I had the chance to speak with rapper, activists, businessman and one half of Run of Jewels, Killer Mike as he prepared to release his first solo single since his 2012 project R.A.P. Music. His new record “Run” was produced by No I.D. and features comedian Dave Chappelle and fellow Atlanta rapper Young Thug.
We discussed the inspiration and message behind the new record, but also couldn’t help but ask him about the latest with Run the Jewels, their upcoming tour opening up for Rage Against the Machine, and his new show Love and Respect.
On the Record: A Q&A with Killer Mike:
Marquis Munson: I attended Something in the Water music fest in D.C. and I was looking forward to seeing Run the Jewels live for the first time. But unfortunately, El-P got COVID. So before we dive deep into the music, I got to do a little check in. How is EL-P doing?
Killer Mike: EL-P is feeling better. Right after he starts feeling better, I was supposed to perform at the Hollywood Bowl, Black Superhero with Robert Glasper, and COVID got the best of me. So now that COVID has kicked both of our tails, for the next six months will be clear. In case you missed us at Juneteenth or Something in the Water, I ask you to please come out of see us open for one of the greatest rock bands ever, Rage Against the Machine. We’ll be opening for them in 2022 and 2023 and we’ll be coming to an arena near you. We apologize to everyone for letting COVID kick our butt, but it just got us, man, we tried.
MM: In a couple of weeks you guys will be hitting the road with Rage Against the Machine, one of the most exciting tours this year, but it was pushed back a few times, due to the pandemic. How does it feel to be back on the road especially with those guys?
KM: You grow up hearing a band that not only you rock out to, but they shape your worldview. What Zack [de la Rocha], Tom [Morello] and the other guys did in terms of encouraging me as a young man to think outside of my comfort zone and to push for the proletariat, you hear their influence in my raps. So us getting a chance to open up for them is one of the most honoring, humbling things you could ever do. To me, it’s comparable for opening up Outkast. Some of the people I most respect in the world say, “Hey, we want you guys to warm the crowd up for us.” It’s just a huge honor. So I want to thank Rage for bringing Run the Jewels out. We share a community of fans. They definitely have a large community, but as our community has grown, I found a lot of intersectionality, and I’m damn proud to burn these stages with them.
MM: I will speak on the behalf of Nashvillians and say we also have to get you guys to Nashville very soon, whether it’s Rage Against the Machine and Run the Jewels or just RTJ.
KM: Yeah, I definitely want to do it, so we got to get the promoters up to it. A lot of Nashvillians don’t know that we rehearse in Nashville. So when we go on these tours, all of it gets rehearsed in Nashville. We were planning on doing a small show at some point there, but COVID took it out. But we got to return to Nashville with Run the Jewels and rock, because your town has been so great to us and we really appreciate it. Beyond the hot fried chicken, your town has been priceless.
MM: I want to go back to EL-P real quick, because recently you celebrated the 10th anniversary of your album R.A.P. Music. This is the first collaboration with you and EL-P, so I like to call it the prequel to Run the Jewels. I was reading an interview you did with HipHopDX and you stated that you considered hanging up the microphone after that album. What was it about this record and working with El-P that kept you going and wanting to start Run the Jewels?
KM: The magic we found in the first three hours. In those first three hours, we had already started three songs. Within the first three hours, I realized as an Ice Cube-like figure I’ve found my Bomb Squad. I found someone exactly the same age, only a month older. Grew up in the same era of hip-hop, had many of the same views, and understood me telepathically. I didn’t even have to say, “Would this be better or not?” It was just a matter of us getting in a room creatively, being open to working. Once you find magic, you marry it. That’s what I did with my wife. That’s what I did with my rap partner. We locked in.
MM: So let’s talk about this new record. It’s called “Run,” featuring Dave Chappelle and Young Thug, and it was produced by No I.D. You call the song a celebration and a call to action. How did this record come together and what message do you want listeners to take away from this track?
