In 1989 The D.O.C. declared Rap to be “Rhythmic American Poetry” on his timeless, Dr. Dre helmed lyrical exercise “The Formula.” Twenty-three years later a new acronym for R.A.P. has been injected into the Hip Hop lexicon: Rebellious African People’s Music. The 2012 term for one of the culture’s four main elements comes courtesy of Killer Mike (via his good friend and fellow ATLien, music journalist Maurice Garland), serving as the title to Killa Kill’s just-released sixth album, R.A.P. Music.
While technically the follow-up to the final installment in the critically acclaimed I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind series from Hip Hop’s “Ric Flair,” last year’s Pl3dge, Mike’s latest long-player is less solo project and more harmonious collaborative creation. Entirely produced by Indie Rap pioneer El-P (who it should be noted is dropping his own new solo collection, Cancer For Cure on May 22nd), R.A.P. Music merges the menace of the Southern Ice Cube with the genius of a man whose unique sound can only be described as Star Wars meets Style Wars.
Commissioned by Mike’s connects at the Adult Swim network (who also arranged for the beautifully spacey Flying Lotus creation, “Swimming,” featured on Pl3dge), the pairing of El and Bigga is already being compared by critics to the historic pairing of Public Enemy producers The Bomb Squad with Ice Cube for the East meets West masterpiece, 1990’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.
Amidst the flurry of praise currently coming Mike’s way, the underground king took time out to talk to HipHopDX about what may prove to be the most revered release of Sgt. Slaughter’s twelve year career (specifically the album’s attack on the actions of both a past and present President). During his discussion with DX, the always insightful truth-teller additionally provided some insight into his now certified friendship with El-P, his plans to possibly run for public office, and why he has no desire to ever find himself floating face down in the mainstream. And as always, the controversial-quote machine didn’t disappoint with his latest delivery of jaw-droppers including, “We took a great loss in losing Gadhafi,” “I have promoted and propagated some lies … and I’m still doing it to this day,” and a few other eye-grabbing statements sure to shock and awe no one familiar with the defiant declarations of one of Hip Hop’s most outspoken orators.
HipHopDX: Let’s kick things off by delving into the most talked-about track on R.A.P. Music, “Reagan.”
Killer Mike: “Reagan,” I knew it. Why do you people only like me angry? [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs] “Ronald Reagan was a actor, not at all a factor / Just an employee of the country’s real masters / Just like the Bush’s, Clinton and Obama / Just another talking-head telling lies on teleprompters / If you don’t believe the theory, then argue with this logic: Why did Reagan and Obama both go after Gadhafi?” Was the Gaddafi connection the only thing that led you to tie Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama together or are there other areas where you see a comparison?
Killer Mike: I didn’t tie Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama together; Barack Obama tied him and Ronald Reagan together. Barack Obama compares himself to Reagan.
In fact, everybody running for President this year, with the exception of Ron Paul, has compared themselves to Ronald Reagan. And I can’t even be a 100% on the Ron Paul thing, because he may have done it before too.
So that’s not me [comparing Obama to Reagan], that’s just me saying “I agree.” [Laughs]
DX: The Gadhafi connection, can you elaborate a little bit on what you were saying there about them both going after Gaddafi?
Killer Mike: Both times we went after Gadhafi in a very illegal way. [In 1986] Ronald Reagan killed his adopted daughter with a bombing. That is – first of all, let’s admit to something, Libya is a sovereign nation. That’s just what it is, it’s a sovereign nation. To go into a sovereign nation, or endorse or back going in to assassinate the leader of a sovereign nation, is wrong. It’s reprehensible.
Now, as an American on some level I benefit from that so I’m not gonna trip. But, as a Pan-Africanist, as a truth-teller, I have to say it’s wrong, because it is. Gadhafi – speaking from the Black experience, from an African-American male and a person who’s a member of the African Diaspora - was an African leader that had been good to his country, financially. He was an African leader that had been good to other African countries. He was a leader that supported dual citizenship for African-Americans. He was a leader that was willing to have a United States of Africa, in which all of the resources of Africa would be for Africans. He wanted to change the monetary system from accepting U.S. dollars to gold for Libyan oil and the next thing you know we were killing him.
