Status Ain't Hood Interviews Killer Mike
Rip burn roar
I can't even tell you how happy I am with this interview. Killer Mike is a guy with a whole lot to say, and he's not shy about it. I guess i shouldn't be surprised at how well it turned out, given that it's almost as fun to hear Killer Mike yelling over a beat at the end of a song as it is to hear him rapping. I met up with him yesterday afternoon for lunch at Porcao, a Brazilian steakhouse in Manhattan, where we both got to eat for free because his publicist knows the restaurant's publicist. That food was good, too. If parts of this interview seem a bit disjointed, it's because waiters kept coming over to offer us more gigantic slabs of meat. One thing I want to make sure gets across, though, is how enthusiastic and passionate this guy is about what he does. To really get across the way he talks about his craft, I'd have to italicize just about every word. This is a long one, so settle in.
So it's been a while since you were on the national stage.
Yeah, man. It's partially self-imposed and partially being a victim of circumstance, but whatever reason it happened, I'm glad it happened. Because it hurts not being able to exercise ideas and exercise a craft, and I know I'm one of the best rappers in Atlanta and I'm one of the best rappers in the South. And to see my city and my state and my region get represented by a lot of garbage is hurtful. Because kids who are growing up on the block, they don't necessarily know that it's an alternative to bullshit crunk, bullshit snap and pop, bullshit crank that music. They don't know that there's still real lyricism. When I talk about real lyricism, I'm not talking about traditionally what you would get out of the East Coast. I'm not trying to mimic a East Coast MC. When I talk about real lyricism with regards to the South, I'm talking about a 8Ball & MJG, Bun B, UGK. I'm talking about OutKast, I'm talking about Goodie Mob. So just having an opportunity to be back out there, accomplishing my goal, making my mark, I'm trying to make history. I know a lot of rappers only talk about making money, but this is not just about money to me. This is about being a part of the legacy of Southern hip-hop.
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You very much work in the tradition of those guys.
Thank you, man. That's a huge compliment.
It's a weird thing that we're seeing right now, where the industry is in complete chaos and nobody knows what's going on...
I don't even think people really care.
I don't think people within the industry care. I think people in the industry care that they don't lose they job. I think they care how their particular record is charting or how many ringtones it's selling. But I don't think people in the industry actually care about the integrity of the music. If they did, you'd be hearing Glasses Malone's song nationwide now; you wouldn't only be hearing it in LA. Because that song is potent. It has Akon on the hook, Toomp did the beat, and Glasses is spitting ridiculously. But you'll probably getting another version of a crank song. And that's no disrespect to anybody in particular, but that's saying that if this was 1993 right now, this is the equivalent of 69 Boyz being heralded above OutKast. Think about what I just said. No disrespect to the 69 Boyz, but if this was 1993, "Whoomp! There It Is" and "Tootsie Roll," all that shit is being taken more seriously than Southernplayalistic and Soul Food. And that's a huge turnaround. That's like the Fu-Schnickens being taken more seriously than Tribe Called Quest. That's the first time in hip-hop history some shit like that has happened.
But it seems like there's still room. UGK had a number-one album last year.
Yeah! I was happy.
Yeah, me too. And it seems like for people who've been around for a while and built up core audiences, there's still room in the industry, but it almost has to be carved out in spite of the industry.
Yeah, it does. The industry is about making money off talent. That ain't the same as supporting talent. That's making money off talent. That's when that talent doesn't make the type of money I expected even though I don't necessarily support it. And that's not what hip-hop is about. Hip-hop is about making your own way, carving your own way. Hip-hop was about that when the kids right here in the Bronx decided that we're going to do something alternative to killing each other. Hip-hop was about that in the 80s when you had young businessmen like Russell Simmons and Andre Harrell and Rick Rubin begin to form their own businesses. It was like that in the 90s when an artist like Jay-Z who couldn't get a deal created his own deal, when a guy like Puffy who was an intern working under someone got fired and decided to do his own thing. Hip-hop has always been about making your own way. So what I'm doing, I call it street-hop because I don't ignore what's happening in the streets in my music. To me, it's not about trying to save hip-hop, because that's a big task. It's about offering my version of hip-hop that I call street-hop.
I'm not trying to save hip-hop. I tried to do that with "Rap Is Dead," and everyone looked at me like I was fucking crazy. Two years later, Nas dropped an album called Hip Hop is Dead, and everyone rode his dick like it was a fucking carnival ride. So my thing is nah, I'm not trying to save hip-hop no more. I'ma offer an alternative, and I'ma do me. Like my man Rocko say. Umma do me. And the audience that likes me, I don't give a fuck what they call theyself. I don't give a fuck if they call theyself hip-hop, I don't give a fuck what they call theyself. It matters that my music matters to them. Because the people that like me across the board happen to be working-class white, black, and Latin men and the women that date them, the women that are involved with them, and the women that support that type of struggle. And that's the type of music that I'm gonna make. And that's why I tend to call my stuff street-hop. Because the people that like or listen to my stuff feel as though I'm an advocate for they struggle. And it ain't necessarily just drug dealers. It ain't just quote-unquote hustlers and that bullshit. It's people who work, who endure a grind everyday, trying to have a piece of the American dream. I try to use my music as a representation for that.
One thing you hear from a lot of rappers up here, especially older rappers, is saving hip-hop. And I think when people start talking about that, they fall into a trap where they say the same thing over and over again. You make politically charged music, and you've got a lot to say. It's interesting to me that you're not harping on that one point.
