HOW KILLER MIKE HAS ‘RUN’ HIP-HOP FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS
Since its genesis, hip-hop has always been about providing a voice for the voiceless and standing up to the authorities who govern them. Michael Render, popularly known as Killer Mike, is the very embodiment of hip-hop. While his artistry alone qualifies him for legend status, it is his commanding presence as one of the foundational figures of the Atlanta rap scene, and his continual hunger to pass on his accumulated knowledge and wisdom for the betterment of his community, that sets him aside from many of his contemporaries.
Killer Mike first met Outkast‘s Big Boi during a brief stint at Moorehouse College in ’95, and would later make his musical debut on Outkast’s praised 2000 album, Stankonia. The recognition was almost instant, a Grammy Award-winning performance with Outkast on ‘The Whole World’ in 2001 caught the attention of JAY-Z who recruited him for a feature on The Blueprint 2 – placing him firmly on the radar of anyone within prominent hip-hop circles. His 2003 debut album, Monster, delivered and boasted production from Andre 3000 and features from T.I, Big Boi, Bizarre and more.
One of the most consistent work rates in rap throughout the next decade Killer Mike released no less than five studio albums, including a linkup with T.I’s then flourishing Grand Hustle label on ‘PL3DGE’. However it was 2012’s ‘R.A.P Music’, still a firm fan favourite today, which laid the foundation for his launch to superstardom. Born off the back of a tour together, Killer Mike and underground rapper / producer El-P would unite to form one of the hardest rap duos of all time; Run The Jewels. Taking their name from an LL Cool J lyric, the pair set out to deliver some of the most lyrically dense, aggressively unapologetic rap music in recent memory. Their first self-titled album dropped in 2013 as a free download, and like each of the three installments that have followed since, sits in esteemed company critically acclaimed amongst both rap fans, and wider music consumers.
“First, just make dope art. Making dope art is social change.”Killer Mike, AUD’$ interview 2022.
Both his discography and his roots in community activism run deep. For decades Killer Mike has remained a beacon of hope for not only African-Americans but for the wider working class, offering tangible solutions and practical guidance during the repeated occurrences of catastrophic events. While he is steadfast in it being his primary role, merely labeling him a ‘rapper’ is bordering on an insult to a man that has gone above and beyond in every effort to push hip-hop culture forward – while simultaneously looking out for people on a political and financial aspect. Killer Mike practices what he preaches, spitting a message of empowerment to the disenfranchised, and going as far as running as a write-in candidate for Georgia’s House of Representatives in 2015. While unsuccessful, his message was clear; political ‘outsiders’ should use every opportunity to run against establishment politicians. In the public eye, celebrities, athletes, or anyone of influence endorsing political candidates are often met with ridicule – but Killer Mike has never cared about the critics – he is unapologetic about his role as a champion of the people.
Whenever the topic of societal contributions in hip-hop is raised, the name Killer Mike is raised immediately, sitting proudly alongside Jay-Z and the late Nipsey Hussle. To the point, following his benevolent presence in the moments after the murder of George Floyd, he was awarded the inaugural Billboard Change Maker award in 2020, an accolade designed to recognise “pop culture figures who speak truth to power through their commitment to individual action and leadership.”
From loudly backing Bernie Sanders‘ campaign for president in 2016, and appearing alongside Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury Festival the following year, to giving lectures on race relations at numerous Universities across America; Killer Mike’s vision is one of unity, equity, and justice. He makes the point to say their names, regularly bringing up the victims of police brutality, keeping their legacies alive while calling for justice towards the police department. The recent RICO case brought against Atlanta record label YSL has highlighted an issue he has speaking publicly on for over six years – the erosion of first amendment rights relating to artistic expression – namely the lyrics of rappers being used by prosecutors.
“This is not anything new. This has happened with Jazz music and it’s happened with Rock & Roll music, it’s happened with Heavy Metal, it’s happened with Rap before in the nineties. What I would say is for young people, and people that understand the artistic community; is that the wars never won. It is a constant battle to maintain the rights that we are given. God given rights.”
The new single ‘RUN’ featuring Young Thug is a song of the year contender delivered with another powerful message. Often incorporating aspects of spoken word into his music, Killer Mike does so in an elevated manner on ‘RUN’, with Dave Chappelle delivering a spine-tingling introduction for the cinematic music video over a backdrop of a colonial battleground. Their story-telling ability is top of the totem pole, as is their passion for the subject matter. Much like Kendrick Lamar did with ‘Alright’ in 2015, this feels less like another song release and more like a cultural moment of significance. Killer Mike creates art in its purest form, and ‘RUN’ is a fantastic representation of that.
“Dave actually gave me that speech. He re-created that speech for the song but he gave me that speech trying to convince me to run for public office in my state, and he gave me that after one of his shows… Thug just got on there and played the track like Jimi Hendrix would play on a track with his voice, absolutey amazing.“
One of the most powerful voices in hip-hop throughout the twenty-first century, Killer Mike shows no signs of deviating from the formula which has resulted in his mogul status. Whether it’s on stage supporting Rage Against The Machine, in the booth recording a Grammy-nominated verse, or in the halls of the Atlanta City Council fighting for the rights of the marginalised, his transparency and integrity remain resolute. More motivated than ever, and still improving artistically, check out our in-depth interview with Killer Mike below as he discusses how he has forged his place in hip-hop history.