Killer Mike: The Lost Interview (2008) — "I’m a Hell of a Rapper in an Age When That Means Nothing"

"But what I have is the unique ability to connect with people..."
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In honor of our 15-year anniversary this month, DJBooth will be publishing a series of "lost" interviews from 2006 through 2011, including Kanye West, J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, LL Cool J, Kid Cudi, Clipse and more.

Killer Mike is currently under fire for both granting an interview to NRATV and for comments that he made during the interview, promoting black gun ownership. The interview aired on Saturday afternoon, while March For Our Lives, a youth-organized rally for gun control, was taking place in Washington, D.C. and in major cities all across the globe.

Mike has subsequently issued an apology for the interview, shouldering the blame for NRATV "weaponizing" his interview by choosing to air it on the same day as March For Our Lives. 

For Mike, taking ownership over his mistakes hasn't always come easily, but as he told me nearly 10 years ago, the more we accept acts of "foolish male pride," the easier it becomes to accept our failures and begin the process of growth.

On July 1, 2008, a week before the release of his third studio album, I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II, I sat down for an interview with Mike. Over 90 minutes, we talked about his departure from Big Boi's now-defunct Purple Ribbon label, the public fallout that ensued, the value of remaining independent over signing with another major label, Atlanta becoming "bullshit black Hollywood," and the difference between fans and supporters.

Mike was candid, completely transparent, and honest to a fault—just as he has always been. The more things changes, the more they stay the same.

Our interview, edited for content, clarity, and length, follows.

DJBooth: Last we spoke, in 2005, you were promoting the Purple Ribbon compilation album, Got Purp? Volume 2. It’s been a while.

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

Explain your decision to go indie. What happened?

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 [my label] 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.

Has the split brought you satisfaction?

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 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.

Are you disappointed that your relationship with Big Boi got ugly publicly and didn’t stay private, behind closed doors?

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 CeeLo Green, who was able to come [from] one of the greatest rap groups of the '90s, 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. 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 easier 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.”

Five years from now, do you see yourself and Big Boi once again on good terms, collaborating together musically?

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 Pledge Allegiance Part III. But ultimately, whether [Big Boi] 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.

You’ve been signed to a major and you’ve been independent, so you've seen how both sides operate. Would you ever jump at another major-label opportunity if the situation presented itself?

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. Unless he sells over three million records, [he] 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 [label], 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.

On "2 Sides," you call out everyone who claims to rep their city but does not. Is there anyone in particular who you were talking about when you wrote the record?

Yeah, anybody who feels funny when they hear it. If it makes you feel funny, then you know I’m talkin’ about you.

Have you received a response from anyone?

And I better not.

Have you spoken with other Atlanta artists who feel the same way?

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.

Atlanta doesn't feel like Georgia anymore?

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 were able to come, put their roots in, and get money, and build wealth, legally and illegally, for over 30 years. So I’m not gonna let my city be reduced to a f*ckin’ photo op in a picture book on atlparties.com or some bullsh*t like that. It’s bigger than that.

You recently penned an article entitled "Killer Mike’s Guide to the Grind" and 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.” Would you have taken your own advice when you were 18?

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.

Did you graduate?

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 weed through college, graduated college, and still would’ve ended up, theoretically, in my mind, with a record deal a couple of years later.

Step four of your guide says, “Connect with Your Audience.” You wrote that the key is to build a lasting relationship. You’ve been in the hip-hop for almost a decade now—how have you built this long-lasting relationship with all of your fans?

I don’t have a six-pack. I am not 195 pounds. I am six foot three and dark. I can’t sing. I’m a hell of a rapper in an age when that means nothing [laughs]. 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. Why am I ever going to treat you like anything other than the most valuable commodity I have?

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