Cube, I heard “6 In The Mornin’” by Ice-T and “Boyz N The Hood” by N.W.A. Getting AmeriKKKaz Most Wanted, Lethal Injection, and Kill At Will—those records gave me the proof that I was still sane. They gave me understanding why the woman who was just a nice lady selling candy in my neighborhood five years prior, was now on the block in a much different way. They gave voice to that, because if I didn’t have voice, it would’ve been angst and anger, and it would’ve turned into something destructive. Thank God I had that voice and those pictures to be angry in the morning; before I went to school I could listen to Cube. I could get it out. As soon as I was walking past a decayed neighborhood, I knew it wasn’t normal, but I was consoled that someone else knew it and could express it for me.
DX: That's funny you say that, because Ice Cube said that’s part of the reason he wrote “Dopeman.” He said he saw dudes that were just normal, and they were crack heads five years later, sleeping on couches and stealing couches.
Killer Mike: Exactly. Exactly. And that’s what I tell people about my song, “Reagan.” I’m not trying to argue politics with you. I’m arguing the social condition of turning to shit during the eight years that this man was president. And we found out later, knowingly by members of his committee—people that are still in power now. Oliver North is a part of the reason you have a drug epidemic in your community today. And the amount of time that he served in jail is not equal to the amount of destruction he has brought, in particular to minority communities.
Killer Mike Says He Had To “Destroy And Rebuild” His Image
DX: That element has always been there on your albums. But, as a writer, why is that observation so much more pronounced on these last two albums as opposed to your earlier material?
Killer Mike: I think it did happen right out the gate. Right out the gate, I was on a commercial label; I was on Columbia. I wanted my first single to be “Re-Akshon” with me, Tip and Bun B. I wanted my second single to be “Scared Straight,” and the hook was, “Momma, I don’t wanna sell dope no more.” I wanted my second single to be the story about a failed drug robber; a dealer. And it was jamming…people still love that record. That’s the record I wanted, but that’s not what I was presented as. And because I was presented as something else, I had to, as the God said, “I had to destroy and rebuild.” I had to destroy that image of me.
I still don’t like getting questions about, “A.D.I.D.A.S.” It’s not that I don’t like the record, because I love “A.D.I.D.A.S.” But that is not the total of who Michael Render is, and with each progression, every album, I have been able to give people more of Michael Render. With Pledge 1, Pledge 2, Pledge 3, and then with R.A.P. Music, people have gotten more of me. And I think in particular with Pledge 3 and R.A.P. Music, people have seen so much of me at this point, they know it’s not bullshit. They know it’s just not a song ‘cause Trayvon Martin died or just ‘cause Oscar died. They see that this is his lifestyle. This is who he is as a human being. As a human being, Michael Render gives a damn about humans. I give a damn about power misused on humans. I give a damn that we, the people living on the bottom, are represented against the people living on the top. And I think that once people accept it [and say], “Oh shit, he’s not bullshitting me,” the floodgates have opened. And the only way you do that is you put your nuts out and do a whole album like that. So I took responsibility for myself, and me and El did it.
DX: What’s the most surprising reaction that you’ve gotten from “Reagan?” What’s something crazy that you didn’t expect someone to say to you?
Killer Mike: From “Reagan?” The most surprising reaction I’ve gotten from “Reagan”—and what I realized in the last few weeks about my records is, much like Ice Cube and Scarface—I make records that are socially conscious, but I make records you can dance to. So to see, 25 white women twerking to “Reagan,” and we have seen that, it’s an amazing sight [laughs]. I looked around like, “These girls are twerking; this is ‘Reagan,’… amazing!” The reactions I’ve gotten have been cool as hell. I have a homeboy who’s dad is white, and his mom’s black. His brother came to the concert and bought the “I’m Glad Reagan Dead” shirt just to piss off their dad. He was like, “Our dad loves Reagan. I’m going to buy it and wear it around dad tomorrow.”
