With over ten years as a prominent member of the Atlanta/Southern hip-hop community, Michael Render better known as Killer Mike is known for his outspoken, overtly political and conscious yet gritty content. He recently released his fifth album; Pl3dge, through T.I.’s Grand Hu$tle label.
Having been introduced on Outkast’s classic Stankonia album in 2000, Mike and Big Boi fell out in 2007 but recently re-united on the album’s lead single ‘Ready, Set, Go’. We spoke to Mike on the phone about the South being embraced by the mainstream, Operah Winfrey, the lack of political hip-hop, the artists that shape who he is today and loads more…
BlatantlyBlunt: What kind of synergies will be achieved, combining Grand Hustle and (your label) Grind time?
Killer Mike: First off, I have to start by saying “free the King”, till Tip (aka T.I.) comes home in September. We’ve been working hard independently at Grind Time Official, carving a niche market and Grand Hu$tle has provided a tremendous amount of life! They’ve re-awakened people that knew about me, but don’t follow the underground scene as much. They’ve introduced me to a new audience – by way of Tip fans that are far out of reach to just the South of USA and they also have their own cast of producers. If nothing else, it has been great to work with Tip and Jason (Geter) who are brilliant business men – I’m learning a lot from them.
BB: How did it feel for Tip to spend his last moments of freedom working on the record with you?
KM: Honoured and humbled! I can’t say I’d be that unselfish. For a man to have to take a year out of his life, and spend time away from his small children, it shows his dedication to his business and other artists. I think he’s a shining example of what a man is supposed to be – I got a lot of respect for Tip and even more respect now that I’ve seen some of the moves he’s made, it shows a lot about his integrity.
BB: Considering the history between you two, how did it feel to have Big Boi on the remix of ‘Ready, Set, Go’?
KM: Man that was the biggest thing to happen since USA and Britain became allies! In short, it’s just good to be back home. It’s great to be making music with the people I was making music with eight or nine years ago.
BB: You mentioned on twitter that the South has created a style of music that has become POP. What is the significance for you to see the South embraced by the mainstream?
KM: It’s a little honouring in that it’s good to hear white kids (from non-urban areas) developing their style, which emulates UGK, 8 Ball & MJG and Outkast. It’s comparable to when the (Rolling) Stones let the world know that (blues legend) Muddy Waters was their influence. A lot of the time, because of how we talk and dress, we’re marginalised as this subgroup of hip-hop. However, our music is based on soul music, which is a global genre. So it’s dope for me to see these new pop artists coming up whose song sounds like a Three 6 Mafia song!
BB: In the long term is it a positive thing that the southern sound has been embraced by charts or might it lead to an absence of Three 6 Mafia/UGK type of authentic southern rap?
KM: Well that’s the scary part – that the music will become homogenized. We don’t know, but it happened to reggae in the 1980s, and there’s still tonnes of great reggae artists still around. I don’t know if it’s ultimately going to be good or bad. As long as we are supporting the authentic artists then it will always be here, but right now it’s a beautiful sight to see.
BB: Does your strong belief in God encourage you to stay positive and conscious in your lyrics? Also do you think there’s much contradiction towards that side of things in the game?
KM: I think I’m just as contradictory as any other human being walking the earth! Parents will say one thing to their kids and then go to the pub, drink three litres of beer and drive home. So when I speak about my belief, it isn’t about a particular book, a particular synagogue, church or mosque. It’s me recognizing that there’s something in the universe bigger than me, overseeing it all. My responsibility is to always be thankful and try to help other people and not be a hindrance.
BB: ‘That’s life’ is a track you’ve resurrected from a few years ago. Despite it being one of your greatest tracks, why bring it back?
KM: ‘That’s Life 2’ is the sequel to the track on (the album) ‘I pledge allegiance to the grind’ from 2006. It covers the caste system. It’s easier to slide down from the middle class, than it is to move up amongst the rich and wealthy. It’s me recognizing that this exists and that people at the top should shut up and let the people at the bottom figure it out for themselves. If you’re not going to come down to the ghettos we don’t need your criticism. I also talk about how abusive the church and the political system have been to the people at the bottom of the country.
BB: You’ve previously aired your thoughts on Operah Winfrey not supporting the hip-hop culture. With her forthcoming TV network, do you think she is more likely to embrace the culture in some form now?
KM: I think she’ll embrace the hip hop icons like Jay-Z and Kanye West but as a culture she doesn’t see any value in it. That’s fine though, no matter how rich and influential she gets there will always be people more powerful than her that will always know she’s not influential on their culture. They’ll look at her as a part of our culture and she’s fighting that stereotype. However, I don’t see how she can do so by putting people like (controversial hip-hop video model) ‘Super Head’ on the show and not the likes of Eve or Ice Cube. If you don’t have that balance I find it difficult to believe that she’d ever give our culture a look in. I don’t think she owes us that, I’m more interested in what hip hop can do for itself.
BB: You mentioned in an interview a few years ago that the people letting down hip-hop are the realest artist that not releasing music. Who’s responsible for their side lining?
KM: I think the corporations have done well at buying artists out young. After Tupac died, artists became afraid to be socially conscious. They don’t want to be attacked by government and the law enforcement authorities. They don’t want to be marginalised by the corporations they work for. It’s also the audience who haven’t had to deal with a real struggle. They believe as long as they can go to the mall and buy stuff the world is OK.