Killer Mike's stunning new album R.A.P. Music drops today (read our feature over here). I recently sat down with the Atlanta-based rapper at Graffiti's Swag Shop, the Southside barber shop he owns with his wife. Mike talked about the new album, working with El-P and the blowback surrounding some controversial comments. Read some choice excerpts below.
You've been outspoken in your advocacy of black entrepreneurship and community involvement. What does it mean to you to have this shop now?
Killer Mike: It's like, you can have not a penny in your pocket, you can have on old clothes, [but if] you get a decent haircut your confidence just goes through the roof. And it's a place where men can just be men. It's hard to find man spots. When I was little I used to go to the barbershop with my grandpa, see him get shaved, and I always loved the atmosphere. I found [the shop] on Craigslist. I was in New York recording R.A.P. Music, and sight unseen, I [bought] it. It was a lot wrong with the shop when we came in (laughs). Since then, the old staff left, the new staff came, and they've just been great. I'm into the fact that barbershops provide cash options for young men trying to figure out what they gonna do with their life. My son's 17 years old, he's about to go to barber school while he's prepping for college. I think that trades are important. I'm a college guy, so it's a lot of days I regret I didn't go get a trade. I had to get a bullshit job or two, you know?
It's interesting to me, because you see a lot of rappers who buy restaurants or clubs and don't seem that invested in it, really. You're obviously really invested in this.
I'm invested in people for real. At base level, I'm just down with the people. So this is giving me a chance to interact with the people. People come in here, they tell me whether they like my records or they don't. I just like my brothers. It's really no other way to put it. I like brothers. Black men are great people. They have interesting conversations. I just wanted to create an environment that was first-class. And we're growing toward where we wanna be. I'm not gonna be comfortable 'til brothers come in here like, "I gotta come in here weekly, I gotta get swagged up."
People were talking about that clip of you talking to MTV, where you advocated NRA membership for African-Americans.
I advocated it, in terms of, it's worked for me. My dad was a cop. People say the NRA supports voter suppression, but they [also] support your right to carry firearms. Use the organization you perceive as oppressing you to uplift, as a tool. Use them to your advantage. I think the black community extracts itself from the American experience to its own fault sometimes. I don't want the privilege to not be harassed by cops because I'm a young black male, I want the right because I'm an American. If you're a cop, stay in your fucking place. Protect me. Protect my mama. You know what I mean? Do not harass me with the fucking Terry law every fifteen minutes when I'm trying to walk downtown. I'm just advocating that blacks have the full American experience. My dad taught me to shoot. But I know for most young men, they don't have that. And they need that. We're in the South. Anything can happen. And if you say anything can't happen, you're forgetting Katrina happened. I believe in preparedness and in the full American experience. I'ma do everything that white people do. Like my granddad would say (laughs).
You also expressed anger toward Jesse Jackson, in particular, and the way he responded to the Trayvon Martin case.
I just took it as an insult.
Is there a generational divide there?
I don't think it's a generational divide, because my grandfather was in his mid-70s when he died, and he didn't particularly care for Jesse either. So it ain't no disrespect in terms of age. It's a cultural difference. You've spent the vast majority of your life in Chicago organizing around urban dealings, but you're from the Carolinas. You grew up in a rural environment. You have millions of blacks who still live in the Southeast. We don't wanna receive welfare. If you live in Bartow County, if you live in Boaz, Alabama, you know how to hunt. You ain't watching "Swamp People," you're living "Swamp People." So why am I gonna listen to you, who's lived in Chicago the last fifty years, about how relevant gun ownership is to me? And on top of that, he's advocating for long guns, or what he perceives as assault rifles, being banned. But he's not advocating that handguns be banned, when handguns kill more people. I ain't got nothing against Jesse, it's just that culturally, we're in two different places. I'm going fishing next weekend. He'll probably be speaking.
R.A.P. Music is such a political album.
I think it's more social.
Yeah, give me that. I don't want no politicians. I don't trust them bastards (laughs).
A lot of people, including you, have compared it to when Bomb Squad worked with Ice Cube back in the day.
AmeriKKKa's Most [Wanted], in particular.
Right. It's like you and El-P coming together, a cross-cultural thing, southern rap star meets the king of New York. Was there a conscious decision to hark back to that time in hip-hop?
I ain't trying to recreate what they did. I'm trying to progress what I grew up on. If you grew up listening to Hendrix, as a guitar player, you're going to spend your life trying to progress what you learned. If you grew up listening to Zeppelin, you're still trying to figure out those riffs. For me, I'm building upon what I got from Ice Cube, Chuck D, Scarface. What I got from Rage Against the Machine, from Dead Prez.
Do you think that you or any rapper can have the same kind of impact today?
I do the music because it's what my soul says do. But in terms of having an impact, how can you have an impact like that today, when on VH1 they're gonna talk to you about the L.A. riots, and you're gonna hear about an uprising, but no one has ever written in depth about the Atlanta riots? They tore the AUC up. They tried to burn down downtown. They went crazy in New York and Philadelphia. But if they limit it to this one thing that happened in Los Angeles, it keeps the majority of citizens asleep. So can it happen again? If people get angry enough. If it's fifteen Trayvons in one week, maybe. But we're so passive now, probably not. But it's my job to do it, to say it. I'm just commenting on conditions that I see, because I know the product of those conditions is often gonna be explosions and violence. [But] that scene in Office Space when the dude is riding to work listening to the Geto Boys? That's how I imagine most people listen to my music. It gives them an outlet.
El-P's production seems uniquely suited to your delivery. What was working with him like?
I often say we just got paid to make a friend. It's good to have somebody who, you grew up in different places and had similar experiences - culturally we've been influenced by the same things, because we grew up around the same time. And then there are things that are different, 'cause I'm a big black kid from the country and he's a skinny white kid from New York. Both of those make you a little angry (laughs). It just seemed to work, and it made all the sense in the world. I felt like, this is what I'm supposed to be doing and this is who I'm supposed to be doing it with. I look forward to making records with him 'til I don't make records anymore.
So y'all are gonna pair up again?
Definitely. We already started working.
What do you envision moving forward, creatively? A lot of people will say that this album is your masterpiece.
Yeah, but they said that one year ago with PL3DGE (laughs). "'Ric Flair' might be your greatest song! This is your magnum opus!"
True. With El-P involved, I feel like it's gonna reach a wider audience, or maybe a different audience.
I do too. My whole formula for being in the game this long has been, make the next record better than the last record. If I had fears [that I wouldn't be able to do that], I would've not made this record because I would be [dwelling on] PL3DGE right now. Saying, "Wow, I made SPIN, I made Rolling Stone's top 50 singles." I'm into outdoing myself. I've done this, now it's time to do what's next. Now I'm worried about rehearsing this whole album so I can perform it. Once people are geeked off that, I'm gonna come home and get lonely and depressed and I'm going to say "I need to make another album." My focus is to make people forget how dope this is by having the next [be] doper.
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…
Yes, 14 is the correct answer. I'll pass your info along to the group's manager,…
That was January of 2007, and they are 21 now, so I'm guessing 14?