I have other kids who have worn it around campus just to piss off their professors. The Reagan shirts and the “Do Dope, Fuck Hope” shirts are pretty popular, ‘cause I think they catch people at a time where they’re just pushing against the status quo. And, as Reagan is being lionized, it pushes the status quo. So I think it just meets people at the right time in their life when they’re looking to feel a little rebellious. All the stuff I’ve gotten has been pretty cool, pretty candid and pretty lighthearted, but needed.
My wife and I were driving through Florida, and I was about to hop out at the convenience store with the shirt on. She grabbed me like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “What you are you talking about? I’m about to get out of the vehicle.” And she was like, “Look at your shirt, stupid.” I looked, and I immediately switched it and turned it inside out [laughs]. Y’all ain’t gonna hear about me dying in Gainesville.
DX: That’s real.
Killer Mike: Hell yeah that’s real. I still live in the South.
Why Killer Mike Says, “Jay Z’s Business Usually Comes Back Good”
DX: My favorite story this year is the Jay Z and Samsung partnership. You shouted us out on Twitter, and you said we went TMZ with the headline.
Killer Mike: [Laughs] Yeah, the way y’all headlined it… I understand, but you know I’m just trying to get back in the favor of the comment section. Man, y’all the reason I’m here. If it wasn’t for the DX comment section, they would’ve never believed baby.
DX: This is the year Mitt Romney said, “Corporations are people too, my friend.” It sounds like we’ve been selling music to the wrong people. How small can a deal like Jay Z and Samsung’s go? Does this help the independent artist; does this help the underground artist?
Killer Mike: I’m not sure. I like Jay Z, and I like Jay Z’s music. I’ve been a supporter of Jay Z since he rapped really, really fast. So I don’t have to accredit myself with, Jay Z fans—especially new ones. Jesus Christ, you guys get a little extra. I’ve seen Jay evolve as a human, as a brand and as a rapper. I also have seen Jay as a business person. When I talk about Jay Z as a businessperson, I’m talking about Jay, Dame and Kareem, because it’s every Rap crew’s dream to get it right. And Roc-a-Fella really got it right. I saw them really get it right, and I saw them force corporations to have to deal with a Hip Hop label in a way that hadn’t been done since Def Jam—a Hip Hop label—had did it. I’m very proud of them. So I have a lot of confidence that his business models are always going to lend themselves to the favor of Hip Hop, and I’m confident in that now.
The line I draw is, that as an American citizen, I have some issues with the privacy laws and the privacy invasion by corporations in my life, period. And I do think right now, Jay is at a point where he is one of the best corporate spokespersons in the world. It’s like, Muhummad Ali, Michael Jordan and Jay Z. You can’t take that away from him. Whatever he says do, people are pretty much going to do. And I drew a line in the sand with downloading four days early, because as much as I love Jay Z the human being, the brand and the business model he’s been able to give Hip Hop... He gave a lot of us, you know, integrity, he gave a lot of us an opportunity to do things different. I wasn’t willing to allow a certain line to be crossed by the maker of that app, because I feel like you’re using him to use me.
And I’m not saying that’s his intention, but I’m saying that’s the way I feel. And corporations aren’t people in my book, but legally the United States says they are. I’m not going to let any other person abuse me; any corporation. So as much as I like [Jay Z], I can’t like that. And I think people need to be mature enough to say that and to do that or to make that [decision]. So If you want to give up all your information, that’s fine with me. I’m just looking forward to many more great business things that I do agree with from Jay Z.
I had an argument of sorts with Jason Whitlock on his podcast in reference to Jay Z getting into creating a sports agency, and he’s just very disrespectful to Jay Z. I take exception to that, because if you’re downing him, who are you worshipping? You know if you down Jay Z for saying, “nigga,” and yet you want to help this white player who said he’d go through that fence and beat every nigger over there, like, who are you really working for? You know what I mean? So I’m firmly on the side of Jay-Z on a lot of things, just not that thing.