My music is politicized, but it's not political. I don't have an agenda. I'm the equivalent of someone – and this is in real life; this is not an analogy – someone who grew up, who was smart enough to make it out of the hood and get a scholarship to college, who left college, sold a lot of dope, enough dope to be recognized – one, two, three kis at a time – and got out before I ever got an arrest record, got out before I had to go to jail, didn't avoid getting robbed and some other treacherous shit. But I took that knowledge, and I understood that knowledge in a bigger world perspective. And what I mean is I realized that at the lowest level, as a drug dealer, you not even making three or four hundred dollars a week. And at a certain point, the people above you are middle management, just like they would be at UPS, and they sitting and keeping prices to keep you as a work force out there. As a work force, you working as a front for who the guys you buying from are working for, but you also are a crop to the government. And when I say a crop, I mean they drive up, they pick you up like you cotton, they give you extended jail terms. Them prosecuting nine cats from the corner helps the prosecutor become an elected official. He talks about being tough on crime when he really is just locking up pawns. So everything about you becomes politicized. I don't want to be political. It's just that my very existence as a black man makes me political. If a prosecutor locks me up today, if I'm locked up by the police today and a prosecutor charges me, they're going to charge me to the fullest extent of the law to make an example of me. The example he makes of me don't help society; it helps him advance a political career. It helps him become the next Rudy Giuliani. If Rudy Giuliani is on TV in the early 80s talking about being tough on the mob, it's easier for him to become the mayor of New York. If he talks about being tough on crime but literally just wipes people out of New York, then he becomes the heralded leader of New York. It's not because he did better for New York as a whole; he did better for the constituency that can pay him.
There was a study that came out today that one percent of the adult American public is locked up right now. It's the highest rate in the country's history.
That's amazing. I'm not a preacher, I guess is what I'm saying. I just lack the ability to bullshit my audience. If I had the ability to bullshit, I might be cranking some shit too, but I don't have that ability. I'm never going to tell my audience that I didn't sell dope or that selling dope, I don't understand why you do it. The flipside of that is that I'm never going to tell them that if you do sell dope it's OK. I hold my audience as accountable as I hold government. And at the end of the day, I just want to be recognized as a real man. So even me being politicized is more about the fact that I'm a victim of politics if I'm not involved in it, and I refuse to be a victim of anything.
It's also about treating your audience with respect.
I do treat my audience with respect. I don't know if they always realize it, but I do. But I know my audience does; I don't know if the greater audience does. Look at it. Everybody's favorite rappers right now, their content, all they say is I smoke better drugs than you, I drink better liquor than you, I fuck better hoes than you, I drive better cars than you. Why the fuck do you want to listen to or make a hero of someone who simply says I'm better than you? I'm saying I'm just like you and I know we can do better. I'm not telling you to absent your chain, I'm not telling you to fucking chew a stick and ride a skateboard, not that there's anything wrong with that. What I'm telling you is, whatever you do, if you're the best at it you can achieve what the fuck you want to achieve. And if that's what you do, I'm with it. I support it. Here goes a soundtrack to get through your day. I don't have the ability to sit around and talk about the shit that I got and why that makes me better than you. That's what little girls do when they're five or six and bickering over teacups and shit.
A song like "That's Life," that's one of my favorite songs of the past couple of years. You're firing off in all directions. When you write a song like that, do you sit down and plan out what you're going to say?
I didn't write it; it's a freestyle. I don't do the whole "I don't write, I just go in and freestyle" thing. Sometimes what's in me is just so at-that-moment, I go in, do it, come out the booth, rewrite it, refine it, and go back in and redo it. With "That's Life," I fired in all directions because as a young American it comes at you from all directions. You know, when I was thirteen years old, we'd be standing on the block and looking out for drug dealers and trying to sell drugs ourselves, and the police would harass us. They'd beat us, they'd rob us, they'd run us away from wherever we were, and to some degree rightfully so. But now my son is thirteen, and the only thing he wants to do is listen to Kanye, listen to Yelawolf, listen to SL Jones, Grind Time Rap Gang, and skateboard. He's treated the same way for skateboarding as I was for selling drugs. So my thing is it ain't about the fact that I was out there selling drugs. It's the fact that I was black, I was young, and I was somewhere the police didn't want me or a storekeeper didn't want me. Because it's happening to my son now. It's not about him being troublesome or selling drugs or any of that. It's about the fact that he's young black boy existing. Simply existing. My existence is a crime. So when your existence is a crime, you gotta fire in all directions.
I love this woman for inspiring millions, for putting a school in South Africa; to me it doesn't get better as a black woman that Oprah Winfrey. But how can you justify having Karrine Steffans on your show and not have an O'Shea Jackson, an Ice Cube? How can you not have O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson, who was from a two-parent working-class household in South Central, who did not succumb to drugs, gangs, and violence, who came out of it to build a $250 million television and film empire? How do you not expose white middle-class America to that success story, yet you throw before them the hip-hop whore? And I'm not calling Karrine the hip-hop whore; I'm letting you know what the audience is pulling from what they're seeing. They now feel as though every black girl who listens to hip-hop is Karrine Steffans, and they never get to see that the black boys who listen to Ice Cube are inspired by positive stories. I take offense to that, and on behalf of my audience, I wish to voice those concerns.
