Killer Mike Interview

Killer Mike
Artist:Killer Mike
Next Project:I Pledge Allegiance to The Grind II (July 8)
Twitter:Killer Mike on Twitter
Website:Killer Mike's Website

While many major label artists are coming up short on their expected sales marks, several established and knowledgeable independent artists are doing just fine and dandy.  Take veteran rapper Killer Mike, for example; after parting ways with Big Boi’s Purple Ribbon imprint, Mike started his own record company, Grind Time Official.

Set up with promotions and marketing through SMC Recordings and distribution via Universal-owned, Fontana, Mike and his label have the opportunity to reach the masses and earn plenty of moola.  In fact, the Atlanta native only needs to sell a quarter-million copies of his new album, “I Pledge Allegiance to The Grind II,” in order to match what a major label artist would earn selling three million.

In an exclusive interview with DJBooth’s DJZ,” Killer Mike steps inside the booth to talk about his public divorce from Big Boi, the ability to grind successfully on an independent level, the upset caused by Atlanta’s “Black Hollywood” makeover, and why he is thankful for both going to college and selling drugs.

Listen to the Interview

    Download Download Interview (MP3)
    iTunes Subscribe to the iTunes Podcast

Killer Mike Interview Transcription

DJ Booth:  What’s goin’ on, everybody?  It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a man who will be pledging allegiance to the grind for the second time this July.  Please welcome Killer Mike – how you doin’?

Killer Mike:  What’s up, man?

DJ Booth:  Man, good to have you back on the phone with me, ‘cause last we spoke, you were doing promotions for the Purple Ribbon compilation album, Got Purp? Volume 2, so you know it’s been a while.

Killer Mike:  Yeah, [definitely]... you waited two, two and a half years.

DJ Booth:  Two and a half years, that’s absolutely correct.

Killer Mike:  I’ve been in purgatory two and a half years.  Let me just tell you: it ain’t been nothing nice.

DJ Booth:  Mike, since then, you parted ways with Purple Ribbon, you started your own label, Grind Time Official.  We have a three-part question to kick off the interview.  Part one: explain the decision to go indie, and basically where you’re at right now.

Killer Mike:  You know, sometimes if you and another person, both have a big dream, if y’all standin’ in the same room, [there’s] only room for one dream.  And that’s kinda what happened with me and Big Boi.  Purple Ribbon was his dream, and he wanted to see his dream run his way, and I had respectfully bow out of the situation, so that he could bring his dream fully to fruition, and I could step away and make Grind Time all I wanted it to be.  The more I tried to make Grind Time something under Purple Ribbon, the more uncomfortable I think it made Big Boi, so I think it was best that we [became] friendly competitors, rather than unfriendly labelmates or boss and employee.

DJ Booth:  Are you satisfied, Mike, with how things have gone thus far since you have gone Grind Time Official all the way?

Killer Mike:  I don’t think I’m ever satisfied.  I can say I’ve had more moments of happiness, because, when you do things your way, even when you have to starve a few days because you make a mistake in the decision-making process, even when you say, “Damn, maybe I shoulda did certain things,” this way, you value those lessons more ‘cause you learn from ‘em.  I remember talkin’ to Tip – he, I and Block were talkin’ – and at that time, Tip was really beginning to get that success, Block was kinda coming into his own with the Bad Boy situation.  I stayed quiet for most of the conversation [as they] just talked and bounced stuff off each other, but the most amazing thing about the conversation was they didn’t sit there and try to one-up each other with successes like I’ve heard a lot of people do; they sat around and talked about some of the mistakes they’d made that cost them a quarter million records here, five hundred records there.  I learned that a lot of times, bein’ a boss, what satisfies you most is not necessarily the big wins, but the little lessons you learn, that you apply to make the big wins.

DJ Booth:  A lot of artists, they tell me that they know how this industry works – they have no clue!  Final part of the first question: is there any feeling of disappointment that your relationship with Big Boi got ugly publicly and didn’t stay private, behind closed doors?

