Killer Mike Wants You To Fight For The Rights Of Regular People
Written by Vocalo Radio on July 4, 2022
Rapper and activist Killer Mike virtually sat down with Bekoe in advance of his upcoming single “Run,” and takes a stand for the rights of the incarcerated.
Killer Mike is an Atlanta-based activist, actor, rapper and, alongside rapper-producer El-P, one half of politically-conscious rap duo Run the Jewels. The duo has produced critically-acclaimed album after album, winning five Grammy awards of 11 nominations.
At the core of Run The Jewels’ mission is to raise political consciousness and inspire critical thinking when it comes to sociopolitical issues. Mike and El-P hope their outspoken lyrics encourage listeners to do right by their fellow citizens. Mike told Bekoe he’s been humbled in recent years by videos of political protests set to Run the Jewels songs.
“Knowing that our music is encouraging people to do the right thing by their fellow citizens… I’m just honored to be one half of Run the Jewels,” he said.
Mike’s activism extends beyond just his raps; he’s outspoken about the disproportionate effects of legal policies for people of color, and has recently taken a stand on Young Thug and Gunna’s recent incarceration upon 56-count racketeering charges. According to a May 24 ABC News article, Young Thug’s lyrics may be used as evidence against him in court.
“Right now he, like many other Black artists, is being used as an example,” Killer Mike said. “And the courts are going to potentially use his words on the record.”
“Records are things that we pretend, that we invent, and use our imagination to embellish. They’re gonna attempt to use his words against him,” he continued. “I want to just say I stand in solidarity with Thug and Gunna right now.”
The rapper also gave listeners a sneak peek of his upcoming single, ”Run,” produced by Chicago’s own No I.D., featuring Young Thug and with an intro by comedian Dave Chappelle. Killer Mike was first introduced to Chappelle backstage at one of his comedy shows, where Chappelle suggested Mike should run for governor of Atlanta — a sentiment Bekoe shared during his and Mike’s conversation.
Stream Bekoe’s conversation with Killer Mike below to hear the reaper break down his upcoming single, tour with Rage Against the Machine and the importance of protecting constitutional rights.
“No matter what stumbles we have come across, no matter what speed bumps, we’ve always remained running toward the right, running towards the good and running towards the just.”– Killer Mike
Bekoe: You’re tuned in to Vocalo Radio, Chicago’s urban alternative. I’m your host, Bekoe the illest, coming through your stereo. And this guest I have alongside me is a Grammy Award-winning artist reppin’ Atlanta, Georgia, my second home. But due to these high gas prices, I haven’t been home as of late! He’s also an actor, most importantly, an activist who’s not scared to get vocal. I like to call this man here “House Speaker of Hip-Hop.” He goes by the name of Killer Mike. How you doing?
Killer Mike: Shouts out to the Chi, man. Shouts out to the wonderful friends and associates I have up there, man. From my girl Kai who does amazing party planning and my girl Paris, who’s a trucker from up there. Zoe, who’s the owner of… Uncomfortable Truth lifestyle clothing brand. I just got a lot of dope folks out of Chicago I’ve met over the years and I appreciate y’all. Shouts out to my man TJ from freshman year, Morehouse, y’all got a great town up there.
Shout out to you sticking to these Chicago roots and showing love, my brother. We definitely appreciate it. Now, I want to ask you specifically — I called you the “House Speaker of Hip-Hop.” How do you feel about that title?
Those that are politically aware know that… when you have a house speaker, that’s a leader amongst leaders, that’s someone who the people elected to protect this republic. He or she is entrusted with their trust to lead this republic in the right way. And if hip-hop is a community of people, being loved and respected in a way that people want to trust me to speak on their behalf is a responsibility I take seriously. And it’s a very humbling thing. So I really appreciate you, bro.
Before we get into your single “Run,” let’s actually talk about Run the Jewels. Because Run the Jewels formed in 2013, if I’m not mistaken.
Yep, nine years in.
And were you still under Grand Hustle when Run the Jewels formed?
Yeah well, Tip – man, I gotta thank Tip, Jason Jeter and the Grand Hustle family, from Hannah, to Clay, to Elliot to Dart. They really embraced me at a time where I didn’t have a home to go to, you know. I didn’t have a record company home of sorts. And because of SMC and Grand Hustle, I was able to put out I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind Part II (2008) and III , which led me to the record deal with Williams Street records, which allowed R.A.P Music (2012) to come out… under the umbrella of Grand Hustle and Williams Street, which brought me to Run the Jewels and forming our own record company and collective and becoming one half of the greatest rap group in the world, I feel.