But in terms of business models, Jay has done—and again, when I’m talking about Jay Z the business model, I’m talking about all the way back to the Roc-a-Fella days with him, Dame and Kareem. They made some... when they said, “Hell. We didn’t want to work for no other clothing company. We went and bought clothes, sewed our stuff on them, and sold them ourselves.” That’s the American dream. That’s who you cheer for. Now, Jay has the opportunity through Roc Nation to do concerts differently. His management company just re-signed Rihanna. I’ve got faith in his business, ‘cause his business usually comes back good. So if I was a sports agent, I would be looking to get up with Jay Z right about now. I’m a player, and I could understand how they could take that gamble. So, I have a lot of confidence in Jay Z. I do not have a lot of confidence in corporations that partner with him, because I think corporations are fundamentally evil.
DX: What was that moment like, right after you performed on “The Late Show With David Letterman?” You had your arm around David Letterman, and you’re on a show like this, off the strength of R.A.P. Music—the album with “Reagan” on it.
Killer Mike: I could cry. My grandparents raised me, and your grandpa’s always a little more lenient with you. You know, if the game goes a little longer, then you can stay up and watch the game. I used to stay up and watch Letterman with my grandfather, and it just meant a very lot to me. I know Letterman has a son named Harry. And he’s pretty much like my grandpa’s age when my grandpa was raising me. So I took him some Hot Wheels. I took my Hot Wheels and took a picture on the bridge that’s behind him. It was a dream come true. You know it was a dream that a 12, 13 year-old kid remembers that.
My grandfather died like 10, 11 years ago. My grandmother died the year before we did Letterman. So, to have a dream, to foster a dream and then to see it come into fruition, it’s just something...you know? If I die today, I can honestly say God has been good to me. I think Dave was a little scared, and I might’ve hugged him too tight. Paul hit my wife’s butt, but I don’t think he meant to [laughs]. It’s big though, I can’t blame him if he did.
Killer Mike Credits His Mother For Inspiring “Ghetto Gospel”
DX: The song “Ghetto Gospel” really resonates…
Killer Mike: “Ghetto Gospel” is a celebratory record, believe it or not. It is equal part celebration and the emotion that ‘Face had on “Mind Playing Tricks On Me.” You know, “Sitting on the edge of my bed, holding my head / Trying to get this cake like a baker, and get some bread.” Those are those contemplative moments…I’ve had them. If you haven’t been a drug dealer or a hustler, you’ve had them, sitting on the edge of your bed like, “Man, is this journalism thing going to work out?” We’ve all had those moments.
I think, I’m going to start performing “Ghetto Gospel” at the request of my DJ. I didn’t think it meant that much to people; I’m going to say that. It’s not that I didn’t think it meant a lot, but I didn’t know it meant what it means, and I’m going to start performing it. But that record is a testament to times… My mother was a real hustler. I don’t mean she was a hustler in the sense of, “My mom hustled, and now she used to...” Nah, I mean, my momma was picked up when I was 15-years-old for attempting to buy 20 kilos of cocaine in Griffin, Georgia. So it’s not a game; it’s not a joke. My grandparents raised me, and my mommy lived that life. Thank God she’s still here. She was very honest with me when I made certain decisions about my life. She said, “If you get locked up, no one is going to be there for you. So the best thing for you to do, is not run with a crew.” And it was hard getting out there and hustling by myself. It was hard to not party. It was hard not to ball.
What got me a record deal was the dudes I was in business with started just seeing the drug dealers being a little more successful. So they just start robbing, and that was easier than hustling. And it got to the point where they caught a case. They were facing 40 to life, and I’m just here with equipment and with raps. But because they wanted to go extra fast, I’m alone. And I decided at that moment, “I’m going to keep hustling. I’m not going to stop, but I’m going to take every bit of money I got and reinvest in my equipment.” And I saw, in the past two, three years after that, I saw homies buy cars, houses and get jewelry. Every one of those brothers—when I go back to Decatur right now—will sit in front of me and say, “Well, you did the right thing.” Every one. One of them called me yesterday and said, “My son is performing, and I want you to see him.” But 12, 13 years ago—you want to have fun. I wanted to go to Jazzy T’s and spend money every single night, but I knew if I stayed there, I was going to end up getting snitched on. I was going to end up snitching on somebody, or I was going to end being a rat. And for people that don’t want to admit that, that’s what it be. Once you start hustling with people 30, 35, 37-years-old, they ain’t got not choice. When they looking at a 40 to life sentence, they going to tell on you.