Killer Mike:  Oh yeah, yeah yeah.  I’m disappointed [and] very embarrassed.  I don’t think it’s been a long-lasting tarnish, but I think, for that moment in time, it tarnished the legacy of the Dungeon Family.  The Dungeon Family has a very positive and progressive legacy; you look at artists like Cee-Lo Green, who was able to come [from] one of the greatest rap groups of the nineties, and come out of that and become one of the greatest – and still maintain the same substance, if not more – duos in the new millennium, with Gnarls Barkley.  If you look at the growth that Big and Dre took [Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik] and, sh*t, you know, eight, ten years later they took it to outer space. that legacy was definitely tarnished by our petty rap misunderstanding – I can’t even call it a beef.  I’m embarrassed for my part, and I don’t think I’ll ever engage in that type of public display of bullsh*t again.  It used to be hard for me to say that, because of my foolish male pride, but it’s become easier; the more I say it, the more easy it becomes.  Because I think as a man, a lot of times, we make f*ck-ups, and we could be better people if we were just willing to say, “Well, damn, I f*cked up.  I won’t do that again.”

DJ Booth:  You’re right about that.  Five years down the line, do you see yourself and Big Boi once again on good terms, collaborating together musically?

Killer Mike:  I tried to collaborate with Big Boi on this record.  I sent him a record, and I basically got bullsh*tted around for a few months, waitin’ on him to do a verse that he never did.  Dre, though, did agree to do a verse, and that verse will be on my Pledge Allegiance Part III.  But ultimately, whether he ever does another song with me or not is of no consequence, ‘cause I got a mission; you know, I was put here to be the rapper I’m supposed to be, and I can’t sit around and wait for anyone else’s approval ever again in my life.

DJ Booth:  Mike, you’ve been signed to the major, you’ve done the independent thing now – if you see success on I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind Part II and any other releases you have [of] the same stature, would you jump at a major-label opportunity if it presented itself?

Killer Mike:  I’d jump at any major-label opportunity, in which the business was too great to jump away from.  And what I mean by that is, I want everybody to think about whoever their favorite rapper is – your favorite rapper, unless he sells over three million records, will not make as much money as me if I sell a quarter million records.  Your favorite rapper will never own the records that he’s rappin’ on; I own my masters.  And I’ve never said that before in an interview, but I sat down and had a talk with myself, when I was landin’ in Atlanta from LA a few days ago, and I had to realize that, even though I’m on an independent, even though my reach might not be as far as it was, even though all these slights that I see in terms of actual power and positioning, I’m in a more powerful position.  So what I mean is, if and when [a major does] come to me, then I’m gonna have to retain some power.  If it’s a situation where they’re tryin’ to make me into a flunky artist again, then I’ll be independent the rest of my career.

DJ Booth:  Let’s move on to the album.  On the lead single, 2 Sides, you call out everyone who claims to rep their city but does not.  Mike, everyone knows that the guest artist on the song, Shawty Lo, has a public beef with T.I. over representation of Bankhead, but is there anyone in particular who you were aiming at when you wrote that song?

Killer Mike:  Yeah, anybody who feels funny when they hear it; if it makes you feel funny, then you know I’m talkin’ about you.

DJ Booth:  Have you gotten a response?

Killer Mike:  And I better not.

DJ Booth:  This might be a silly question, and this is comin’ from a guy who grew up in the burbs myself: as long as you remain loyal to your hood, why be concerned over those who choose not to?  ‘Cause they’re looking stupid anyways, right?

Killer Mike:  Yeah, but this isn’t about a petty rap, hood beef.  When I say there must be two sides, Atlanta has a rich history – don’t reduce my city to black Hollywood.  Hollywood is a place where people who weren’t happy go to be people they never were.  Hollywood is a place where people come who don’t want to be who they really are, so they act, so they dance, so they sing.  And there’s nothing wrong with that – that’s a grand dream – but that’s not Atlanta; Atlanta is a place of culture, of substance, of good, and of hood, and I love my city for that.  It’s a diverse black city economically, culturally, and I refuse to let my city be reduced to a place where you come piss, party, and bullsh*t.

DJ Booth:  Have you spoken with other Atlanta artists who you’re close with , who feel the same way and are just as frustrated about the image that has been portrayed of the place where you grew up and have become successful?

