Han’S Hip-Hop Report: Killer Mike – The Street Anthropologist (Part 1)
It may well be tough to find the perfect balance when making conscious music for the streets, but Grand Hustle’s Killer Mike makes it seem effortless. His last album, ‘PL3DGE,’ continues to command attention from both generations of hip-hop listeners, especially with the recent controversy surrounding the video for his latest single, ‘Burn’...
In this candid interview, Mike Bigga caught up with The Wrap Up’s hip-hop specialist Hannah O’Connor to discuss precisely why he’s one of the most socially-aware artists in the game today and put the world to rights.
The Wrap Up: First of all, what made you want to revisit the 'Pledge’ concept?
Killer Mike: I can't really say that I ever want to revisit the 'Pledge' as much as when I drop them comments immediately start coming in saying, ‘I wonder what the next one is going to sound like?’ It's really me just bending to the will of my supporters. I take the people that listen to me seriously and because I've had a small core audience that's slowly built over time, I've had to take them more seriously. In a sense, it's almost like a symbiotic partnership between me and my audience. If they hear it and they decide they want another one, I get it. At the point they say this is it, then that'll be it, but I've got other projects dropping in between the next 'Pledge'.
TWU: You’ve always been quite outspoken on various issues. Do you think that hip-hop can still be that voice of revolution or change in today’s world?
Killer Mike: Yeah, if you look at it from a social aspect and not just a political aspect anymore. In ‘PL3DGE’, I post it verbally from a more social standpoint, because if I listened to hip-hop in its heyday and I heard the politicised messages, then I see 15-20 years of progress ahead of that and I see that nothing has really changed: racism still holds, sexism still hold and homophobia is even more rampant. So, I have to progress what I learnt at 15-16 years old and realise it's a social problem – a world caste system. All of the ‘-isms’ are just tools used for that, to uphold the caste system and I think that's what makes me a progression of who influenced me. A progression of Ice Cube, a progression of Public Enemy, a progression of Poor Righteous Teachers because I've had a chance because of their wisdom to see what did work and what didn't work.
Ice Cube rapped about the problems of Black America in the 90s and he showed me economically how to overcome that but he was in the system by becoming a movie star and a movie producer - having Cube Vision worth $250 million. So, to me, if he reported what was going on in Compton in real life, real time, in the late 80s to early 90s and actually reported real life, real time the way you can overcome some of these things on an individual level, it's getting money. You're using your neighbourhood as an economic base. If you're the most down-trodden group of people in the United Kingdom – I hear a lot of people saying that it's harder for West Indian people there – well West Indian people should be owning their own stores.
They should keep their money turning over in their neighbourhood fifteen or sixteen times because they're facing the same problem that we're facing in Black America. We don't own enough of our own communities. That isn't a racial thing; it's just a social thing. For us to socially be accepted, we need to control our own neighbourhoods. We need to look at these people that have stores and have more successful cultures around us. We should emulate those things in our community and I try to put that in my music.
TWU: So, with that in mind, how did this project help you to progress on a personal level?
Killer Mike: I used every writing technique I have ever learnt. As a writer, I just progressed. I was able to solve my conflict. I was always interpreted to have this conflict between being this guy who potentially could be this great social MC, but I had this Achilles heel that I write about drug dealers, street hooligans and things of that nature. I read a quote by Aristotle that Joell Ortiz put up on Twitter: ‘Poverty is the parent of the revolutionary and the criminal’ and it all made sense to me. I was determined to show people that I am equally both because of the circumstances I have come from. The conditions make these people, so how could I make an album and not represent that?
I'm never going to tell you brothers to not buy gold and diamonds because no one is teaching them how to properly invest and, if you get locked up, your mother can pawn your gold and diamonds. But if you're a conscious rapper and you're wearing $500 jeans, you say something revolutionary and get locked up, no one wants to buy that denim! On a common sense level, street raps make all the sense in the world and on a higher learning level. Conscious raps make some sense but in the terms of philosophy, it's almost like dealing with a local politician versus a college professor. The local politician is there in real streets, real time and they understand. ‘I have to do something to progress the whole neighbourhood’, and the professor of political sciences? ‘Well, this is the way it shouldn't work or should work.’
So, I see myself as like a link between those two worlds. I'm a kid that grew up on Martin Luther King Boulevard and in all my travels across the United States, I only saw one Martin Luther King Boulevard that wasn't in the ghetto. I grew up on Martin Luther King and I went to the same college as Dr. King. I was educated among the black elite in my country and I have a great education, thanks to the schools I went to. I've been given a certain education and I want to always make sure that I share that with the streets. Hopefully it'll progress us all.
Catch the second part of this exclusive interview next week.
Stay up to date with Killer Mike on Twitter – www.twitter.com/KillerMikeGTO
Killer Mike’s last album, ‘PL3DGE’, is currently in stores and his video for ‘Burn’ is now on rotation on major US music networks.
Words: Hannah O'Connor (@HipHopSuperhan)
Online editing: Joseph 'JP' Patterson (@Jpizzledizzle)