On Killer Mike's new politically charged album, R.A.P. (Rebellious African People) Music, he leads off the song "Don't Die" with a 50-second clip from a man speaking out publicly against police brutality in the black community. But it's not the cops the man is antagonizing, it's fellow blacks who tolerate such treatment by law enforcement. The contrary voice in that YouTube clip belongs to Dick Gregory, the iconic comedian and social activist who's pulled no punches for nearly 60 years when it comes to speaking truth to power. It's a mantle the outspoken rapper Killer Mike has embraced in recent years, which is why their cross-generational conversation — hosted by Atlanta-based visual artist Fahamu Pecou, whose work centers around the images of black males in popular culture — promises to be an engaging one. In anticipation of the event, I spoke with the man President Bill Clinton once called "one of the funniest people on the planet" to get his take on rap's generation gap, the origins of lewd language, and the failings of the Civil Rights Movement.
On the perceived divide between the Civil Rights and hip-hop generations
Hold it right there. There was a divide between Civil Rights and civil rights, the church and civil rights. There were a whole lot of preachers who bad-mouthed King. ... There was a divide between Malcolm X and Muslims. There was a divide between Elijah Muhammad and the Civil Rights Movement. So there's always been a divide. It didn't stop nothing [but] there's a lot of people that take it personal. ...
When black folks started complaining about young black folks wearing their pants below their draws, Jesse [Jackson] and them started saying, "Well, that's a jail mentality." I said wait a minute, I have sons that do it, they ain't never seen a jail. The only jail they see is the Hollywood version [and] they ain't never shown anybody with their pants below their draws. Hitler never wore his pants below his draws so what happened to him? You can't get [dressed] more immaculate than the Mob. So I say that maybe the Universal God is trying to tell us that never again will you judge one of my creatures from without but from within.
On the similarities between the bawdy legacy of the blues and rap's raunchiness
I don't think there's anything any filthier in the history of this planet than the blues. We're the only man on the planet that sings derogatory words about our woman: "One, two, three, four, gimme some more." "I caught my baby in bed with my best friend." "Shake your moneymaker" — and even women dance to it. What's the moneymaker? It's a vagina God gave you to create God's likeness. And if you're selling it, it's referred to as a moneymaker. But nobody sees that. ... They can see the rappers' [wrongs] but they can't see there's. It's bad when you got a gun and don't know it's loaded. The rappers know what they're doing. You know what one of my sons told me? "Dad if you go to the movies and the music's too loud, you're too old to be in there."
I'm 80 years old and there hasn't been a cussword invented since I was born, so where are these young rappers getting these cusswords from? They're not inventing them. They're already here. And all the folks complaining about them, I know they heard the word "motherfucker" and "bitch" and "ho" before.
The same thing I hear people saying about rappers — and they got a right to say it — they were saying the same thing about Elvis Presley.
On the civil rights generation's failure to pass the baton and the current generation's responsibility
We in the Civil Rights Movement were nothing but first responders; we're not the doctor. We don't have the technology to find out how damaged you have been from slavery. So we dropped them there at the hospital and instead of leaving, we're going to say, "What's wrong with them?" That's a violation. We got so famous, we forgot our job was just to take them to the hospital. That's what we were in the Civil Rights Movement — out there in the rain, the dirt, beat up and all that. Doctors and scientists don't function in that type of atmosphere. They made us so important and so famous we forgot. ... And so that was our big mistake, we didn't give it to that next group that takes them to the next group that takes them to the next group.
What we were dealing with in the days of the Civil Rights Movement was physical. If somebody gets lynched in Atlanta today, we all are shocked. But it's a mental thing now. And maybe that's what rappers are doing. Maybe they don't know it. It's the state of the mind; it's the mind thing.
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