Bill O'Reilly. Bill O'Reilly is a gangsta reporter. Gangsta rappers sensationalize everyday occurrences in the neighborhood, and they romanticize them to appeal to a bigger audience. Bill O'Reilly sensationalizes and romanticizes what's going on in hip-hop as a threat to Middle America for the growth of his audience. That's what he does. He uses black music, black people, hip-hop, urban culture as a tool to sell fear to Middle America to increase his ratings. So how the fuck can I not respond to that? What kind of chump am I if I'm only going to walk around and talk about how many chains I got or how much syrup I drink or how much weed I smoke? That's the best I got to offer? I was very angry. Luda came up to me, and he was like, "Man, I really appreciate what you had said in that 'That's Life' song." And he was like, "Man, shit, you need to stop rapping and just start preaching." And I thought to myself, no the fuck I don't. You need to start rapping about the shit I'm saying so they'll stop looking at me like I'm a goddam freak in a freakshow and start realizing that this is the plight of all black men. This is not just my plight. I was sincerely angered that Cris didn't cut Bill O'Reilly's head off. I know lyrically he could've done it. He could've done what Common did with "The Bitch in Yoo," and I was angry that it didn't happen. I was angry that right after that, [Pepsi] threw Kanye out, like "Oh, hey, we fired Ludacris but we got Kanye."
We don't understand how we're selling our audience out. We don't understand the importance of what we're doing. Kids don't listen to these self-appointed civil-rights leaders. They're listening to us. We have an obligation. And I'm not saying preach your whole record, but we have an obligation to make them aware of the real world. A sixteen-year-old is two years away from being an adult, and in the real world, they can go to Iraq, they can go to college, or that can go to a non-existent workforce or a very real drug workforce. Them pretty much the four options for our listeners. And I'm thinking that the best I'm going to give them is a slight? I'm going to just slight somebody who publicly attacked me and made me lose millions of dollars that would've helped my community? That's the best I'ma do? I'm tired of seeing rappers be chumps, man. I'm tired of seeing rappers be suckers. Enough of it. I don't know how to not be a man. I don't know how to not be a man. I was watching ESPN yesterday, and the kid, the center who got drafted to Portland...
Yeah, Oden. He came out on his blog and publicly supported Obama. And the white analyst was like, "I just think it's important he's saying be a part of the political process." No. He's saying it's important that a young black man with millions of dollars came out, made a conscientious decision to support this black man in his candidacy and tell people this is who I support. Like, fuck that just being a part of the voting process. Make who you support known. Because when you do that, you showing people that you taking a real stance. And black athletes have to take real stances. Black entertainers have to take real stances. Because the people that look up to us are the people who can't afford to come to our fucking shows. They're the people who can't afford to see us fucking play. We owe them that. If nothing else, we owe them that.
I was this politically aware when I sold dope. I was this politically aware when I was at Morehouse College. So I'm not going to pretend to not be this politically aware now that I rap. I don't have it in me.
I think it's real interesting that you mention Ice Cube. I was talking about this with somebody else recently, and I think even more than 8Ball & MJG and UGK and them, you come across in the tradition of a circa-92 or 93 Ice Cube.
Cube and Scarface. I think morally, in terms my spiritual stuff that I rap about – like "Speak Lord," which was on the HipHopDX free download album Ghetto Extraordinary – is more like a Scarface, and the politicized stuff is, yeah, it is like Ice Cube. There are certain similarities between Ice Cube and I. We both grew up in neighborhoods where for me neighborhood cliques and drugs were readily available; for him it was gangs and drugs. But we also were both raised by working-class people. Although I wasn't raised by my parents, I grew up in a two-parent household. I was raised by my grandparents.
You rap about your mother a lot. You didn't grow up with her?
I wasn't raised by her. I was raised with her. My mother had me when she was sixteen years old. When your mama had you at fifteen, sixteen years old, you're more raised with your parent than by your parent. At about thirteen years old, I told my grandmother I'm grown. And the next day, I woke up and all my shit was in the driveway and I had to go live with my mother. And when I had to go live with my mother, that's where I discovered everything. By sixteen years old, my mother was teaching me how to cook cocaine, not because that's what she wanted to do but because I emotionally extorted her. I told her, "You teach me how to do this or I'ma go learn in the streets." And what she didn't want was for her child to get used and abused like so many other boys at that time. She didn't want to see a motherfucker front me a thousand-dollar pack and only pay me 150 dollars and never teach me skills that she had learned. My mother hadn't been an addict all her life. My mother was a very successful drug dealer, a very successful drug dealer. She bought her first house at nineteen, and it was paid off by the time she was twenty-eight years old. So I wasn't raised by no chump. Her heart was broken. The man that she was dating at the time, they was getting them things for like five thousand dollars apiece in the late 80s. Whole things, five thousand apiece, a hundred at a time. They both caught a sentence; they caught a charge and were facing up to thirty years. He told them to free my mother so she could get out and continue to be a part of her children's life. He took the time. So after that, the drugs overtook her in the years following that. She was just broken, honestly.
So for most of my life, my mother was just a pretty successful fucking hustler, and her parents were raising her children. Her father had been a shinerunner. My grandfather was somebody who worked a real job, he gambled on the side, and he ran moonshine. My grandmother was a woman that went to church, handled the finances of her house, cleaned, cooked, and took care of her grandchildren. So I was raised in a very traditional way, and I learned balance. I learned balance between what's legit and what's illegitimate. And I learned that people on the bottom, just like Italian immigrants who landed here, just like Irish and Jewish immigrants that landed here in New York, the things that they had to do in order to survive, those things became the Jewish Mafia, those things became the Italian Mafia, those things became the Irish Mafia. In black society and especially in the South, you were taught to work, to take care of your family, and whatever you got to do to make ends meat, you got to do. In my grandfather's era, it was moonshine. In my mother's era, it was cocaine. And in my era, it was crack. It's just that simple. And that's why I have a hard time judging the actual participants in the counter-economy. But I do judge the rappers that put the bullshit out there like that's what I want to do, that's what you should be doing. So I'm not as hard on the drug-dealers as I am on the fake drug-dealers and rappers.
