Killer Mike: Pledge Of Allegiance
Michael Render (who got his rap moniker not from the street but from the underground Atlanta battle circuit) has evolved into an emcee who can effortlessly mesh street saviness with his own brand of socially-concious content that doesnt preach at, and therefore alienate, his listener.
Beginning with his solo debut, 2003s Monster, Mike formally introduced himself as a warrior for the poor, a spokesman for those suffering in American-style squalor who resort to selling drugs solely as a means to and end. But while Monster did debut in the Top 10 upon its release, the album failed to go gold, and much of Mikes message regarding class in America was overlooked as radio listeners only heard his voice explain how Heffers call me black-n-decker, and assumed all he did was dream about sex.
But two years later, Mike was about to inform those who had mistakenly prejudged him that he had more to offer than libido lyricism. Unfortunately, the unparralled truth-telling (see Blacks aint got shit/Its still 1-9-6-6/Cause you can buy a car aint shit/Jordan cant buy a team/And that nigga got six rings from Bad Day, Worst Day) featured on Mikes shelved sophomore album, Ghetto Extraordinary, wouldnt be heard by the masses until last month when HipHopDX.com blessed the rap universe with this lost gem [click here to download].
But now, the Adamsville, GA native who once proclaimed Rap Is Dead (and it should be noted this was three years before Nas did the same) is ironically one of the few acts in 08 keeping credible Southern Hip Hop alive, and has returned hot on the heels of a series of stellar mixtape/street releases (Dat Crack, The Killer, and I Plegde Allegiance To The Grind) to remind those who forgot, and introduce those that never knew, that Killer Mike is the most balanced, and arguably the most skilled southern emcee of this era.
Mikes sharp wit will once again be on display when he unleashes I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind II via Bay Area based label, SMC Recordings, on March 25th. With confirmed appearances from 8Ball & MJG and Trae, tentative appearances from Beanie Sigel, Ice Cube, Scarface (and a few other legends possibly making surprise cameos), and sonics from the beatmakers who helped to make the first edition of Mikes Grind street album series a critically-acclaimed and award-winning (2007 Ozone winner for Best Street Album) success, including Smiff & Cash (Heatwave Productions), Chaotic Beats, and Drum Major Music, Grind II is guaranteed to be as amazing as its predecessor.
Along for the ride on Grind II will also be Mikes Grind Time Rap Gang, who will soon be releasing their own crew album Serving Live From The Grindhouse, and Grind Times annual Valentines Day mixtape for mothers, Skulls & Roses Pt. 2, is due in a few weeks).
But before Mike begins his Grind Time takeover for 08, he spoke with his good friends here at HipHopDX and gave us the definitive Killer Mike interview. He spoke candidly about past beef with Big Boi (and its reported violent turn), friendship with Pimp C [R.I.P.], lost record deals, his possible return to a major label, and so much other good shit that we couldnt fit it all into one feature. Enjoy!
HipHopDX: I dont know if I should begin our interview on this note, but I just wanted to get any words you might have about Pimp C that you wanna share with our readers?
Killer Mike: I cant do nothing but express gratitude, because Pimp C and Bun B made sacrifices so we wouldnt have to. Im eternally grateful, and Ima make sure that everything I do is gonna be to add to that integrity of Southern Hip Hop or country rap tunes, as Pimp would call em.
DX: Do you know personally if Pimp C was a Killer Mike fan?
KM: Yeah, I know personally Pimp C was a Killer Mike fan cause I wrote him in prison. And when he got out, he came and gave me two free verses. And he sat me down and just schooled me on a lot of shit. Its like Pimp told me, even bigger than just being a Killer Mike fan, Pimp said, Mike, Im witcha man, cause you an underdog. And I know how that feels. Bun used to say, Pimp, boys aint recognizing us. They aint respectin it. And I used to tell him, dont worry about it, cause where them boys who doing that bullshit gonna be ten, 20 years from now? Our music gonna last forever! He told me that at a time when I really felt under-appreciated, and I felt like giving up, and it helped me understand that to give up is to give up on your fans, your supporters, your people. You not just giving up on you. And I dont have the right to give up. That aint my choice. Theres people who get inspired by what I say, and that push them through this sick, sad, cold world. And Id be arrogant and wrong to try to think that my personal feelings, or let my ego get in the way of doing what Im supposed to be doing. And what Im supposed to be doing is making sure that Southern Hip Hop is held to the same standard that it was when Pimp and Bun and [Eightball & MJG] and Suave House and Rap-A-Lot sacrificed everything to make sure that we could even have a say. I realized that my responsibility was bigger than to myself.