We tour. We’re opening for Rage Against the Machine the next two years. Rage Against the Machine, for those who may not be familiar with rock, is the outcast of rock ‘n roll. They are a rock group that’s loved by rap fans, alternative fans, pop fans. They are some of the most politically-engaged and socially-conscious guys out there, and they just make badass dope music and Run the Jewels does the same. They’ve asked us to come out and open for them, and we start on July 9 in Wisconsin.
Y’all heard that, Wisconsin. Get out there, get them tickets.
Chicago, too! We’ll be in Chicago, I think July 11. So I want… fans to come out and support not only Run the Jewels, support not only Rage, but support the people who are supporting what’s happening in the streets.
At this time, right now, young people are getting active in their music. If you look at the people that are engaged with artists, like Kendrick and more, young people are listening to music, but they’re active in the streets. One of the most encouraging things that happened from the protests in the streets in the last couple years has been people hit me with Run The Jewels’s music playing in the back of these protests. Knowing that our music is encouraging people to do the right thing by their fellow citizens… I’m just honored to be one half of Run The Jewels. I’m humbled that people are supporting us like they have, and we’re going to continue the next 15, 20 years until we march into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Did you hear yourself? You said at 15, 20… You already been in the game about 20 years. That’s gonna be 40! I love the youth in you, know what I’m saying? The youth and the longevity. And I mean, briefly to touch on Run the Jewels’s album [RTJ]4, I love how you all put the instrumentals within the album. A lot of artists don’t really touch on that anymore. Is there a specific reason why you and El-P did that?
I feel El is the greatest rapper-producer in the world. And I say that, in big part, because I see him just mechanically drag himself over making sure that music is perfect and right. And then he does have to do the same thing with a pad and a pen and write, you know what I mean?
So, for me, it’s amazing to see someone who’s that dedicated to the craft, and that type of dedication deserves merit. And sometimes words get in the way of the full experience. So putting the instrumentals on there is making sure, not only do you hear us and feel the words, but making sure you hear and feel the detail of the music that goes into it as the backdrop.
You all been around nine years. It’s been about 10 years since you’ve put out a solo single.
What made you, you know, say, “Alright, let me take some time to myself,” and get this single with you, Dave Chappelle, Young Thug, No I.D. What was it that that hit you that said, “You know what, let me take some time to myself and put out a solo single”?
Just as a hip-hop head I had heard it said, but man, No I.D. produced, Dave Chappelle intro, featuring Young Thug. Man, that’s all the best of hip-hop. That, to me… that is, “Wow, who else would have done this but Killer Mike?” Me and Dion [Wilson, AKA No I.D.,] have been trying to work… We were introduced by my friend, Courtney Seals-Bear. People often see me with Bear. We were introduced over 15 years ago. We grew to be fast friends, and it formed a real brotherhood. So I’d always wanted to work with Dion. He produced a single “Ready, Set, Go” for me years ago, that was on Pledge III. But I always wanted to work with him again.
Dave caught me in the back of one of his comedy shows, and just gave me a stern talking-to about why I should be running for governor of Georgia. And out of that came the inspiration for the song “Run,” which Dave told me, “We don’t care you smoke weed and you like strippers. We care you tell us the truth. And we’re at a time when other people aren’t telling the truth, we need you as a leader.” Much to the same as he was saying on the intro on this record.
This record also finds me… after having spent two weeks in the studio with Thug, just seeing the rock ‘n roll, rap and artistic genius he is, I now find myself with the single that he’s on, and he’s not out here to enjoy the fruits of that. He’s an artist, in much the same way Chuck Berry and Little Richard were artists. In much the same way Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters were artists. Mama Thornton. In much the same way that Luke from Luke and the 2 Live Crew, who fought for our first amendment rights against Bauer County was an artist. And right now he, like many other Black artists, is being used as an example. And the courts are going to potentially use his words on the record.