When I get done with this interview here, I'm going to interview Clipse later today... [Note: This interview got pushed back; look for it in a couple of weeks here]
Oh, I love them. Tell Pusha I said what's up. He should holler. Him and Malice, tell him I said what up too. I got a lot of love for them boys. Their music is true, though. It's factual. When you listen to them, them the same thoughts and emotions I had seeing my older uncles, watching Miami Vice, knowing that my older aunts were involved in it like they say they grandmother was. When you hear them, you know you not hearing bullshit, and I love that about them. That's the type of music that the game needs. The other type of shit, it throws the balance off. I said in "Mama Said," I said, "All I got is a high school diploma / Which means I'm qualified to rap, sell crack and marijuana." That's essentially all you can do with a high school diploma now. There are no more jobs at GM or Ford. Thanks to NAFTA, everything is gone. There is no job for the workforce, so this counter-economy is happening, this alternative economy. And nobody addresses that. Well, why don't they just stop the flow of drugs? If you stop the flow of drugs, you stop the flow of prisoners. If you stop the flow of prisoners, that means who's going to clean up the highways? If prisoners don't clean up the highways, that means you have to hire nineteen-year-olds to do it, and you would have to pay them a fair wage, and they would have benefits from the city or state or whoever they working for. But instead of doing that, it's easier to use prisoners, which is essentially slave labor. So without drugs, you can't create a slave labor force.
In New York, you know they ship convicts upstate. And in upstate New York, the counties are mostly Republican, and they use prisoners to inflate the population number.
Yet you have no vote.
Yeah, exactly, so Republican districts get better representation in the statehouse.
Georgia too. They send them south in Georgia. Instead of upstate, they call it down the road. The kid Mazzetti Alexander, Chaotic Beats, he did "You Don't Want This Life," which I'm dropping a video for. In that song, I talked about being an active drug-dealer and how you don't want what you see around me, and being a rapper and how you don't want what you seeing me do. He was given a life sentence. He accidentally killed a girl with a handgun. He was given a life sentence because he was involved with rap and because of what had happened with T.I. The prosecutor used rap and the T.I. case to convince the jury that this kid deserved life. And I'm not saying he didn't deserve a fifteen-year charge for manslaughter because he didn't mean to do it. But life in jail just because you a part of rap music and you a young black male is unacceptable to me.
So he's in prison now?
Yeah. He got beats on this record. I'm in the process of starting up a production company and naming him a partner just so his children will never have to want.
Switching gears, you're an executive now?
Yeah, man. You can't do as many drugs, unless it's coke, and I don't do coke. What it is is at some point in your career, you have to assume more control, whether that be making more decisions with your manager, whether that be showing up to marketing meetings. It's different for every artist. For me, it meant having to start my own company, Grind Time Official, and create a lane for myself that unfortunately the record company I was with before couldn't create for me. Now that I've created a structure in Grind Time Official and found a home at SMC Recordings/Fontana to distribute my work, the next thing on my to-do list is to hire someone with the experience and the knowledge and the know-how to run an indie-label and to have him run the label and me be an artist on my label and a visionary for that label. The Clipse are involved businesswise with Tony Draper. Tony is a mentor of mine. He talks to me, he gives me advice. He's an incredibly brilliant man.
Tony Draper from Suave House?
Yeah. Helped them set up the Re-Up Gang situation. He also helped Cube set up his independent situation. So my goal is to have someone around me that understands and knows his shit and can help me exercise my ideas with lightning speed and pinpoint accuracy. The only way to grow is to recognize your own shortcomings and put a team around you that makes up for that. Tip has Jason Geter; he has a team that care first and foremost about Tip, they care about Grand Hustle, they care about those artists, hence they've been able to blossom and grow. Ludacris has Chaka, he has Jeff, and you see them flourishing and growing. Jeezy has Kinky B, he has Coach; you can see them flourishing and growing. And I'm in the process of getting that team around me because I don't want to be the best. I want to be the very best. And the only way you can be the very best is to get the very best people around me to do the very best job at what they do. I can do what I can do the very best, and that's rap and put visions out there and be a representative of a greater group of people.
It's been, what, four years since you had an official album out. That's a long time. You recorded an album for Purple Ribbon, and it never came out. It just leaked last month. I don't understand why they didn't put that out. Do you know why they didn't put that out? Was there a specific reason that they gave you?
No. That's just a question for Big Boi, honestly. You rationalize a thing a thousand times in you head to keep you from going crazy, but I can't honestly say. Because Sony was ready to put the record out. We went with the Three 6 Mafia single first, which I loved. This is before Three 6 Mafia were the Oscar winners. It got 300 spins by itself very quickly. Big Boi said he wanted "My Chrome" to be the single, which was a big single, no doubt, but it wasn't time for that single. Yet he didn't go out and do any promo for it. If you don't do any promo, radio not gonna play the song. Sony said, "Hold on, we're gonna wait." Big Boi got angry and had to leave Sony. I said, "Well, I'm with you. I ride with you. I'm loyal to you." I said, "Well, let's put it out independently through Select-O or Koch, and that way we're still building. We're building my career. He said he would entertain the idea. He never did. Eventually, we both got tired of the situation. I left. And it turned into a fiasco. So it is what it is. But for all the artists that may be reading this, I dropped Monster, it came out number ten on the hot Billboard 200, did 80,000 the first week, and that's after Sony undershipped it. They didn't expect it to do that well. The very next year when I realized it was going bad, I dropped That Crack, Volume 1. That was my first underground, me and Grind Time. The very next year, I dropped the award-winning underground album The Killer with DJ Sense from the Aphiliates. That won the SEA Award, Best Special Mixtape. The year after that, I was dropping Pledge. So I never stopped working. I've dropped an album every year since i dropped that album. I haven't had the distribution to spread it across the nation. I haven't had the marketing dollars to be up on a big sign in Times Square. But for those that saw me relevant, they have bought every record that I dropped. I didn't want to become an executive. I was forced to become an executive. And I'm not angry about that because I've learned. And thank God I did, because it showed me that sheer determination can get you a lot further than relationships and connections a lot of the time.