Killer Mike:  Yeah, almost every Atlanta artist feels that way – almost every real Atlanta artist.  And we gotta be happy and content bein’ Atlanta.  You got people comin’ up from rural places in Georgia every day – Augusta, Savannah, Macon, Valdosta, Rome, Georgia – they wanna be a part of Atlanta.  They didn’t get to this city to try to be f*ckin’ black Hollywood or the new New York; they came to Atlanta to be in the capital of Georgia, so Atlanta is still supposed to feel like Georgia.

DJ Booth:  Do you think, right now, it feels like Georgia?

Killer Mike:  No.  It feels like, like I said, like some bullsh*t black Hollywood.  And when I say “black Hollywood,” I don’t mean the glamour that you watch on the Oscars, I mean watchin’ them f*ckin’ white girls spill outta the club, drunk over [themselves], Mercedes drivin’ over paparazzi.  I mean coked-out f*ckin’ dudes dyin’ in clubs and sh*t – that ain’t what my city’s about!  My city’s not a brothel; we’re bigger and better than that.  This is a major player town, this is a town where blacks been able to come, put their roots in, and get money, and build wealth, legally and illegally, for over thirty years.  So I’m not gonna let my city be reduced to a f*ckin’ photo op in a picture book on or some bullsh*t like that.  It’s bigger than that.

DJ Booth:  Mike, I was surfin’ the Internet, and I found an article you wrote entitled Killer Mike’s Guide to the Grind.  In your opening paragraph, you wrote, “So you want to get into the game?  Quit while you’re ahead and go to college!  That’s the advice I’d give to anybody starting out right now.”  If you could do it all over, do you think you would follow that exact advice?

Killer Mike:  Fifty percent of the reason I got a record deal is because I sold dope.  Fifty percent of the reason I got a record deal is because I went to Morehouse University.  If I would never have sold dope, I would never have bought studio time, and made the music that Big Boi’s brother bought.  I never would’ve met Big Boi had I never decided to go to Morehouse College, because a teacher told me I’d never make it into that college.  I only wanted to go to prove that teacher wrong.

DJ Booth:  Did you graduate?

Killer Mike:  No, and that’s why I say I would’ve followed my advice: I would’ve stayed and graduated.  I didn’t have to go back to selling coke; I could’ve stayed in college, only sold a weed through college, graduated college, and still would’ve ended up, theoretically, in my mind, with a record deal a couple of years later.

DJ Booth:  Mike, step four of the guide, which is clearly more important now than ever, is, “Connect with Your Audience.”  You wrote that the key is to build a lasting relationship.  You’ve been in the mainstream for almost a decade now – how have you built this long-lasting relationship with all of your fans?

Killer Mike:  I don’t have a six-pack, I am not 195 pounds.  I am six foot three and dark though, ladies.  I can’t sing, I’m a hell of a rapper in an age when that means nothing… [laughter]

DJ Booth:  Too bad…

Killer Mike:  But what I have is the unique ability to connect with people, ‘cause I don’t see people as customers; I see people as supporters.  I realize, if you only make nine bucks an hour, you have to work for two hours to buy an hour and twenty minutes of music from me.  So in order for you to buy eighty minutes of music, you give up 120 minutes of my life.  Why am I ever going to treat you like anything other than the most valuable commodity I have?

DJ Booth:  Mm-hm, agreed.  Give everybody a MySpace or an Email, something where they can find out more about what you got goin’ on?  Of course, the new album in stores July 8th.

Killer Mike:  The album’s in stores July 8th, if you wanna holla at me hit me on, if you wanna holla at me on the back line, about beats or whatever,  I’m really available, I’m really here.  And, if you in Atlanta, sh*t, I’m in the streets every day!  Well, not the days that it’s a hundred and five… [laughter] But I’m in the streets every day and night!

DJ Booth:  Mike, obviously you’ve made yourself available to jump inside the DJ Booth with me, and I greatly appreciate it.  I wish you sincerely nothing but the best of luck on the upcoming project, and, of course, the rest of your bright future in the recording industry.

Killer Mike:  Thank you, Z.

Best of DJBooth