Killer Mike ‘R.A.P. Music’: MC Feels ‘Honored’ on New Album, Discusses Life With a Cop Father
After releasing his critically acclaimed ‘PL3DGE’ album in 2011, Grammy-winning Grand Hustle affiliate Killer Mike blindsided fans by announcing his next LP release, ‘R.A.P. Music,’ would be produced entirely by Brooklyn indie hip-hop hero El-P.
The unexpected pairing resulted in a powerful, Bomb Squad-inspired sonic assault, at once a throwback to the hard-spitting days of early boom-bap and a futuristic sound all its own. The BoomBox sat down with Killer Mike to discuss the collaboration, his controversial lyrics, growing up with a policeman father, “wannabe” T.I.’s and his inspiration for making ‘Rebellious African People’s Music.’
So how did you start working with El-P? How did that come together?
Originally it was supposed to be me, Flying Lotus, Clams Casino, El-P and through serendipity, I ended up in the studio with El-P first. Now, of course I know El-P from Company Flow, he’s an underground f—in’ legend, makes some of the sickest sci-fi, dark, crazy beats I’d heard, but I’d never thought about us working together in that capacity. Within two days of working with him down in Atlanta, I called Jason DeMarco [of 'Adult Swim' on Cartoon Network] back and was like, “Yo, I need you figure out how we can get him to do my entire record, because it has to be how Ice Cube felt when he walked in the room and the Bomb Squad started playing beats, and I know we can make something special.”
It took me about a month to convince El because he was working on ‘Cancer for Cure,’ which is also a classic record, he’s finishing up the mixing now. I just badgered the s— out of him, basically, and then J started badgering him too and it seemed to work out. I went up to New York for like four, five weeks, and we got that s— knocked out, and the product is ‘R.A.P. Music.’ I feel like Turner [Ted Turner of Turner Broadcasting, which owns 'Adult Swim'] paid me to make a friend. I’ve never been that in sync with one producer, with the exception of my personal guys Smiff & Cash, maybe, but I’ve just never been that in sync with a guy. I felt like he was who I’m supposed to be making music with. So I’m honored not only to be making this music with El, but to have earned what I think is going to be an enduring friendship, and what you’re gonna hear is more dope music out of our collaboration. I think ‘R.A.P. Music’ is the first of many collaborations.
Did you feel like you had to change your style to fit the beats?
No, I felt like my style found its perfect partner. The way I rap over a Lil Jon beat is totally different from the way I rap over a Dre and Big Boi beat. All those beats have been dope. I’ve been able to do dope verses, make classic songs over them, but sitting down with El-P, making this record, I didn’t write it. I wrote three lines per song. Literally, three lines. And I’d just stand in front of a microphone and that s— just poured out of me. That only happens when something is predestined.
Talk about the line “I don’t make dance music, this is ‘R.A.P’/ Opposite of that sucker s— they play on TV,” off of ‘Big Beast.’
You made the record with T.I., who makes dance music, to some degree, and is on TV. It’s sort of a controversial statement.
It is a controversial statement. I also say “I don’t give a f— a motherf—in’ Forbes list.” And my friend [T.I.] is on the Forbes list. But you know, no one blinked an eye. Think about it. There are only eight elite rappers. The guys who are rich and famous, and authentically can rap. T.I.’s one of those people, so of course that statement isn’t to degrade him, it is to degrade the other 15 T.I. wannabes. It is totally to degrade them. Because the 15 T.I. wannabes never did a ‘Jackin’ for Beats’ on their mixtape. The 15 T.I. wannabes, they’ve never had to create their own genre of music, called trap music. They haven’t had to endure any of the rap s—. They just said, “I’m a copy T.I.”
When I say, “This ain’t dance music,” what I specifically mean is rap is not pop. We don’t have, and shouldn’t have, pop sensibilities. I’m not here to make you dance without thinking. Dance has always been a part of rap, but so has thinking, so has advocacy. So has speaking about something more than shaking your ass, and I feel like, even when you look at the 2 Live Crew, the 2 Live Crew were the probably the most politically charged dance group ever. Ever! All their music made you want to do is get drunk, go to Spring Break, meet girls, dance and f—, but they advocated safe sex, they advocated civil liberties to the point where they went to a U.S. Supreme Court in the name of that. My thing is, as a rapper, if you make this bulls— music and candy ass music you make, and you don’t have anything firm to stand on, that absolutely is a diss to you. If you’re like my friend T.I., and you can make hit records and also make records with substance that can carry people through life, and that mean something, that statement is absolutely not for you.