And it's been a lot of people that helped me along the way. Jeff from DTP, the boy Jason Geter over at Grand Hustle, it's been a lot of people that gave me nudges. My personal manager, the boy Courtney who also manages Jagged Edge. KP, who was the old vice president of A&R at Sony: not my A&R no more, not at Sony no more, but he's still a tremendous help to me on a mental level. So I've been fortunate in having people around me that even if they couldn't hand me a bagful of money, they handed me a glassful of game and said, "Here's some water, just keep walking. You might starve, but you ain't gonna die of thirst out here. So I've been fortunate in that, and I'm blessed and I'm lucky and I'm thankful for that. It's been a hard road for me. It's been a very hard road for me, and a lot of unfair things happen to me. But I liken it to if I'm representative of people on the bottom, then my experience is going to be reflective of that because my music has to be for them. The people who are listening to my music have just lost they job. The people listening to my music ain't happy on a job. The people listening to my music realize I'm a writer but I should be getting two dollars a word, not seventy-five cents a word. You feel what I'm saying? So I'm always representing the underdog, the working-class person. And that's whether your grandparents were coal miners or brick masons or steelworkers. No matter what class or color or whatever you are, if you a underdog there's something in my music for you because I need to inspire you to accomplish. That's all I simply want to do, to inspire you to accomplish and jam out.
You did that song "Dungeon Family Dedication." You're obviously very much a fan of the people you came up with.
You know, you're the first person to understand that I wasn't a part of the Dungeon Family always. I'd been just a fan that got a record deal.
Yeah, you weren't on those old record. But I'm curious. Things didn't with you and Big Boi, and I don't even know what's happening with the Dungeon Family right now, like if this Goodie Mob reunion is ever going to happen or what. But are you still good with the rest of the people?
I thought I was and I hope I am, but if I ain't I don't give a damn. The reason I say that is I came to like and love Ray Murray in particular. We made "Mama Said," we made "Shot Down," we made "Speak Lord." We made some great records. But when the whole Big Boi fiasco happened, Ray wouldn't even take my calls. And it's like he told me when we got back cool, "I wanted to talk with you and I wanted to still fuck with you, but you have to understand it's like a gang. You came in with Big Boi." And I understand the concept of gangs and criminology very well. But what it made me really realize is just like a gang, it ain't about me coming in with Big Boi. It's about Big Boi having to be patient. It's about him having more opportunity. And what I have to do is go out and create more opportunity for me. I have to become a Big Boi. I don't have to criticize Big Boi, I don't have to take Big Boi down. I have to become that leader. I have to become a financial institution within myself. Because loyalty is something that's bought and paid for. It ain't nothing given or granted. So does the Dungeon Family fuck with me? I hope so, because I still consider myself a member. If they don't, ultimately it doesn't matter because I'm the leader of the Grind. And that's the difference.
With Dungeon Family, for my money – and I'm guessing from that song that you feel the same way – they're the best crew in rap history. Better than Wu-Tang, Juice Crew, N.W.A, whatever. They made more great music for a longer period of time...
Well, to me they made more great music for a shorter period of time. Well, no. They made great music for a longer period of time; I could say that. Wu-Tang was three records for me. N.W.A was the same amount, about three records. Dungeon Family had four or five. They had the OutKast records, they had the Goodie Mob records, they had the Cool Breeze record. So I'll give you that. The problem is the Dungeon Family never cohesively sold the unit. And what I mean is I've been around this world three or four times now. I've been on three or four different continents, been to probably fifteen or twenty different countries. And in everyone of those different countries, I see an N.W.A T-shirt, a Public Enemy T-shirt, a Tupac T-shirt, an Ice Cube T-shirt or some type of mural. Ice Cube set up a brand in Ice Cube and in Da Lench Mob. Lench Mob was asleep for eight or nine years; it's back awake. W.C. is on it. Wu-Tang's brand was asleep for seven or eight years. And like now, Ghostface is one of the best-selling and most consistent independent artists ever.
He's on Def Jam.
Yeah, but it's the Wu-Tang logo. They have someone to follow, that their fanbase can buy Wu-Tang shit. They expanded. They dealt with other people. It's the same thing for N.W.A. I'll still wear an N.W.A T-shirt right now. The Game had an N.W.A chain. The Dungeon Family didn't solidify theyself in terms of being a presence in the market beyond just making quality music.
But that's branding. That's not music.
Yeah, but with hip-hop it's always been about music and branding; it ain't just always been about music. See, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five had sweatshirts so you will know this is us. Run-DMC both wore black and the fedoras so you'll know. What I'm saying is the only way your music can live a lot of times is even when the music is slow, people can still buy you. You become something tangible. That's the great travesty in how great the DF was. Think about it: why do fucking presidents build libraries? For the same reason pharaohs built tombs in Egypt. Because after I'm gone, I want someone to know that Ronald Reagan was here, so we have the Ronald Reagan library. I want someone to know Jimmy Carter was here; we have the Jimmy Carter library. The Dungeon Family didn't leave that thing. Because if you leave that thing, you could always come back. So that's the greatest travesty in it to me, that the Dungeon Family is just scattered like pebbles, like pebbles on the beach. With all this trap-rap happening in Atlanta right now, Cool Breeze started that shit. He started it. Cool Breeze created the term "Dirty South." Bubba Sparxxx created the term "New South." But where are these people now? How are they profiting off their ideas? If Raekwon dropped a jewelry line tomorrow called Cuban Linx with Jesus pieces, he would sell at least a thousand chains at four thousand a pop. I'm just like why don't we as the Dungeon Family have anything our fans can truly hold onto? And it also would provide us a way back in. I don't know. All I know is I want to do with Grind Time what was not done with Dungeon Family.