KM: Well, the message for Black folks is we have a lot of reasons to celebrate. With all we’ve accomplished in this country and on the world stage, all the turmoil we’ve overcome, with all the enemies we’ve defeated in terms of people and policy, I want this record to feel like the end of a Golden State Warriors championship. I want this record to feel like what winning the Super Bowl feels like. Every morning I want you to get up and play this record.
I want you to listen to the monologue that Dave is saying, because he’s not only telling that to me, he’s telling it to you. You are called a lead. I don’t care what your insecurities are. I don’t care what your imperfections are. You can lead on a local level. You can lead your family. You can lead yourself to better. And I have every confidence that you can do that.
When I look at Young Thug, we spent two weeks getting that Thug verse. I got a chance to just hang out with him and see him evolve as a human being. To see him from eight, ten years ago, when he was a young man straight out of southeast Atlanta, happy to have made it and still having some wild, rambunctious ways, to being a man that says, “I take care of my children, I take care of my family. These people that are in this room are employees of mine.”
I owe my solidarity to him and Gunna, and say that if you’re going to charge someone with something, that does not mean they’re guilty; that means they’re innocent until proven guilty. If you’re going to allow a white woman who wrote an article that says “How to Kill My Husband,” if you want to disallow that article in her murder trial in which she really did kill her husband, you can’t drag [Young Thug’s] lyrics into the court and say, “Well, we’re going to use this to prosecute Black men and boys.” [The members of Young Thug’s rap collective and label, including Gunna, were indicted in May and accused of being a criminal gang.] Because if we allow that to happen to them, next it’ll happen to you for a Facebook post. You’ll put up, “I hate the Senator and I wish he’ll die.” Next thing you know, the FBI would be at your door saying, “Are you plotting to kill a United States Senator? We want to lock you up, because we don’t agree with your political views.”
So I’m here to just tell people that this record, besides being dope, the record is jamming, the record is smooth. You can play this record at your Hookah lounge, or after Church, or when you smoking a joint in a car. Beyond all that, this record is a record meant to inspire you to have the pride that you rightfully deserve as Black folks, as members of this country and this republic. It’s meant to let you know that we are not a second page in a story. We were there on the first page, and we’ll be there on the last and it’s just dope.
No I.D., who’s a better producer? But when it comes to call and response rap, I gave you a verse that I expect the audience to rap with me, not just hear me rap. When it comes to Thug, he danced on that beat [like] Gregory Hines did on wooden floors with tap shoes. So I’m excited about it. I’m excited to hear it and I hope it’s something you all can get behind.
MM: Going back to the situation with Young Thug and Gunna. In their current case they are using rap lyrics as a way to prosecute these two. As somebody in hip-hop, how does it feel for you knowing that rap lyrics are being put on trial?
KM: Talking about R.A.P. Music the album, if you take a song like “Reagan,” which I say, “I’m glad Reagan died,” that could be misconstrued, twisted, turned into something that could possibly have me arrested, sitting in federal jail. So think about it. Ten years ago, I said something that could have possibly landed me a federal jail. For people that think it’s a joke, nobody stunting no rapper. Hillary Clinton’s campaign came out after saying something they didn’t agree with and they attempted to malign me publicly to say, “I guess Killer Mike didn’t get the message.”
Now, I took that email, put it on a T-Shirt and made a lot of money off of it. But that’s how serious the times are. That’s how serious the biggest threat to the oligarchy, your Masters having total control over your mind, is an artist unwilling to cooperate. Why do you think Nazis burned books? They persecuted artists. Why do you think in totalitarian governments that artists are the first to be shut up? Not just rappers and singers, comedians as well.
So to me, this record is an important record because you have a truth-teller in Killer Mike, you have a challenger in Dave Chappelle, you have someone whose rights are trying to be taken away in Young Thug. You have someone who’s quietly encouraged artists to do the right thing over and over again in No I.D. on the beat. So even though this record is just a dope, jamming-ass record, it is as politically important as any record I’ve ever heard. Because it is in action, the people that are currently being persecuted moving with the jamming record in hand.
