(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway?
- killer mike
I didn’t want to come, and I don’t want to be here. I’m the son of an Atlanta City police officer. My cousin is an Atlanta City police officer. And my other cousin is an East Point police officer. And I got a lot of love and respect for police officers.
You might remember Michael Render, or Killer Mike, from a speech that went viral four days after George Floyd’s death. Protests in Atlanta were escalating, and so was the damage and violence. The mayor needed help turning the temperature down.
- killer mike
It is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house, so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization. And now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize. It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth. It is time to hold mayoral offices accountable, chiefs and deputy chiefs. Atlanta is not perfect, but we are a lot better than we ever were, and we are a lot better than cities are. I’m mad as hell. I woke up wanting to see the world burn down yesterday because I’m tired of seeing Black men die.
That impromptu eight minute speech wasn’t the first time Killer Mike made waves. He got his start in music and quickly broke out on OutKast’s Grammy-winning “The Whole World” in 2001.
- killer mike
Player, I grind. My focus is crime. Raw with the rhyme, I’m slick with the slime. My words are diamonds dug out of a mine. Spit ‘em, polish, look how they shine.
Now he’s one half of the critically acclaimed duo Run the Jewels, which The Times called “the most politically timely hip-hop act of the day.”
- killer mike
This just a chore not to make myself go insane. It’s crippling, make you wanna lean on a cup of promethazin, but my queen say she need a king, not another junkie, flunky rapper fiend.
Killer Mike’s lyrics have nuance, just like him. He’s a famous rapper. He’s also an activist, a family man, an enthusiastic gun owner and, a serial entrepreneur. He’s even opening a bank. Borrowing from Walt Whitman, he is large, he contains multitudes, and he happily contradicts himself. Killer Mike is a capitalist who backed Bernie Sanders’ socialist campaign. And after he endorsed Stacey Abrams in her run for Georgia Governor, Killer Mike welcomed the Republican Brian Kemp, who many say stole her seat, to get a haircut and a photo op at his barber shop. These days, it feels like everyone is forced to pick sides and stick to rigidly drawn lanes, but not Killer Mike, which is why I wanted to talk to him. Well, that and our mutual love of X-Men.
OK, let’s start off. I want to tell you my favorite quote of all the quotes you’ve said is about “X-Men,” which is one of my favorite movie series, one of my favorite comics. And you say, “You may start off with Professor X, but Magneto got a [expletive] point.” Can you explain what you mean by that? Because I thought that was —
That is not the quote I expected you to pull.
Oh, all right. OK.
I’m glad you did, just because I was introduced to the “X-Men” by my dad, and the “X-Men,” much like “Planet of the Apes,” gave me a sense of racial and class disparities in the context of a comic book character, so it didn’t feel real world and white versus black. And what I meant by that quote is, we all want harmony and peace and for people to understand and for goodwill, and the hope that if I show you, for lack of a better word, I’m more human than not, even though I’m a mutant, you’ll have to have sympathy, compassion, and morality. Where because of Magneto’s past, he had to understand that humans are much like our cousins, the chimps, were capable of being very awful for reasons that are unknown.
Well, it’s interesting, because he’s seen as a villain, but he’s really not.
And that’s what it is. His background is Holocaust, and he was experimented on.
Magneto was, and of course, that’s where he found his powers.
Yes, so as I got older, I began to understand and sympathize and empathize with Magneto’s side, more even though as a kid, I was very enthralled by Professor X and his ambitions. I had to understand that in the real world, the brutal reality is that oftentimes the people who have been victimized have to be more aggressive in not being victimized.
And initially you would think you’re against him, but you’re right. Every time he made one of those speeches, I’m like, he’s got a point.
He has a point.
These humans have to go. You know what I mean?
[LAUGHTER] This is a very true thing. You know, I think what comics provide is the amazing opportunity for us to take our personal teams out of it and to really see the character of human behavior.
You know, to me, they’re as worthy as any Shakespearean play and —
— a lot of holy books, because you get that lessons of morality, and you get it at such a young age that it’s impossible to unthink it or unlearn it. So I see you’re a reader, too.
Yes, I am. But you also mentioned “Planet of the Apes,” which is one of my favorite series, all of them. I’ve seen all of them 26 times. And you know, it’s same thing with Dr. Zaius, when he’s saying at the end, be careful over what you find. Even though he’s the villain, he’s right. The destruction of the planet by humans created the situation that created “Planet of the Apes,” even though they were brutal and awful. So it’s an interesting way to think of the world, and it made me think a lot about power, like what is power? And so one of the things you do when you talk about politics is, you’re right on the edge of THAT and yet you always return to the positive.