Now, as a guy who wants to pump gas below $5 a gallon, that benefited me. And as an American I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like gas being below $5. But as a truth-teller I have to say that [the murder of Muammar Gadhafi] potentially set a global divide that’s already pretty deep between the rich and the poor. African-Americans don’t have a lot of global advocates. That was one of them that got murdered. And, if we don’t look at the truth for what it is, we’re crazy.
Now, the reason I keep going back to the fact that I’m an American and I even benefited from it is because on the first verse of “Reagan,” before I talk about Obama, Clinton, Bush, before I name all of the usual suspects in terms of who’s keeping me oppressed, I talk about me oppressing my people, by being a rapper. I talk about me setting unrealistic goals, and I talk about members of the fraternity of emcees who are also doing this. So before Reagan – and I’m not talking about Reagan the man as much as I am Reagan the ideology, which all the other politicians are saying they are: the ideology – [this mentality] has caused even me, as an American, as an African-American man, as one of the most suffered groups of people in this country, even I have become an oppressor to my own people. Because, in order to gain financially and support my own family I have promoted and propagated some lies. And other rappers have, and I’m still doing it to this day.
DX: I don’t wanna stay harping on you calling out Obama but I just have to ask, what happened to the guy who was declaring it an act of racial treason to vote for anybody other than Obama on “Pressure”? [“Ask your Uncle Thomas how he choose master over Obama.”]
Killer Mike: Oh, if you don’t vote for Obama this time you’re a fuckin’ race traitor.
That’s what happened to that guy. He’s still there. [But] I am able to see things in a duality. I just told you that as a Pan-Africanist we took a great loss in losing Gadhafi. [But] as an American, my gas is always gonna be below $5 [and that benefits me]. And no one is gonna be able to get a foothold on North African and East African oil because America now has bases in Libya, the Eastern coast of Africa – under the guise of keeping it protected from pirates – and we’re in friendly countries like Saudi Arabia. I understand strategically what’s going on and I don’t object to that.
As an African-American male, and an African-American father, I understand the importance of imagery in the African-American community. … My people are a people of imagery. It’s almost like Joseph Campbell and his analogies in terms of human beings needing a God in The Masks of God. Where you need a hero, you need God, you need villains. African-Americans have these needs, and I understand our mentality. We have the mentality of wanting to see our goodness on a stage. And Barack Obama represents that, in terms of an African-American man that carries himself in a dignified way, as an African-American man that doesn’t appear quote-unquote to be a sellout in terms of culturally who he is. He’s married to a beautiful Black woman. He has some beautiful Black kids. Eat that Black food, say that Black shit, I need that President because I need my sons and my daughters to understand there’s no limitations on where we can go. So as an African-American dad I need that.
Now, as an African-American business owner, and as an African-American citizen of these United States, he has supported some shit that doesn’t benefit me, and I have to then address him like I would the 43 other guys that were in front of him, that weren’t a member of the African-American male fraternity. I have to judge him on those standards.
So I still think if you don’t vote for Barack Obama and you’re an African-American, especially an African-American man, you’re a fool. Because, his image can help you, in your household, it can help you in the real world and you can profit from it. [But] I’m saying that you also should be demanding of him an African-American jobs program by saying we’re not gonna go vote. If you don’t do something that is a jobs program immediately in this country we’re not gonna fuckin’ vote. We also should be doing that, but we should be voting for him.
So it’s not like I jumped off the Obama bandwagon. I’m still firmly on the train in the first class. But, I am still saying if you don’t have ice for my fuckin’ Coca-Cola, I’m fin to nut up. And by “nut up” I mean I will threaten to not vote for you.
