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Killer Mike Reintroduces Himself As ‘MICHAEL’ At Pitchfork 2023

Written by on July 28, 2023

After he took the stage at Pitchfork Music Festival, Atlanta rapper and actor Killer Mike met with Vocalo’s Bekoe to discuss his new album MICHAEL, as well as his emotional set and artistic journey. 

Killer Mike is back with his new full-length studio album MICHAEL, with an all-star lineup of features including Andre 3000, Eryn Allen Kane, Cee Lo Green and Future. His first solo release since 2012 — after releasing four albums plus a deluxe edition with El-P for Run The Jewels — MICHAEL combines some of Mike’s classic flows with a rhythmic sound. It serves to reintroduce himself to audiences on a deeper level, and advocate for voices often left out of the conversation.

“I still have the desires in my heart and the words in my mouth to say on the behalf of my community,” Mike expressed. “There has to be a presence that says, respectfully, hold on. Can’t leave us out. And that’s what this album is about.”

Following an unforgettable performance at Pitchfork Music Festival on July 23, Killer Mike spoke with Bekoe for Vocalo about his new solo album MICHAEL and creating space for spiritual experiences during his live performances. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

MICHAEL evokes passion and strength through its transformative lyrics and soulful sound with a message of resilience, creating an out of body experience for live audiences and listeners. The album is a window into Mike’s thoughts and emotions and a vehicle for self-expression, touching on topics including familial relationships and Black community culture, mentioning Sunday church services and barbershop discourse. He delves into his own personal, emotional experiences; “SLUMMER” touches on an abortion his girlfriend had while they were in their late teens, and “MOTHERLESS” confronts the passing of his mother and grandmother.

“What Miseducation of Lauryn [Hill] was for young women, [MICHAEL] is for young men and the women that love them,” he said. 

Killer Mike took the Pitchfork Music Festival stage on July 23, and later that evening met with Vocalo morning host Bekoe to discuss the origins of his new album, bringing his spirituality to the stage and more. 

Bekoe: It’s Vocalo Radio, Chicago’s only NPR Music station. I’m your host Bekoe, alongside the one and only Killer Mike. How you feeling? 

Killer Mike: Man, I’m blessed to be here. I feel highly favored. 

B: Fresh off stage, I got a chance to check out your performance. 

KM: What’d you think?

B: I got emotional! When you performed “MOTHERLESS,” I almost cried, man. How was that for you, bringing your late mother with you on stage and performing that song? 

KM: She’s with me right now, on my necklace. I mean, it’s hard every night. It was today, we had to cut the music and just push through on raw emotion. I appreciate the crowd for being with me, for singing with me. I appreciate The Midnight Revival for keeping my soul smooth with the music. Appreciate DJ TrackStar for knowing to just cut the music and let them go. So heck of a team. We still made a play. It’s a difficult song every day. But I’m just glad Denise made me. She built me to last. 

B: Speaking of “MOTHERLESS,” how was it putting that track together for your latest album MICHAEL?

KM: I mean, putting it together, it was a challenging task. I had never even said the words “my mother’s dead,” till I said it in the booth. So I just want to thank No ID, thank Eryn Allen Kane, just thank my mother and grandmother for just pushing from the other side, from an energy standpoint. I know I got some angels watching over me.

B: Was it a specific reason why you wore white tonight? 

KM: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I wear white every night, and that’s what you wear when you go to church. When you Pentecostal, when you’re young, or if it’s an event, it’s just a thing about purity. It’s a thing about what you’re attracting and reflecting. It’s just it’s meant to put you in a spiritual place. I even invite the crowd to wear a white, if you feel you’re vibrating high, wear white, you know what I mean? It just shows you community, absolutely. That’s what I wore when I was baptized a little boy, that’s what I wore when my grandma made me go to church on Easter, that’s what, in the Pentecostal church, that’s what you might wear on the first or the third Sunday. But I wear white because I want to invoke to people that this is a spiritual experience we’re having. We’re not just here just see an underground rap show. We’re here to have an experience together that’s gonna make us better as human beings on the other side.

B: It was truly an experience. I wish I got the memo! I would’ve worn my white. 

KM: We got to do this a lot! Not a little. I’m gonna go, any day I’m noy on the road, I’m gonna get my butt back in the studio and we’re gonna figure out coming right back. We’re gonna come back and do this again. 