DX: Going back here, are those two verses that Pimp gave you gonna surface in the future?
KM: Yeah, but Im in no way gonna capitalize on no mans death and try to put it out there now. Its all about the musical integrity to me. More than anything, if they never come out, I just always wanted to rap with my favorite rapper.
DX: Well maybe youre the wrong person then to be asking this next question, its all water under the bridge now, but did you take any offense to Pimps comments about Atlanta last summer? Is Pimps legacy in any way diminished in the ATL because of those comments?
KM: Man, you got to know Pimp for real! Like, Bun, and Wendy Day and others who had already known Pimp before I even met up with him said, Hey man, Pimp is Pimp. And if you fortunate enough to ever have Pimp as an associate or a friend he is gonna be one of the best, closest friends you ever known, but at some point he is gonna cuss your muthafuckin ass out. So I was already prepared [for his comments], but what I wanna say is even though you can argue semantics over is Atlanta the south, okay, he know Atlanta the south and we know Atlanta the south, but Pimp understood that Atlanta now is a far cry from what it was 10-15 years ago. We have tons of people moving in from other places. And this aint here nor there, this aint for or against, but you do have a higher homosexual population moving into Atlanta cause this the next big city. Like New York, like Chicago, like Los Angeles, people coming to make they dreams happen. Im in a city where Im from here and Im a stranger. If I meet five people most of em are not from here, but they here. You have people saying, Im from Atlanta, but they from the suburbs of Atlanta. So, most of yall dont know what the real Atlanta is, Pimp did. Now that we off that Atlanta shit, because Atlanta is the south, but Atlanta has gotten on some ole bougasie-ass, black hollywood shit. And if nothing else, what [Pimps comments] did was make niggas say, Hold on now, am I claiming to be a real street nigga and acting hollywood? Cause when Pimp was rappin that street shit, we seen [UGK] in the streets. So its like, you cant have it both ways, man. Either you gonna be bougasie as a muthafucka and holding your nose up above the people, or you gonna be with the people. But you not gonna be able to have it both ways Atlanta.
DX: Switching gears here, tell our readers about I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind II, what should they expect to hear from you this go-round?
KM: Its gonna be a leaner album. Its only gonna be about ten cuts, but Im trying to give yall the ten best I got in me. Im trying to give yall the album I can die when Im done making it.
My music has always been representative of not just me, but the bigger community of people that I feel are just like me. People who are brilliant and who are smart and caring, but come up in some of the most brutal circumstances known to man. You can call it the hood, you can call it the streets, you can call it the ghetto, you can call it what you will, but this is where we from and this is what we about. I represent the grind, man. And the grind is whether you paying five thousand for nine ounces, or whether you working a nine-to-five to get your family by, Im with you. The grind is the marriage of hustle and hard work. If what you doing is for the greater good, I got to be with you.
I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind was a political statement of sorts to say, Im not like these other niggas. Im not like the nigga that wanna shine on you, and who every time in a rhyme he smoke better dope than you, fuck better hoes than you, and who drive better cars than you. And Im not talking about one nigga, Im talking about a lot of niggas who [rap] that. What I say to you is, Man, we in this shit together. We all trying to make it. Whether you play professional football or you work on the back of a garbage truck, brother Im on your side. Whether you strip on a pole or you do hair for a living or are a secretary at a school, sister Im on your side. I understand that your work, what you do for money, does not define you. What defines you is the character and the integrity that you carry into the trap, that you carry into the job, what you do with it and what you do with those resources. Im trying to inspire my people to get up, get out and get something.
DX: Can I make a request, that those ten songs be like The Juggernaut, Get Em Shawty, and Rap Is Dead, high octane tracks where you get your Ice Killer Mike Cube on?
KM: Whats funny is me and Rhymefest just sat down and reviewed Ghetto Extraordinary last night and he took me through every track.
DX: Is that a fair comparison, are you the 2008 equivalent of golden era Ice Cube?