DX: Speaking of, you told AlterNet that “this is going to be the first presidential election I don’t vote.”
Killer Mike: Yeah, but by the end of that quote I said I can’t even say that I’m not as much as I’m willing to say I won’t if I don’t feel like we’re gonna benefit.
But, it very well may be. You can’t tell me Obama doesn’t have the election in the bag already. He’s already gonna take over 95% of the African-American vote, he’s definitely gonna get the Gay vote now, more than likely he’ll get the Woman vote based on the fact that the anti-abortionists have hijacked the Right. So, I’m not as really worried that he won’t be elected as much as I would love to see an organic, African-American, Tea Party-esque [movement] demand for something at the threat of not voting for him if they don’t get it. I would love to see the African-American community do that.
DX: Well hopefully folks don’t become too apathetic about voting because you actually need their vote. You also told AlterNet, “You can look for me in the next four or five years running for a public office in Atlanta.”
Killer Mike: Yeah, something small and local. Not hard. [Laughs] Something very, very small and very local, I think that’s where I’d best serve.
DX: That’s kinda disappointing to hear. I thought Mayor Michael Render had a nice ring to it.
Killer Mike: Yeah, I could go up to Mayor. That’s probably where I’d jump off the boat. [Laughs] Actually, [Georgia] State Representative Alisha Thomas is an old comrade of mine from my younger organizing days, when I was organizing in my teens and early twenties. Kwanza Hall, a city councilman here, he was an older mentor of mine when I was in high school. He was a few grades ahead of me. So, I have a pretty good connection of people I’ve seen do it. I understand how to do it. And actually, one of the guys who worked in the Obama campaign is also a friend, and just like an older mentor. So I’m connected enough to do it and I really think I am [going to run for office], once I get a couple of more albums out of me.
DX: Rhymefest ran into some roadblocks when he tried to get inside the system.
Killer Mike: He could’ve won. He really could’ve won. And he nearly did. And he shook up the system enough where I was really hoping he was gonna drop his book next, he was going to start – He already should be preparing to run again. ‘Cause he almost won, man. I was so fuckin’ proud of [Rhymefest], man. I really think he should continue to pursue that. And I think he’ll make a solid, good politician on the behalf of the people.
DX: Switching gears here, pretty dramatically, after reading that Village Voice piece it sounds like you got a real bromance brewing with El-P. [Laughs]
Killer Mike: Man, I just - he’s just my friend. [Laughs]
DX: We’re just friends. [Laughs]
Killer Mike: [Laughs] People are gonna get a kick outta that answer.
DX: [Laughs] Isn’t male bonding always awkward to navigate? It’s like dating and shit. [Laughs]
Killer Mike: Yeah. [Laughs]
DX: Did you think you were gonna get along with that guy though? Did you have any reservations about if you guys were gonna be able to work together?
Killer Mike: It’s pretty easy for me to get along with people, ‘cause I kinda take people as they are. I think most people have expectations that – I have an uncle, my uncle who actually inspired me to go to Morehouse College, his name is Carlton. And I remember [complaining to him] over some street shit – “Niggas didn’t keep it real with me,” “Niggas didn’t treat me how I treated them.” I went off on one of those bullshit rants. And God bless the dead – this is before he died – he said, “Michael, you know who your friends are.” I said, “Yeah, I know who my real friends are.” He said, “No, no, no, the people you call friends, you know them. They show you who they are from the very beginning. And it’s your choice to be friends with them or not. So, just because you show up on time to take your friend to work that don’t necessarily mean they’re being a good or bad friend if they don’t show up in time to see you to work because you know your friend is prone to be late. So you have to accept your friends as they are.” And I tend to treat people that way. I take you as you are. I didn’t get mad you asked me the Obama question first. A lot of people woulda been like, “Man, I’m tired of these muthafuckin’ reporters asking me about Obama!” But I wrote the lyrics, I put the bait out there, so how can I be mad that that’s what you fish for?