That’s what's going to happen, and my mother didn’t hide that from me. And thank God she didn’t, because that’s the ghetto gospel you need. That's what you need in your ear when you’re presenting yourself in all these unrealistic options, so that record is very much co-written by my mommy. Thank God she told me the truth, so I picked the right thing to do. You know, hustling and all, I knew I was going to be a rapper. I knew I was going to do this, and I knew I was not going to do that.
DX: What’s your writing process like? Do you sit with the beats first, or do you already have pre-written rhymes?
Killer Mike: I don’t write. I didn’t write R.A.P. Music. R.A.P. Music for the most part came with El playing the beat, and me getting up and just...that’s it. That's how I write well. I stand there, do that thing and just rap; that's it. It’s easier when you’re telling the truth.
DX: What were your expectations for the record, going into it?
Killer Mike: My expectations were to go multi-platinum. I didn’t meet them, but I have done over 150 shows, which means I live okay. I’m happy. My expectations are always to go multi-platinum.
DX: We were talking about economic disparity, and one of the things that stands out to me about economic disparity is over the past 10 years, you don’t see a lot of economic diversity on television. Now I’m starting to see a range of economic statuses, and one of them is “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” People talk so much junk about Honey Boo Boo, but is that a sign of progress, that were at least showing Honey Boo Boo “Pawn Stars” and other people at different economic levels?
Killer Mike: Television is just not good for you. But TV can be great for you if you watch it analytically, and I watch a lot of PBS. I watch a lot of Discovery Channel. I watch a lot of things that try to spark my interest or connect loose knowledge I may have gained. But I think that shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” and shows like “Pawn Stars” just show poor people are out there, and all of them ain’t black. And that's fine with me, because America needs to understand that. America needs to understand that when I’m listening to Fox News, and they’re talking about the welfare class, they’re not just talking about black women—how Bill Clinton made you believe.
I think that everybody needs to know that everybody’s poor as shit. Once we realize that, we can get over the dumb shit like classism, sexism, racism and homophobia. We can get past all the isms and realize that really most of us are trying to make it with a job that’s barely keeping us going. I think if we approach it from there, you can watch TV, you can giggle a little, but you can at least say, “You know, this little chubby girl is pulling her parents out of poverty.” And I hope they do good things with the money, but if they don’t, that’s the risk they take when they sign a contract.
But I don't take TV seriously. I would take TV seriously if the quality of shows was the quality of show “The Jeffersons” was. I would take TV seriously if the quality of show was the quality of show that “All In The Family” or “Maude” was. We don’t have that quality of writing. We have a bunch of adults on TV who are ugly versions of actors or newscasters who say “the N word.” That’s the dumbest shit I ever heard in my life. The word is “nigger” or in Rap, the word is “nigga.” There is no such thing as “the N word.” The fact that our television is not courageous enough to be truly insightful or to truly challenge real world issues is deplorable. And I think that the TV you watch today is garbage, because all that it’s doing is re-sanitizing bullshit garbage you’ve gotten.
If you want to watch TV, I just suggest you buy old DVD versions of TV from the ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘60s and ‘70s, because what you’re watching now—even more so than then—is just programming to get you to laugh at people. You’re seeing poor people, but they’re being presented in a way for you to laugh at them—to ridicule and to make fun of. And that pulls that one poor person out of poverty, but that doesn’t do anything to redeem that class of people. I don’t think all rednecks are dumb, and I don’t think all of them are country or ass-backwards. My thing is, for every Honey Boo Boo, I would say listen to Bubba Sparxxx’s Deliverance, because that record is a record that gives you the dignity of whites in the South in audio form. It gives you the dignity of poor, working-class, white people of where I’m from and places like LaGrange, Georgia. I think that’s a truer experience than the cast of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” or the duck show. I think that’s a truer experience than the TV supervisors are giving us. But it’s TV—so, you know—you can’t get mad. TV is presented to entertain us.
Additional reporting by Soren Baker and Justin Hunte