KM: Man, let me tell you, Ice Cube is one of my rap heroes. Hes a titan of rap, and its an honor for my name to be said in the same sentence as his. I only wish to be recognized as the greatest student under Ice Cube, Scarface and Kool G Rap. I could never be them, cause they pulled what they pulled out of thin air and I had them to be an example to me. I only wish to be the best reflection I can possibly be of what they did for me, and that was inspire me to make some of the best street-hop, gangsta rap that people have ever heard in their lives. So its nothing but an honor to me. I call myself the new school Ice Cube not in any way to feel as though Im replacing, or could ever replace, Ice Cube. Its only my ambition to be a measure of what he was and what he is.
DX: Are you frustrated or at all disappointed that your voice might not reach the same multi-platinum masses that Cubes did because youre now outside of that major-label system?
KM: I cant be frustrated or mad because I look at brothers everyday on the corner who wish they had ten people to talk to. So how can I get mad cause only a hundred thousand listen to me? I look at men talking to theyself in their own cells in places like Joliet, places like the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, people like [Larry] Hoover, people like [Jeff] Fort, who dramatically changed their lives and are willing to give that knowledge and example to the streets, and being that theyre now political prisoners they were gangstas, now theyre political prisoners they dont have the ability to do it. So how could I be angry at being able to speak to a hundred thousand people, when you got Assata Shakur in exile in Cuba and her voice aint heard? Where other people see disadvantage and not as much fame and light, I see nothing but opportunity. And Ima take full advantage of that opportunity.
DX: Did I read correctly though that youre still aiming to reach a bigger audience and put your proper third album, 16 In The Kitchen, out via a major label?
KM: That is happening, yes sir.
DX: Youre in talks with people right now?
KM: I done did all the talking I need to do, I just aint telling the world yet.
DX: Okay, so you cant give me nothing on that front?
KM: Nah, shouts out to my man No I.D.
DX: You previously turned down deals from Diddy and Jermaine Dupri though, correct? Like, you been down this road before basically?
KM: Yeah, but I didnt turn the deals down. The deals went fucked up due to too many business interests [involved]. And this is in no way meant to discredit Purple Ribbon and the people that was there, Big Boi or any of em, because our relationship is back on course. But what I learned is that a business deal is simple between two people a lot of times than it is three people. Its easy to make a trade from the Hawks to the Lakers if its just the Hawks and Lakers [involved], but if you got the Hawks, the Lakers and the Trailblazers [involved] its gonna be problems, cause everybodys gonna need their interests served, and there may not be enough for that. So, did I turn the deals down? No. Could the deals have happened? Probably so, if more people wouldve been willing to give. So I hate that I didnt get a chance to sign with Puff. And I say this because he got my music at the level you just talked about. He got it instantly. Now I dont think Jermaine got it. Jermaine wanted me because Puffy wanted me. I been in this city over 10 years now making my bones, and as much as I love Jermaine hes a great guy but he showed no genuine interest before that.
DX: At this point, the way the music biz is going, in five years these major labels might not matter. You might just be better off selling music through your own website.
KM: Thats where I am with it, man. Like, I had to realize Im here for a reason. I see guys fall off of major labels every year. And I see them return to drugs, robbery, bullshit jobs. I see people give up on their dreams. I never gave up, so I feel like me having an opportunity to be a king in the underground is Gods mission and its a blessing.
DX: Since were talking about the value of major labels, tell our readers why your sole major-label deal to date with Sony only produced one Killer Mike release, Monster?
KM: Because in order for a major label to work like theyre supposed to, the boutique label has to work as though theres no tomorrow. And if Im on songs that feature members of OutKast, the major label is gonna wanna see those members of OutKast. And because that didnt happen to the satisfaction of the major label, I think that they were Man, Im gonna be honest, all the wrong singles.
DX: I guess then give me the long-story short on why Ghetto Extraordinary never hit store shelves, or did you just give it to me basically?
KM: Big Boi opted out of the deal with Sony. He didnt feel as though they were putting the all-in push on the project. He became dissatisfied with the relationship. And when that relationship ended our relationship ended. I met great people at Sony, a lot of em worked incredibly hard on my behalf, but it didnt work out, man.
DX: So after Big pulled out from Sony were there plans for you to go over to his situation with Virgin?