B: Now, speaking of, you’ve been in the studio. It’s been like a decade since you dropped your solo album. It’s been some time! So how has that been for you? Have you been receiving attention that you’ve been wanting from delivering this amazing album? 

KM: Yeah, man, you just said amazing. Hearing you say that, knowing how much music you listen to, knowing that you’re a fan and a culture critic, that means something. It means it stopped you and made you sit for 53 minutes, it means it pierced your heart, it means you get it. So absolutely, man … Run The Jewels is the uncanny X Men. We’re amazing, we got amazing characters that come in and out. The origin story to Killer Mike, one half of Run The Jewels, is MICHAEL. So this expands the Run The Jewels universe. It helps those people who might not culturally be like me and you, but might be fans, deeper understand the character of Killer Mike. And it also helps the Killer Mike fans that were pre Run The Jewels and came along with Run The Jewels that I still have the desires in my heart and the words in my mouth to say on the behalf of my community. 

There has to be somebody to speaking with and for West Atlanta, Southwest Atlanta, East Atlanta, South Atlanta, West Chicago, Southside Chicago, Gary, Indiana, Flint. You got to be somebody talking about Detroit, Philadelphia, DC, it has to be a presence that says, respectfully, hold on. Can’t leave us out. And that’s what this album is about. This album is salt of the earth, American man, in particular Black man and the women who love him, be it they mothers, they lovers, they baby mothers, they wives, daughters, it needs to be said in these times that you’re loved and honored, and you’re cherished and you’re cared for. You don’t need to be overlooked. You don’t need to be forgotten about. 

And this record gives me a chance to honor that, man. Honor my grandfather, my grandmother and my grandfather’s relationship. Gives me a time to honor my wife, honor my children. So for me, man, my auntie, exactly! My auntie, she helped me understand I wasn’t gonna be Scarface, you know? So I just, man, I just appreciate Black people for pouring what they’ve poured into me, so that I can pour what I’m pouring out. 

The clouds open up on July 23 at Pitchfork Music Festival to beam rays of sunlight onto Killer Mike and choir The Midnight Revival as they perform songs from the new album MICHAEL. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

B: I gotta personally know, because to me, this is a solid album. I meant when I said when I said “amazing.” Do you, at times, feel like you’re underrated, Mike? 

KM: Well, I mean, I’ve said, “It’s underwhelming to be so overly underrated.” I said that in “NRICH” but I bet you I ain’t gonna stay underrated. I bet you can’t play this one next to nobody else’s drop this year. Can’t say s**t. That’s what it is. You know, Michael Jordan got beat up to two years by the Pistons before he came back and showed you what the f**k he was. So I’ll take y’all ignoring it, but now it’s in your face. And it’s coming right back. Over and over. You can’t listen to “SHED TEARS” as a man and tell me that it compares to anything. You can’t listen to “SOMETHING FOR JUNKIES” and tell me it compares, you can’t listen to “MOTHERLESS” and tell me. I don’t care who you’re talking about. I don’t care I’m talking about somebody super empirical, lyrical, miracle, wearicle. Are you talking to somebody who mumbo jumbo … I don’t give a f**k. It ain’t gonna make no difference to me. You put my album up against it, you walking with me. This is August Wilson, Fences. This is Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men. This is high art. If we’re talking about painting, this is Henry Ossawa Tanner, this is Ernie Barnes. If y’all don’t know what I’m talking about, go look it up. That’s what I’m saying. I got that. And I’m just from the store with some dope in my pocket. Ain’t nobody do that but me, man. 

B: I love your personality, because offstage you’re the same, on stage you’re the same. You got your comedic ways. You said so many things that made me laugh, the audience laugh, but I do want to get back to the album because you were very transparent on this album, you showed a lot of vulnerability. And to do that, my brother, I love that you titled this album MICHAEL, because that’s what you gave the world. Was it set to be at 14 records or … ?