Records are things that we pretend, that we invent, and use our imagination to embellish. They’re gonna attempt to use his words against him, for what I feel like is a frivolous RICO case. So I want to just say I stand in solidarity with Thug and Gunna right now. I believe they should be out on bond making music, making the community better — because just a year ago, they were freeing people who couldn’t afford to bond themselves out of jail. They were bonding them out. So let’s not forget that he’s been an important part of this community, past the music.
I mean, before I actually get into the production standpoint, I actually want to touch on lyrics real quick. Because in a recent article, I was reading you said, “Hip-Hop is not respected as an art because Black people in the country are not recognized as full human beings.” You also deal with ABC. It’s no more than Killer Mike saying, “I’m a killer on the mic.” So, you know, how will this impact artists? And how will this impact artists’s creativity?
Well, usually laws disproportionately affect Black people worst and first. So before we get to the general artists, how’s it gonna affect Black artists? They’re gonna lock your Black ass up for any Black-ass thing you say! You can say, “Man, I don’t like this particular politician. They’d be better off dead.” They’re gonna call that a threat, and they’re gonna lock your ass up for threatening that politician. That’s just the truth of it.
Whatever laws are enacted to restrict your amendments, to restrict your constitutional rights, will affect the people lowest on the caste system worst and first, and that is Black people.
Now, it doesn’t always make you comfortable that the KKK can go out and say, “Kill *******.” But without their right to say, “Kill *******,” you never get your right to say, “Shoot back.” So, Noam Chomsky says, “Those who do not want the first amendment, or those that vehemently disagree with it, do not want it at all.” So the first amendment is not always clean. It’s not always how I like it. It can be ugly, it can be messy, it can lead to people in hoods calling you dumbass names. But what it can also lead to is for Malcolm X to give some of the greatest speeches I’ve ever heard in my life. For Martin, for James Baldwin, for Zora Neale Hurston, for Fannie Lou Hamer to say some of the most freeing things I’ve ever heard in my life. And if we have robbed of that opportunity as artists, they will be at your door robbing you of that opportunity as a regular citizen next.
I think Dave Chappelle was right when he said you should run for governor, my brother. You mean what you say, and you stand by the community and it’s needed. It’s needed, especially here in this hip hop community. We need you Mike. We need you, man.
I’m glad to be here and happy to be of service. I want to say, man, a lot of great influences from Chicago for me. My man TJ Crawford is on the ground organizing there. Ameena Matthews has done an amazing job of organizing and getting young brothers from different sets together to talk about their problems versus killing one another. I think that we should put, definitely, pressure on not only freeing Larry Hoover but Jeffrey Fort. I think these men have served too much time in prison. I think they’re radically different people than the people that were locked up.
And I think that, to be very honest with you, at some point we have to have empathy in our heart and grant clemency to these people. Whether it’s Mutulu Shakur, who should also be free, Leonard Peltier, who should also… be free. Assata Shakur should have been taken off the FBI’s most wanted list while we had Chicagoan the highest office of our presidency. So I just want to tell the people to continue to push for regular people. Continue to not forget, for the people who may have made mistakes earlier in their life, but redemption is possible and you don’t have to die to get it.
And in light of your single, continue running things. Continue making things run. You gotta keep it running. And it’s got some Chicago blood on there, produced by No I.D., a legend himself. Before I get into this single, Killer Mike, let people know why this single is needed. Let people know how they can get this single. And again, when they can catch you in Chicago.
This single is your encouragement song. Every morning you wake your beautiful Black self up, this should be your encourager. If you’re like me and you don’t want to go walking, man, just play the song while you walk. If you’re like me and you don’t want to lift weights, play it while you’re lifting weights, man. I done managed to shed a few pounds, Imma do a few more. But if you’re into community work and if you’re going to that 9-to-5 with dreams of bigger, run toward it, don’t walk to it. Don’t allow yourself to lazy around. Get to it, get to it like you know you can do it and succeed. That is the only true thing in this country, in the matters of African American people.
No matter what stumbles we have come across, no matter what speed bumps, we’ve always remained running toward the right, running towards the good and running towards the just. Let’s continue to do that. And let’s make sure we got some dope tunes to do it on, which I provided you for, in addition to Dave Chappelle and Thug with No I.D.
Listen to Killer Mike on Spotify and follow him on Instagram, and follow Run the Jewels on Instagram.
Interview and audio production by Bekoe
Introduction by George Chiligiris and Morgan Ciocca
Transcription edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
More from Vocalo: