KRS-One changed my life. I was 18 and working at a bookstore when my boy Ryan handed me a copy of Ruminations. It blew my fucking mind. In subsequent years, I studied and became well acquainted with The Teacha and his place within hip-hop.
KRS-One is the reason I began to take hip-hop seriously, not just as knuckle-biting punchlines over dope beats, but as the hyper-influential social movement it is. This guy wasn't just a rapper, he was a legitimate philosopher; someone willing to do anything for the culture that continued to provide a voice to its most disenchanted tenants, and an audience for the best of its braggarts.
To many heads, KRS-One has served as an unspoken leader for the hip-hop culture, and for good reason. In the late 80s, KRS was inspired by the death of Scott La Rock to start the Stop The Violence movement with the help of some of the biggest names on the east coast at the time. He was instrumental in identifying and preserving hip-hop culture, most notably with the creation of the Temple of Hip Hop, and he’s gone so far as to recognize hip-hop not as just a culture, but as a religion with another of his books, The Gospel Of Hip Hop. KRS’ ability to inspire change is indisputable, but inevitably his relevance and influence - for better or worse - have failed to keep up with a sprawling culture that is capable of housing the music and ideologies of both Lil Yachty and Joey Bada$$.
While The Blastmaster has spent the last few years relatively quiet (aside from some extremely cringeworthy comments in regards to the Afrika Bambaataa scandal), an unlikely hero has emerged from the depths of the South as a level-headed, action-taking spokesman and leader for the culture: Killer Mike.
Forget for a second Mike's musical track record, and the fact that Run The Jewels is an anomaly of anomalies when it comes to hip-hop duos reaching mainstream success and notability. Michael Render is a man of conviction and action. During a time when everyone is seemingly divided on everything, Killer Mike is Morpheus - smoking a joint in the middle of the Matrix yelling, "What the fuck happened to actual freedom?"
As Black men are being killed by police at a rate that leaves us equal parts enraged and despondent, and pillars of society are still controlled by a select few in a never-ending quest for the ultimate profit margin, hip-hop, the most influential social force to be unleashed on the planet in the last 50 years, has remained underutilized without a unified front or a relatable figure to rally the troops. As communities like Ferguson, Baltimore, Dallas and countless others face the atrocities of unchecked racial disparity head-on among a divided and largely lethargic United States, Killer Mike's name has consistently shown up as a central figure in our culture walking the proverbial walk. Whether it's appearing on CNN or Fox to discuss police killings, interviewing Bernie Sanders, or starting economic movements on Instagram, everything Mike does is done with not only tact, humility, and a healthy sense of humor, but also an unflinching emphasis on personal freedom.
In his song "Telegram," Saul Williams wrote, "The master of ceremonies have forgotten that they were once slaves, and have neglected the occasion of this ceremony." Pioneers like KRS-One, Public Enemy and others left us with a blueprint, while artists like Kendrick Lamar and Lupe Fiasco keep these pressing issues fresh on our minds. But there's an untapped power within this beautiful thing we call hip-hop, and who better than Killer Mike to act as shepherd? Hip-hop isn't a perfect culture, and Killer Mike isn't a perfect leader (his stage name is Killer Mike), but this world is far from perfect, and if only we had more like him around to talk some sense into the youth, we could take a step back from the bullshit and a giant step towards a unified future.
The question is: who's down to ride?
By Brent Bradley. Send him all the Rick & Morty GIFs on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Garrett Clare