So tell me about the situation you've got going now. You've got your label, you've got distribution for it. You're putting out I Pledge Allegiance 2?
I hope you don't mind me saying this, and I'm saying this as a fan, I don't think you've ever put out a completely cohesive album that works all together. I Pledge Allegiance 1 had like six songs that I love, and then a lot that I thought were pretty good, but it wasn't something that completely worked together for me. Do you understand what I'm saying?
I've always made records under duress. So I'm about one to three albums away from that record. But I'ma do that. Like, how long it take Jay to make Blueprint? Everyone says Reasonable Doubt was the first Blueprint, but nobody thought that when I thought it in 96 when I first bought it. Everyone was like, "Well, I like a couple songs." Everybody in retrospect can say, "Wow, that record was great." So was I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind totally cohesive? No. But it cohesively got my point across, that I'm here, that I'm independent of this, this is what I'm doing. And you gotta realize, I made the music other people wanted me to make for so long that I Pledge 1 was like – which three, six songs do you like? What does my audience need from me?
You asking me?
All right, "That's Life," "Juggernaut," "I Will Not Lose."
Probably "Next Bitch."
"Coming Home Atlanta." "Next Bitch," eh...
I love that song. "Coming Home Atlanta," I didn't hate it, but it's like I'm rapping about Atlanta...
Yeah, but your voice with the music, it was the right music for your voice. It's like with Monster, there's songs on there that I love, but that Andre 3000 space-age production, I didn't feel like that was the right music for your voice.
I agree. I'ma tell you what I haven't had in the past. I make dope music. I don't think I'ma make my absolute dopest music until I'm in the studio with just this producer or these producers and that's our only objective. And that segways into this: Pledge 2 is gonna be a great fucking record. Pledge 3 is gonna be a greater fucking record. The greatest record, I think, is coming in 16 in the Kitchen. That record is going to be produced and executive produced and looked over by No I.D., L-Rock, DJ Toomp, and Hip-Hop on the side.
When's that coming?
That's gonna probably be 09 because I'ma probably put out Pledge 2 and 3 this year. I want to get the one out in April, and I want to be coming back around in September or October. Like, Ice Cube had to get with Chuck D to learn how to make AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted. Then it was easy to do Death Certificate. Chuck had to get with the Bomb Squad to learn how to make It Takes a Nation of Millions, all those records. Rick Rubin had to sit down with the Beastie Boys. I've never had that. Big and Dre signed me, and we've been on tour, so I've never been just in the studio with more knowledge and more experienced producers, us just going through this and figuring out how to fine-tune what I do. So I think that record is coming. I know it's in me, and I know it's coming. It's about having the time and the resources to do it. It's been times in my career when I wake up in the morning, take a thousand records to the stores, and shit, by the evening taking a couple pounds and some hugs. So you're going to get the cohesive album when my life kind of cohesifies itself. But I think I make dope music. And as a fan, I appreciate the honesty. I never shun that. I'm glad people like me and want to be honest with me, because they always are.
Seriously, I don't want to tell you how to do what you do, and I think you're one of the best rappers working. I don't want to cast aspersions on anything you put out. But I'd love to hear the record with you and No I.D.; I think that's an inspired pairing.
It's coming. I'm also in the weird position of having to satisfy a few different audiences for a few different reasons. Like, people like "Never Scared" and "Body Rock."
I like those songs.
And I gotta give them some of that. People like "That's Life" and "Mama Said," and I gotta give them some of that. I gotta learn how to make all of that line up in one cohesive song for ten to twelve straight songs.
Well, they're not opposed.
Not all the time. Sonically, they can be sometimes. Like, what's the records you didn't like on Pledge 1?
I don't remember all the names. But it's like "Next Bitch," I like that song, but it didn't grab me.
Really? That's crazy because that's such a true story and most people like it. I always got positives about it. But it really doesn't offend me like that. It's almost like an improvisation, like jazz music. I can't always promise it's gonna hit, but I can promise I'm gonna do it. So as an artist, I'ma do it. I want to make a lot of songs that don't necessarily always fit. Like somebody came to me said, "Hey man, I never really goddam understood that song off the first record, the Cool & Dre joint, because you a Southerner rapping over samples. But now I got cats like Wayne and cats like Tip rapping over samples, so now I go back and I get that. I didn't get it at the time because I felt like you weren't doing crunk music." So a lot of the time, I'll step out and I'm supposed to be here, or I'll be off to the side and I'm supposed to be in the center. So I know I gotta give people that record, and I'ma give it to them.
It's funny because with "Body Rock," that whole trend with "Crank Dat" and all the dances, you were kind of in on the ground floor with that stuff. The first time I saw anybody do a snap-music dance was that show you did with Big Boi at the Knitting Factory like two and a half years ago.
