Since coming up as a member of the Outkast-affiliated group, Dungeon Family, Killer Mike has bridged parties and politics maintaining Atlanta’s place on the hip hop map. Now signed to T.I.‘s Grand Hustle label, Mike tells SBTV’s Editor, Lily Mercer about hustling in church, his relationship with Big Boi and who broke his Grammy award…
LM. Your Burn video is visually interesting. How did you come up with the idea for it?
KM. I wanted to take footage from protest and riot groups in Europe, Egypt and Libya and I wanted to put it into framework and art. Burn just gave me the perfect opportunity to do it. With everything that’s going on in the world right now I just wanna have a piece of art that says these are the times right now. I want this to stay with people, not be something so disturbing they wanted to turn away from. I think that’s what an artist is supposed to be doing.
LM. You talk about Oscar Grant, a victim of police brutality.
KM. Yeah, it’s interesting because the whole song was about it in the second verse. Here in the States; you don’t have any say towards the police as a regular citizen. I’m the son of a policeman, my father told me you don’t have a win with the police, there’s no use in arguing with them. You start to wonder ‘How much liberty do I really have? How free am I able to be if I have to live under the fear of a tsar? If I have to turtle every time a police car changes light?’ I wanted full opportunity to express that environment. Ultimately what you have is young black men being murdered by policemen, black and white.
LM. Where did your political motivations come from?
KM. First thanks for acknowledging that. I think a lot of writers four, five years ago were saying that I couldn’t do this. I think what makes me interesting is that I’m not afraid to show that I’m an entire man. Picasso created paintings that protested the Spanish civil war to help bring awareness to it that will be art forever. He was also a shameless womanizer. I think that every artist, the closer you get to being a pure artist the more conflict you’re willing to show. With me its easy to do party tracks because as a black southerner, you grow up in an environment where music is abundant, whether its blues with your grandparents, or soul or funk with your parents and hip hop, now its swag rap. So it’s easy for me to be that artist because it really is me. I’m willing to be honest that I like smoking weed and hanging with pretty girls as I am saying I just want to pursue and have every freedom and liberty I have, including party.
LM. What will you be working on later this year?
KM. I’m finishing a rap album, me and El Producto from Definitive Jux from Company Flow. He’s doing a project called rap music: Rebellious African People’s music so I’m running home to finish that then I’m picking up tour dates but I’ll probably be in the UK sometime between September and December.
LM. The album is the third in the I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind series.
KM. Smith and Cash, my longtime in house producers started calling the series Pledge a long time ago. Incorporating the 3 into it and calling it Pl3dge, it removed it far enough from I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind because the first Grind was about the crew and the second grind was about the supporters. Pledge is very much about me. There are very personal records on there.
LM. It bears qualities of a classic album.
KM. I think it’s a classic album. We live in an age where people are afraid to say just because of hype. But this is a classic album in the way an album should be classic. You should live with this album and find yourself saying to yourself, ‘Wow, I haven’t got tired of this album. It’s a classic’. That’s the way Southernplayalistic, Aquemini, N****z 4 Life, Chronic, It Was Written, Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, Makavelli and Life After Death make me feel. I feel like this record should be taken serious.
LM. It’s a great length, not too short, not too long.
KM. It has to be like a woman’s skirt: short enough to be interesting and long enough to cover everything. My mother told me that about speaking, make whatever you say like a woman’s skirt. I feel that I’ve grown into an artist that can be what Scarface is. Scarface put out 24 years of music and has never dropped a wack album. That’s what I’m chasing.
LM. You recently changed your name from Killer Mike to Mike Bigga, what prompted that?
KM. It’s not a full on change, you can still call me Killer Mike, it’s more of an addition. The name was keeping me out of speaking at some public schools and universities and certain endorsements that could help me get on a bigger level. Most importantly to me, it kept me from performing for the soldiers in Iraq. Enough is enough; I can’t allow having this name to stop me.
LM. Your label situation has changed and you’re now with Grand Hustle. Is it like a new chapter in life?
KM. It definitely feels like a new chapter, it’s time to move and to grow. Each album that my listener-ship grows is a next chapter because I don’t want a new chapter alternative to the old chapter. The old chapters weren’t all bad; they were hard. I learned some lessons that I’ll never forget.
LM. What’s your relationship with T.I.?
KM. We’re business partners, I’m still on Grind Time and have a joint venture with Grand Hustle. He’s definitely the bigger partner but he’s my friend. Ask a rapper what its like to make a song with a friend, it’s the most exhilarating feeling you can have. With you and your boy, it’s your team against the world. And being back in the studio with him and Big Boi is as dope as it gets for me.
LM. What’s your relationship like with Big Boi?
KM. He gave me the opportunity that changed my life. He’s like a big brother, we’re just two brothers who have accepted each other and know each other are dope. That comes with all the ups and downs. It’s always good working with people you love and having people love the product you make.
LM. You won a Grammy award with Dungeon Family.
KM. Yeah, I’m coming for some more. I’m hoping Rick Flair will at least get nominated. Rolling Stone gave it a perfect 4; I was amazed. I wasn’t looking for that, especially since I’ve been off the national scene for a while. It’s good to return in this kind of way.
LM. Is It true that your Grammy lives with your grandma?
KM. Yeah, it’s at my grandma’s house.
LM. Does she polish it?
KM. Yeah she does. She actually dropped it and broke it, she felt so bad. I tease her relentlessly about it but I gotta go get it fixed now. She lied to me, she said “I can’t find it” but my sister had called me to say, ‘Grandma broke your Grammy. When she tells you don’t be mad’. I was like, ‘I’m not mad. I don’t care bout a statue as much as I care about her so it don’t matter’.
LM. You were hustling from a young age.
KM. Yeah, my grandma would give us money to pay our tides in church because she was a nurse. I had an uncle who was mentally challenged, not severe but just a little slow so I could get away with a lot. We’d go to the candy lady then go to Sunday school and sell the candy; I’d turn that $20 she gave us into $40. I’d always put $5 or $10 in church and we’d take the other $30 into town and eat pizza.
LM. So you learnt how to hustle early?
KM. I learnt that people always need stuff and if you give it to them they pay for it.
LM. You got high with Biggie once, how did that happen?
KM. Yeah we were too young to get into the club he was performing at. Biggie and his crew were just hanging outside smoking a blunt. We like, ‘Can I hit it?’ and he passed it, I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to put it in my pocket and run but I didn’t wanna get beat up. I passed it to the homies and I don’t even think it made it back to him but that was the coolest s*** ever. He wasn’t Biggie like as big as he was, Craig Mack was bigger than Biggie at the time, but you know as a kid you discover something first and me being a chubby kid, he was my idol at the time. He ain’t The Fat Boys, he’s cool. Ain’t nothing funny about him, he’s a G so it was just real dope. Man I’m smiling as I tell it to you now.
Buy your copy of Pl3dge here.
Interview by Lily Mercer