KM: Initially, there were no plans, but because Big Boi and Dre and Regina Davenport, who was formally at Purple Ribbon, were the only people in this city to believe in me and give me a record deal, I didnt give a fuck where Big was going. All I gave a fuck about was he didnt wanna be [at Sony] and I was loyal to Big Boi. So I left with Big Boi.
DX: So how then did you get to the point of asking off Purple Ribbon?
KM: Well, Puff offered me a deal on December 23rd . I flew up to New York, thought we was gonna make it happen. Jermaine found out about [Puffs offer] around February, March [of 2005] and made a counter offer that was bigger. I was still trying to sign with Puff. There was a lot of pressure for me to go to Virgin [with Jermaine]. It looked like at a certain point Puff just got tired of being dicked around, left Jermaine out there, thought we was gonna do the deal at Virgin, but it never came to fruition. I dont know if [his offer] was bullshit, or if it was impossible for it to come to fruition, but it didnt. A year later, the next December , I decided I got to go [from Purple Ribbon]. It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make, because I wasnt just leaving a company I was leaving my hero. And Big Bois my hero. Theres no other way to say it.
DX: Now you know I gott ask, what really happened in March of 07 when you and Big reportedly had a confrontation at an event for kids [click here for more details]?
KM: A buncha yelling and fussing and nothing. A buncha bullshit. Two adult men, who both have companies, both have artists, should never engage in such a public form of embarrassment. And I hope that what we did is an example for other rappers never to do it again. It hurts me to see Remy Ma and [Fat] Joe go through that. It hurts me to see J-Hood and Sheek [Louch] go through that. It hurts me because I understand that the love that was there became tainted by all this bullshit and all these people who are around you encouraging it.
DX: So just for a final clarification, C-Bones One monkey dont stop no show comment at the Birthday Bash 11, that didnt really have nothing to do with what you and Big were going through?
KM: Yeah, it did because C-Bone is Big Bois friend Big dont hate me, and I dont hate Big. But what was going on between us gave everybody around Big the opportunity to try and prove theyself. And Bone apologized for the statement, and I accept his apology.
DX: So I guess the final question regarding Big is just will you and Big Boi ever work together again?
KM: I been calling Big Boi everyday this week. Like, You gonna get on this song or Ima show up to the studio and chain myself to the door. You know why, because the Dungeon Family fans and OutKast fans deserve better. Dungeon Family fans got the shit end of the stick for over 10 years. Theyve seen their heroes like Witchdoctor, like Cool Breeze, like Backbone, like Slimm Calhoun, slip into the abyss. They have seen factionalization, theyve seen disenfranchisement, theyve seen everything except a glorious comeback. And the fans deserve that. They deserve to finally hear Big Boi and Killer Mike on the type of record that Killer Mike knows Big Boi and Killer Mike shoulda been making. And the record that I want Big Boi on - cause Im gonna tell the world, if he doesnt get on it when yall see him get on his ass it features me, Pimp C and Sleepy Brown. And its called Pimpin Mayne. What could be better than Big Boi on that? So if that song ends up on my album without Big Boi, yall make sure yall stop him everytime yall see that Phantom at a gas station and yall tell em that he was wrong because he owes yall better than that. Im talkin bout this [song is] some Southernplayalistic shit, bruh. And Dres also doing a verse on this album. And I almost cried about that because I was with Dre in the era he didnt wanna rap, and thank God he done came back to rap!
DX: You know Dre won HipHopDXs Emcee of the Year for 2007 just off of guest appearances, so I think he proved that he isnt too good for this rappin as you stated on Bad Day Worst Day.
KM: Yeah, Bad Day Worst Day wasnt an accusation, it was a question. I said, Im just askin, what the fuck happened? A lot of people looked at it like, Oh, he just mad that Dre wouldnt get on his song. Man, fuck the fact that Im a rapper and I want him on a song, Im his fuckin fan! And I wanted to know why the fuck my favorite rapper wouldnt rap. And that [statement] went for Dre, that went for Q-Tip, that went for Jay-Z when he retired. I need my favorite rappers rappin, cause life is hard, and I dont believe in preachers.
DX: So that song with Dre, is that locked in for the new album?
KM: If Dre dont do that song I will be at his mamas house chained to her porch. The Dungeon Family fans deserve the best we can possibly give them.