I come from the West Side, and all this stuff comes out of the West Side, so it's certainly part of my culture. The Franchize Boyz, I know them. Shawty Lo, known him. D4L, I've known them. But "Body Rock" had actual rapping. "Never Scared" had actual rapping. "Kryptonite," "Claremont Lounge," actual rapping. My objection comes to when your song becomes one big fucking hook, that's no longer street-hop to me, and I can't go fucking there. I'm not mad at it. My ten-year-old daughter, I love to see her sit there and do that shit. It's beautiful to watch them do it, but that's the line I don't cross. I'm never gonna cross that line. I'm never going to not rap. I don't have that in me. But I'm from the West Side, and if you from the West Side of Atlanta, if you couldn't fight dance and dance, you wasn't never gonna get no pussy. So if there's two thing everybody on the West Side of Atlanta could do, they could fight and they could fuck, and only way you're doing that is if you could dance. So yes, Killer Mike knows how to dance.
It's just a form of the culture. That side of town where I'm from, where Tip is from, where Shawty Lo and the Franchize Boyz are from, that whole side of town is populated by people from the rural South, the deep rural South: Alabama, south Georgia, east Georgia, west Georgia, places like that. So it's very much small black townish in the way that you have sinners and sanctifieds. You have your moments where you're really at it, wilding out, and you have your moments where you just having fun, glad to be alive. That's why a felon like Fabo can give you "Laffy Taffy." He's from the worst projects in Atlanta. And so my thing is why the fuck would Fabo want to keep rapping about guns and shit? Look at Dro. Dro is one of the most exciting, exuberant, well-spoken, lyrical rappers you will hear. Dro's from one of the worst projects in Atlanta, but why the fuck would you want to keep repeating that shit when you got an opportunity? Like, for a kid in the projects to look at paint, candy paint, and to put, "Oh, it's orange melon cranberry," you looking to brighten your life. You gotta understand, people from my side of town, all they've seen is death and despair. So shit, that kind of music is an alternative to that. That's why I'm not hyper-critical on it.
I just wrote something about Dro last week because he's got that new mixtape out. If there was going to be a time for Dro to get emotional and start getting real heavy with the self-disclosure, it would be now, with Tip on house arrest and everything. And that whole mixtape is about his cars and stuff, which I love. Nobody raps about that stuff like he does. But it was...
This is the thing, though, with getting personal, self-disclosure, shit like this. When you only used to people going to jail, and all you've seen is young black men in they prime go to jail, how is that any different? If I was someone from a middle-class background whose friend had made a huge mistake, I might carry that right over to my music. But if I had just seen Danny Boy go to jail for life, if I'd just seen Fat Steve come home from a ten-year sentence, I seen Big D and Tyke disappear – all these are real people I'm naming from my neighborhood, too – that was in they prime when they got taken down, it's as regular to you as seeing a fucking cab in New York City. And I'm not saying you don't care, but my thing is, how do you deal with what has always been? Like one of my new songs, I got a new song called "Alphabet Boys," where I mention that the feds are actively in hip-hop right now. You could ask Tip and Mike Vick. I'm an introspective person; I'll give you that. But my theory is who's going to fucking care? I said in another rap, "I'll probably be arrested for the dope shit I say / By the GBI or the CIA / But that's OK because I inspire / Dope boys to go legit and build real empires." I hope people get that, but when I write it I understand people may not give a fuck.
But as an artist, you can't really think about that.
On one hand, I don't want to think about that. But what if Dro does introspective songs and everybody's like, "Where the fuck is the candy paint?" That's what I mean. The world is ready to hear that music from Tip now because they've seen him suffer. So Tip is sitting there, and he's thinking about that, and he's going to give them some of that, I'm sure. But America's a funny place; they have to see you suffer before they believe what you say. And sometimes they gotta make you suffer before they willing to believe what you say. And I'm in a place of suffering, so people are more apt to listen to some of this stuff from me now. But everytime I write this stuff, I wonder: do they care? Because we're in the era of adults, in a club, Supermanning. Now, the Superman is the shit for kids. It's the shit for high-school kids. But if you're twenty-five years old and you're cranking that Superman in a club on a Tuesday and you gotta go to work the next day, your priorities is fucked up. That's all I'm saying.
And Atlanta is in a bad place as a city right now. The city's in a very bad place. And I don't know if it's going to turn around. Atlanta really is in its disco era. It's New York in the late 70s. Everybody's doing coke, freaking off, doing everything to their bodies, and I'm just waiting on the fallout. Like I tell people, I'm from the real Atlanta, so the new Atlanta's a weird, strange place to me.
New York is funny because everybody has to struggle to stay afloat, even people with hundred-thousand dollar jobs, two-hundred-thousand dollar jobs.
Yeah, but why isn't the music reflective of it? It's like drugs, man. You do dope to escape reality. People used to love music that's reflective of they reality yet still gave them hope. "Love's Gonna Get'Cha," the whole Blueprint album, the early Public Enemy Stuff, "It's Like That, "Hard Times." It used to be reflective of the real conditions: this is where we really at socially, but this is the potential. Now people are just like, "Look, man. I make as much or more money than I've ever made in my life, but it's fucked up. I can't get coke. At least I can listen to whoever I listen to." And I'm not used to rap music being like that.
It's times I wake up and I don't know what the fuck to do. So I just decided I'm going to keep making real shit. Like, I got a record called "I'm On My Grind" where I say, "The Gucci store, the Gucci store is breaking niggas daily / They tricking for these bitches but these bitches ain't no ladies." What I was saying in that is that I'm seeing niggas running to Nordstrom, running to the Gucci store, and they doing this with women they will never be with. This is not gonna be your wife, she's not gonna be there when you get a prison term. So you taking these bitches shopping, but they not ladies. You should be taking a lady to shop. You should have a woman who's your woman, who's a nurse or a librarian or a goddam schoolteacher, who will carry you through a ten-year bid. That's who deserves the Gucci store, not your fucking stripper girlfriend. You get what I'm saying? That's the logic. If you on your grind, women gonna come to you. You have to set your priorities about accomplishing goals and having something for self. Everything you want will follow you. But if you try to follow everything you want, you'll never have shit.