KM: No, we recorded 39 records. I think we had about 19 we wanted to put on the final, and we chopped five off and trimmed it down to 14. Yeah, cuz we couldn’t play … I couldn’t hope you’d like something. I needed to take you on a journey, so that you hit play and for 53 minutes, you went on. And that’s  what we accomplished. This is an album, but it’s a movie. It’s an audio movie. In the time it takes to get from the airport to Chicago, you’ve experienced a movie listening to this. In the time it takes you to clean up the bottom floor of your house, it’s a movie. That’s what we wanted. So now you know hopefully I hear there may be some deluxe stuff coming. I hear there may be some other stuff coming.

Killer Mike took listeners to church during his Pitchfork Music Festival set, surrounded by flowers, a choir and a wooden podium. “We’re here to have an experience together that’s gonna make us better as human beings on the other side,” he tells Bekoe for Vocalo. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

B: Is that a drop?

KM: I’m just saying, some stuff might be coming. 

B: I mean, you said out of 39 records. Something better be coming! I mean, also on the project. You know, what I really liked too is the selection of the records you put as well as your features. Come on, man, you got André 3000. And then you go on Sway, and then you talk about André 3000. 

KM: Dré been kickin’ it, man. My bro did kick it …

B: And Jagged Edge. So “SLUMMER,” was that a true story? 

KM: Yeah, “SLUMMER” is a true story.

B: So you was dealing with a lady that actually … ?

KM: I was dealing with a teenager, we were children. Yeah, we were like 17 and 15, 17 and 16. We were children and she had to have an abortion. 

B: You opened yourself up to the world, and you brought them to see ‘MICHAEL.’ And that’s why I appreciate you, so I just want to give you your flowers on that, my brother. 

KM: Thank you so much, brother. Thank you so much. 

B: What else? Eryn Allen Kane, I see she’s all over your album. She’s from Detroit. How did you two connect? 

KM: Man, my man Hannibal Buress the comedian, who’s a friend of mine. He hooked me up with her. And I know Hannibal from here, he’s like, man, I love him. That’s my dog. But he hooked, he was like, yo, I was telling him I need a voice. He’s like, “I got somebody you need to meet.” And No ID I think kind of co-managed with her too, so it was just a couple connections. But I love Eryn. I love her. Man, she don’t even walk. She levitates. God has truly anointed her, man, she’s something amazing. 

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B: Your background singers, too, they held it down. 

KM: Shouts out to The Midnight Revival, man. The girls and one guy, man, they’re amazing. 

B: You spoke on No ID. I remember last time we spoke, we chopped it up about No ID. He’s from the crib. Working with No ID, what are some things – you know, both of you all are legends. But with the production side of things, have you learned anything from No ID? Or have you taught No ID some things? 

KM: I learned. I’m a student, I learned. I learned the value of professionalism. Just go with the pros. Don’t waste time with an army, just go get the snipers. Don’t get no innocent folk here, don’t waste time, don’t waste your time. Go get the snipers, and it’s gonna be okay. And that’s it. And be patient with the process. Trust yourself. The greatest thing I learned was the question he asked me, “What do you think? How do you feel?” That’s the goal, that’s what you’re going for. You get tired, as an artist you want somebody tell you it’s okay. No, just keep pushing. I appreciate it, it was going to a masterclass for me.

B: To know that you worked with No ID from Chicago, Eryn Allen from Detroit, Future, you got 6LACK on there.

KM: We got Blxst on there, we got 6LACK on there. We got CeeLo on there, we got Ty Dolla on there twice. We got a cast, man. We got Mozzy on there. And they weren’t trying to catch the audience moments as much as who was the person that can help us express the emotion, the point? And I just appreciate everybody. I appreciate all the producers. I mean, everybody. Even down to the kids that just went and got our drinks at the studio, everybody put in on his record, it really was a team effort. This album, really, is my Miseducation moment.

B: Oh, I like that! Some people don’t understand that, but I get it. 

KM: What Miseducation of Lauryn was for young women, this album is for men and young men and the women that love them.

B: Man, look, I don’t want to take too much of your time. I just want to say, I greatly love the music, man. I played it on the way here my fourth time, so thank you for taking out time. Appreciate you, Mike.

Keep up with Killer Mike on Instagram, and stream the new album on Spotify below.

Interview and audio editing by Bekoe

Audio production by Nudia Hernandez

Photography by Morgan Ciocca

Video shot by Morgan Ciocca, edited by Bekoe and Omi Salisbury

Written introduction by Imani Warren

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