So, I never doubt I can get along with people because I accept people as they are. [What] I never expected to be [was] paid to make such a good friend. We had so many similarities because we grew up in the same era of music. And we had so many stark differences because of geographically [where we come from]. There was enough familiarity to immediately start building a real kinship. And there was enough difference to be curious about one another to build a friendship. Like, if I talk about a random-ass Goochie Poo song [El-P is] not gonna know what the fuck I’m talking about. [Laughs] But, if we just finished talking Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep, and making some ill shit together, and me saying this line comes from [them], it just becomes more interesting. So when we’re out drinking, laughing, joking, partying it’s just the mortar and bricks of real friendship. Real friendship comes out of communication, having a common focus and goal and participating in that together. So it was pretty easy. I genuinely love him, like a brother.
He gave me Camu Tao’s [King Of Hearts] album and I haven’t stopped playing it. It really just feels like being 16 and meeting that other kid in high school that is as serious about this shit as you are. And you don’t get those opportunities in your fuckin’ mid and late thirties anymore. He’s probably one of the last real friends I’ll make. So I gotta protect that by us doing dope shit and keeping it going.
DX: Prior to last summer, did you ever envision that you’d someday be spittin’ to an album’s worth of futuristic, Funcrusher Plus ish?
Killer Mike: No. We knew about each other in the peripheral. We knew about each other’s biggest works. Like, he knew “A.D.I.D.A.S.” I knew [Company Flow’s] “End To End Burners.” He knew Monster. I knew Funcrusher [Plus]. That was it. And I think that that was good too. Because, it allowed us to make records from a pure place and not a place of expectations based on what we did [in the past].
We both went into this record trying to make each other look good. But how many producers and rappers really go in these days? [It’s usually like], “I need to sell my beat.” We both went in there from the place of I wanna help my man get the shine he should. Like, when El told me some of the phone numbers that had called him post hearing the production on this record, the big names that had hit him, I ran around the fuckin’ room like they called me. Because, I know that our work did that. The reviews that I’m getting today, I know El is excited and going crazy about because his work did that. And when we plotted and made the record we assured each other of that. He’s like, “Man, you know, it’d be dope for this to happen but I’d just love to be able to place a beat here or there.” I was like, “You’d love – Get the fuck outta here. Them muthafuckas is gonna be on your fuckin’ dick!” You know I’m a cocky-ass Black kid from the South saying like, “Fuck you talkin’ ‘bout?” And true to form it happened [to me too]. I was like, “Man, I just hope these muthafuckas give me my props for the lyrics” and he was like, “What?! Do you hear the shit you saying?” And when the reviews came out they were catching those lines, so for us to have in our 16-year-olds thought [process] to have made this happen, and for people to react in the way that we thought, it’s like one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve ever had musically. And that’s me saying that as I smoke a joint and look at my Grammy [for “The Whole World”].
DX: Now, I didn’t see El Producto in the behind the scenes preview for the forthcoming “Big Beast” video. Did he come down for the shoot?
Killer Mike: I can’t tell you. [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs] Okay. That video with T.I., with an added Bun B feature, might get you a nice fresh look from the mainstream. But on “Butane” you seem content to stay a U.G.K.: “If underground Rap royalty’s what I’m meant to be / Then I will be the shit, and you ain’t shit to me.”
Killer Mike: Gone. [Laughs] I read about a year ago that it seems that I had got comfortable in this place of just knowing this is where I am. And, if I gotta be a servant in heaven I’d rather rule in hell. That’s just straight up. I’m not with kowtowing to radio, I’m over fuckin’ going in meetings promising people that I can do for them the same kind of single as whoever. Man, fuck all of that. Fuck that and fuck you. If you wanna give me a bag of money and better marketing and a bigger budget you’re gonna do it based on what I’m doing now. Or, I’ll just stay in hell being a God. But what I’m not gonna fuckin’ do is kowtow. I’m not gonna beg and I’m not gonna wait. Fuck all that.