MM: How did you link up with Dave Chappelle on this record? Did you guys have a friendship before?
KM: I do have a friendship with Dave. I went to a Dave Chappelle show and I hung out with comedians after the show because unlike rappers, they don’t just scurry away from each other after the show; they hang out and talk trash to each other. At one point in the night, Dave told me I should run for governor. And he said, “You’re prepared to lead. You should be leading.” He gave me a 15-minute speech, saying “Michael, it’s not about what your proclivities are. It’s about if people know who you are, you’re transparent and they’re prepared to back you because you are a natural leader.” I walked away from that conversation more willing to accept the challenge of local leadership.
It’s not my job to convince you what party to vote for. It’s not my job to be a political dog told by its masters what to tell you to do. It is my job to encourage you to be free-thinking. It is my job to encourage you to be the best you can for yourself, your immediate family, and your community. It’s my job to simply tell the truth and that’s it. And that’s what leadership is really about. That’s what I’m going to keep doing and I’m glad to have friends like Dave Chappelle to say “Run N***ga Run,” because I’m going to not stop running.
MM: Outside of music, I want to mention your show “Love & Respect.” What I love about this show, outside of amazing conversations with Jack White, Big Boi talking about Outkast, there’s also open discussions on issues we face in this country, from all angles. You have politicians on there as well. Most recently, you featured former NFL running back and now U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker. You seem to share two different opinions on certain topics. Was the goal for the show to create this open dialogue?
KM: When you go to a barbecue, you’ve got some uncles that are far more conservative than the other uncles. You got some uncles don’t want to see the liquor and weed, some uncles ask you where is the liquor and weed. But all of them are your uncles and you talk to them. I’m a Black person, I’m a Black southerner, I’m a Black, southern man in charge of a family and leadership capacity in my community. It is my job to have conversations that are pleasant and unpleasant. It is my job to have conversations to try to understand the point-of-view from people I agree with and disagree with, and I’m going to continue to do that. It’s what I’ve seen work in my life.
I grew up in a neighborhood that was four or five Black people. Segregation didn’t make Collier Heights. The people there chose to live by themselves, with themselves and away from people who were trying to fight in the white neighborhoods. So all of my heroes and villains have always looked like me. Herman Cain was from my neighborhood. He was active in my neighborhood until the day he died. Whether you agree with his conservative values or not, he helped poor, Black people. Andrew Young, one of the most liberal man I’ve known in my life, a mentor, former Mayor of Atlanta has influenced me, outside of my two dads and grandfathers, probably been one of the most prominent figures in my life. Far more liberal on some things than I would have been. I strongly disagree with him on gun control. That doesn’t mean that still ain’t my big homie. Still doesn’t mean that isn’t my mentor and wasn’t the person that helped send me to Morehouse. So for me, I’ve learned to love people I agree with and disagree with. Ultimately, we want all the same things freedom, justice, equality for our people in this republic. So even if I don’t agree with you, I’m willing to have a conversation with you so that I may understand your point of view, even if I don’t agree with it.
MM: With this new single “Run,” your first solo music in a decade, are you looking to release another solo project? And is there something with Run the Jewels in the works, maybe RTJ5?
KM: One thing at a time [Laughs]. I have some time over the COVID break. I made this amazing record. I hope you guys enjoy “Run.”
EL-P and I were in L.A. and there was this studio in the hotel. He played a beat and I got on it and rapped. I declared, “This is the beginning to RTJ5.” So I hope as we’re on tour we’ll find more studios and get to work on RTJ5, because I want to bring it to you tougher than leather and denim. So hopefully that will be coming soon.
But in the meantime, just come see us on the road. Michael is going to continue to do music in some capacity, until I’m an old man with a lot of gray hair. So I absolutely look for Michael to keep making music in some capacity. That might be a couple of more solo records. It might mean we get RTJ5 out in the next year or two, but I definitely missed the microphone while I was gone and I’m happy to return home.