Speaking to Atlanta, Georgia’s Killer Mike is absolutely a pleasure, but it’s also a little mind-blowing. As one of hip-hop’s most diligent and gifted storytellers, he doesn’t waste thoughts or words, as evident on his stellar new album, R.A.P. Music. The points he makes about his work are sincere and revelatory. He just left Toronto in tatters after buzzed-about performances at NXNE in June, and he and his close collaborator El-P (along with Despot and Mr. Muthaf--kin eXquire) are returning to Canada for shows at the Hoxton in Toronto on July 9 and Ritual in Ottawa on July 10.
In case Toronto’s wondering, Killer Mike is still flying high from his last time here. “I did the Wrong Bar to like 2 or 3,000, it felt like, and that was absolutely crazy,” he exclaims. “And then I did the [Yonge and Dundas] Square and it was overwhelming. The amount of kids that were there, the amount of energy I received – it was everything a rap concert is supposed to be, thanks to Toronto.”
A lot of the devotion he felt here stems from an appreciation for R.A.P. Music, the boldest statement yet from Killer Mike. The title seems brash but even more so when the acronym is uncovered as “Rebellious African People.”
“It’s a little tongue in cheek in that everybody’s African because life started there,” he says in a matter of fact way. “Specifically in terms of North America, black people were brought here in bondage for the most part. Since they’ve been here, one of their most effective weapons to fight against oppression has been music. In the United States, it’s been wailing, gospel, soul, funk, jazz and rap. So R.A.P. Music is less about hip-hop and more about the total collective music experience since we’ve been here and all the music that has served as just carriers in times of suffrage here.”
Having said that, Killer Mike allows that part of his rationale for naming his record had something to do with owning the music he holds so dear. And it’s not just bravado; he’s standing up for the genre and how it is, and should be, regarded.
“Rap music is equally as important as any of the music I just named. As long as you still have the vanguards of black music thinking, because we don’t recognize A-sharps from B-flats that somehow we aren’t important to a musical legacy, it’s crazy. If music was all about notes and instrumentation, the lyrics of Curtis Mayfield, B.B. King and Aretha Franklin wouldn’t matter. So, simply by that virtue, I think you have a group of kids that were robbed of an opportunity to play music, using their voices and the technology that was in front of them to make music in spite of it, that makes us part of that rich musical experience that Africans have had in the Americas.”
If Killer Mike is prone to grand gestures, he’s found the perfect person to back it all up in Brooklyn’s hip-hop renaissance man El-P, a prolific MC and producer whose own Cancer 4 Cure will rank high as one of the best records of the year.
“I don’t think I had the musical soulmate that I have in El-P before, so it’s easier to translate now but I’ve always been an artist from day one,” Killer Mike says, pondering why he and El-P work so well together. “I think we’re both dope, we became friends and we have a lot of the same ideas and thoughts around music. And the differences that we have, when put together, make for interesting sounds. We make records like we’re 16 years old, trying to impress other people like us.”
There are loftier muses in Killer Mike’s world than teenagers, though. On new songs like “Jojo’s Chillin,” he centres himself as a world-class storyteller, bringing characters and scenarios to life with an uncommon command of rap and plotlines. In his quest to match up to the pedigrees of his heroes, he actually inserts two of them – Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Ghostface Killah – into “Jojo’s Chillin.”
“I look at MCs and rappers as members of a fraternity and these are the guys that I looked up to and made me want to be in the fraternity,” he says. “We always get the rap with the street hustler aesthetic – the man, ‘I’m Scarface’ – but we never get the story of Scarface and Manny, y’know, the man and his best friend, and they provided that in a wonderful way. That was just inspiring to me and my homies. Their stories were so vivid and so full of comedy and candour that I regard them as storytellers. You’re talking about Slick Rick, Ghost and Rae, Biggie, me – a select group of people who can bring you into a story like that.”
If fans get hung up on the action in a familiar way, it’s because there’s literally a cinematic undertone to how Killer Mike delivers such songs. Rae and Ghost appear as characters in the wild story of Jojo.
“Using them was mildly about my obsession with them and the Wu-Tang Clan and my addiction to Quentin Tarantino screenplays and movies,” Killer Mike says proudly. “True Romance was a movie that I loved and Christian Slater’s character saw Elvis as a hallucination. That’s’ what Jojo was seeing Ghost as: as an apparition. I just thought it was a dope way to … with every story, I try to tell a primary, secondary and tertiary story on a few different levels. So that was one of the tertiary things that I wanted people to catch the more they listened to the record and have to question if Ghost was really there or just a figment of his imagination. So, it’s part of my Wu-Tang obsession and part of my desire to make more layered and detailed stories.”
If you can keep up with Killer Mike, you’ve got stamina; outside of touring R.A.P. Music for the rest of the year, he’s already plotting a joint collab with El-P, a sequel to Pl3dge (Pledge 4, no doubt), and a followup to R.A.P. Music. “Yeah, yeah,” he chuckles, “I got plans that are making plans!”
Hear this entire interview with Killer Mike over here.
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on Jul 06, 2012