It's in a weird fucking place. There's so many people struggling, but nobody wanna acknowledge it. Remember DMX? "I'm slippin', I'm fallin', I can't get up." That song, I watched the video the other day and I almost had tears. Because that's how you feel on a daily basis. You gotta ask yourself how does an MC like DMX become nonrelevant now? He's only nonrelevant because he's been made a mockery of because he has a problem with addiction. But think about how many people got a problem with addiction! They just don't want to acknowledge it. So by closing him out, saying "I don't wanna fuck with him," it's just an easier way to close out they shit.
Somebody told me the other day, "I ain't heard no positive music since Goodie Mob, 'Beautiful Skin.' And that's a shame. Why don't y'all rappers do that? You only talk about making it rain." And she worked in the industry. So I told her, "All your telling me is you didn't buy dead prez's records." Because all they rapped about was positive shit. All they rapped about was not no punk shit, either. It was "Mind Sex," was loving you for who you are, not who they want you to be.
Well, there's a difference in execution, too. "Beautiful Skin" is a better record than "Mind Sex."
I'm not gonna say it isn't. What I'm saying is if you say you searching for it, whether you drink Dasani or tapwater, if you thirsty enough, you going to drink water. It's that simple. "Hell Yeah" was as good as any Goodie Mob song, and so was "It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop." That was as good as any Goodie Mob song. Why didn't hip-hoppers support that song?
But dead prez has a niche. They have a place where they fit.
But it could've been bigger.
It could've. I don't know if it's possible to be a rap star anymore, like a new rap star coming up. XXL had the cover of their magazine last year, the leaders of the new school, all these people that were going to be the next stars. And there was like ten or fifteen people on that cover, and maybe, maybe three of them could become stars in a best-case circumstance. And I don't even know which ones.
Lupe. Plies. Dro. Lupe has got on his role as a rap star.
See, I feel like Boosie...
Boosie, I don't see Boosie as a new rap star. Boosie's been a star where I'm from for goddam seven years. I'll give you that because Boosie's huge where I am already; it's not like he's waiting on accreditation. Where I'm from, he's the man already. He's the fucking man; there's no other way around it. He's the man.
And if you lucky enough to become a star, that's good. I just always wanted to be relevant to rap. And what I mean by that is I always seen rappers and their fans as an underclass. And I'd rather rule in hell than serve in an upper-class heaven. And I think a lot of our rap superstars are just servants in an upper-class heaven. That's not what I'm attempting to be. I want to be a ruler. And if you need a ruler, than sometimes you have to accept your relegation to hell and rule over hell. Even when the Irish couldn't run Manhattan, they ran Hell's Kitchen. That's what I'm talking about. Who's going to control the Kitchen? Even if I can't control the house, who's going to control the Kitchen? And I'm tired of seeing bullshit in control of the Kitchen. I'm saying more to you than be a drug addict, have sex, and whatever you do is OK. That ain't proper in the Kitchen.
Somebody who I interviewed recently and who I think shares a lot of viewpoints with you is David Banner. David Banner's putting out a record where he's like, "I'm tired of making this music that doesn't sell. I try to make music with a message and it doesn't sell, doesn't work. So I'm going to make this commercial record, and it's not going to be positive." That's an oversimplification; he says he's going to have "Cadillac on 22s Part 2" on the next album. But he's somebody who's in not the same situation as yours but a similar one.
He got a Bentley; he good. He produce, too. He's a good friend. I love him a lot. I guess where I'm at with it is David Banner's gotta be the best David Banner he could be, and I only know how to be one Killer Mike. I don't know how to shut the fuck up and just let shit be cool. If I did, maybe I would. If I could make one of the kind of records you just mentioned, then maybe I would. I just don't have it in me. And that's a gift and a curse. Jesus could've told the devil, "You know, I don't really want to die on this cross. I'm gonna roll the other way." It just wasn't in him to do that. It's just not in me. I really can't answer that. Logically, I had the opportunity to do a "Kryptonite Part 2" I've had opportunities to jump on whatever bandwagon, whether it be crunk, snap, crank that.
I got a fast-growing song right now with a group of kids that do kind of like that music. It's called "I'm a G." They came to the studio with me at four in the morning, just humble, humble like puppies, real good kids. Like, "We got a song, man. We heard you in this session, we wonder if you'll do it." So I'm like, "Man, yeah." And one of the kids, his name is Lil Marko. And the kid's just got an amazing voice. I heard the song and I started smiling. I thought about what if Ice Cube would've walked into my session and just gave me a verse. And then I thought, oh shit, Ice Cube did just walk into my session and give me a verse. I did a verse. I did a real raw rap verse, and all them kids stepped they verses up a little, and now it ain't just a crank-that song, and that song is fast-growing for them. My greatest contribution to rap has to be fucking with everybody, not judging them. I'll do a song with goddam Soulja Boy and rap. I've done a song with Ying Yang. I'll do a song with Trillville. I'll do a song with any of these guys because I'm always going to bring that lyrical integrity to it, just like a Bun B does.
So basically I guess my answer is I don't know how to rap and not be who I am. If I really believe what I'm saying, I can't do anything else, or else I was bullshitting and lying all the time. And I'm only speaking for me. I don't have the ability to not do this.
Voice review: Yancey Strickler on Killer Mike's Monster
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