It seems like throughout your career you’ve frequently done things to buck people’s expectations.
Yeah. My greatest pleasure in making ‘PL3DGE,’ I felt like that record’s my magnum opus, and the critics agreed. At the end of the year, Rolling Stone agreed, Spin agreed. My fans agreed. My detractors and haters agreed. What do you do when you finally get an opportunity to be accepted back on radio and video? Normal people go in and make ‘Rick Flair Part II,’ they figure out how to make ‘Burn Part 3.’ I said “F— you, I’m making ‘R.A.P. Music.’” And that’s what I always want to do. I think that that’s something I picked up from Big Boi and Dre, but I don’t have to use their sound to do it. My job is to surprise and shock the audience, to give the audience something they didn’t know they were looking for. That’s my job, and if motherf—ers fawn over ‘R.A.P. Music’ and love it, I’m gonna dig back in with El, and I wanna figure out how to f— their heads up again.
One of your children is into skating. What does he think about the record? Does he respect it?
He does, he’s a retro kid. Malik is into Murs and Slug, he’s into Hiero, he’s into Native Tongues, he’s into early ‘Kast s—. He loves his dad music, he thinks I’m dope. This record f—ed my son up. He knew other people respected me, but had never been where he looked at me and said I can’t believe this is my dad, and that’s what this record gave him. He literally said, “I can’t believe this is my dad. I’ve never heard anything like this. Damn dad, how did you come up with this?” So I respect his musical taste a bunch, he and his younger brother. Malik is 17, Pony Boy [is] 10. Pony loves music. They both do. Pony’s not a retro kid, he’s a right now kid. He’s into Future, he’s into Tity [2 Chainz]. He like dad’s records, he loved ‘PL3DGE,’ he’s crazy about ‘Rick Flair.’ For a weekend, Pony and I sat around playing video games, listening to ‘R.A.P. Music.’ By the time I took him home at the end of the weekend, the kid rapped the whole album bar for bar. His favorite line is ‘Respect my words like a Rabbi’ [laughs]. He literally went around tellin’ his friends that. It means the world to me that my children are enamored by my art.
Speaking of family, your father was a police officer.
Yeah, my dad was APD [Atlanta Police Department].
Coming from an Ice Cube, Scarface, Public Enemy-listening background, what was your relationship like?
My dad is 50 percent of the reason I am who I am. My dad was a cop — my dad wasn’t a sucker. My dad is a fair-skinned black guy with curly hair, who probably could have got away with all the privilege he wanted to. He’s told me from the time I was a child, “If these were the slave days son, I’d be right there in the field next to you.” My son asked my dad once, “Why’d you become a cop?” He said, “Because when you’re 19 years old, you have children, if someone offers you a salary to carry a badge and a gun, you’re gonna take it. If they asked me to do it again, I’d do it all over again.” So, my dad was a police officer. He was a respectable, upstanding and decent police officer, but what he was not was a government robot. He was not about the oppression of the people. My dad was not about that. You know, his best friend and sister figure, his aunt was a panther at the same time he was a cop. I spent my nights with her, she indoctrinated me with that talk, understanding my bigger responsibility in my community. So my father has as much to do with the Killer Mike that you have before you as my mom, who is an independent business owner and hustler. I am the result of these two people.
When you were a teenager, hustling yourself, was that difficult?
Nah, because I wasn’t stupid. My dad never got any phone calls to pick me up from juvenile [detention]. I never been to jail in my life. I’m not saying I’m such a smart ass, I think my grandmother’s prayers and my dad’s common sense helped me. My dad told me, “Son, if you see the policemen driving north, you need to turn ya ass around and walk south.” I never wanted my father to be disrespected. I never wanted to be picked up by an acquaintance of his. I’ve met men who graduated the police academy with my dad, I’ve met people who served with my father and there’s never been a disrespectful instance. My grandparents raised me, ’cause my parents were so young when they had me. I’m never going to embarrass or shame my family. I’m never gonna do that. That never was a problem or conflict with me. I went to school, and when I was getting A’s and B’s, if someone in school needed to pick up a quarter ounce [of weed], I’d call my uncle, my dad’s younger brother, and I’d tell ‘em meet me after school, go to the MARTA station, meet the dude, get the money, dip. But I was not gonna be standing in no trap like no dumb ass n—-, getting picked up by the motherf—in’ Red Dogs and beat up and s—. I wasn’t gonna do that.
Killer Mike’s ‘R.A.P. Music’ is in stores May 15.