Well, I have to.
Otherwise, I’m Magneto.
And I mean that quite in the literal. We have the ability to burn this whole thing down tomorrow. And when I say “we“, I mean people. People could — war could end tomorrow. Every 18-year-old boy across the globe could not agree, and we could send the leaders of our nations to fight gladiator-style in coliseums. And I guarantee you, the oligarchs would end war tomorrow, right? Because it’s their blood on the line then. It’s not the blood of poor children —
— on the line. We as a collective have not been organized enough or have not done so. So I have to think from the positive, what is the best way that I contribute to the protracted struggle of being someone who pushes people to questions, the whys, so that they come to the enlightenment of there is a need for an end to war. So I find myself aspiring to be Charles Xavier, and in helping people understand the power that they have and controlling that power versus burning the whole thing to the ground, because the instinct is always to burn it to the ground.
All right, well, let’s get into your music, then. Because you broke out, you know, as a performer on OutKast.
But the album that put you on the map was the 2012 album “R.A.P. Music,” which was less commercial, much more political. There’s a song about Ronald Reagan and Iran-Contra, which I remember very well, because I’m super old.
- killer mike
The end of the Reagan era, I’m like eleven or twelve, old enough to understand the [expletive] that changed forever. They declared the war on drugs, like a war on terror. What they really did was let the police terrorize whoever. And they would take our drugs and money as they pick our pockets.
Talk to me about this shift in the music.
Well, rap music was an acronym for “rebellious African people’s” music. So you didn’t have to be Black or African, but it was from, of course, someone who’s a descendant of African, but it was people’s music. In much the same way people interpret that as Black Power, but that’s all power to the people, to the proletariat. So that record was— I had other political records from my very first record on Columbia Records. I had moments from “God in the Building” to “Put the Pressure On” featuring Ice Cube, but that record was a consorted effort to put all of that in one place without the influence of a bigger company saying, “but you need a dance song. You don’t have a crunk song or a trap song.”
- killer mike
Real bad guy [expletive], living like a villain, never chilling. Yeah, I’m a public enemy because I go rampant, and I don’t give a [expletive] about a party in the Hamptons. And no one gives a [expletive] about a [expletive] Forbes list.
It was just Michael Render pouring his experiences with the help of one producer who later became my rap partner, El-P, and it was put together in the imagination of Jason DeMarco. Jason DeMarco gave me an opportunity to producer and do a record at Williams Street Records, and the only requirement that we had was, you gotta call yourself Killer Mike as you were, not the Mike Bigga moniker, because we don’t care about you being safe. And I want you to make your version of Ice Cube’s “America’s Most Wanted.” And I got a chance to do that. And I think that record took off for me because it was the first time as an artist the audience got to see me in total.
Who I was. And that’s me with all the nuances of someone who is politically sophisticated enough to make a Ronald Reagan, and yet Southern and ratchet enough to praise his wife on a club about strip clubs. You know what I’m saying?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course you go with your wife to a strip club.
Yeah, I do. There’s no other way to go.
Who else would you go to a stripe club with? I’m not gonna tell this story, but I go to a strip club to meet internet people. And they’re always like, “don’t tell my wife.” I’m like, “why don’t you bring your wife?”
OK, we’re off on a strip club thing. I wanna get back to your music. So you’ve called your music the soundtrack to progress, but on your latest album, “RTJ4,” let’s play a section from “Walking in the Snow.”
- killer mike
And usually the lowest scores the poorest, and they look like me. And every day on the evening news, they feed you fear for free. And you so numb, you watch the cops choke out a man like me until my voice goes from a shrink to whisper, “I can breathe.”
This is about Eric Garner, who died after he was put into a police chokehold six years ago, but the same words could apply to the police killing of George Floyd.
Talk a little bit about that.
Well, I can’t I can’t talk about that without acknowledging not only Eric but Erica Garner. And I get chills talking about her, because she was his daughter. She kept his legacy and the legacy of justice alive. And she died of what they call a heart attack. It’s a broken heart. She was an amazing, an amazing woman. And one day when the battle between citizens and the police ends and police are better regulated and citizens feel safe and not overseen, she will be one of the bricks in the foundation that caused that to happen. So of course I wrote that, and references Eric, so he’s not forgotten. It ends up being applicable to Floyd. But I bring it straight to your next door to say, this is a human being that’s being affected. So not only are children in cages and stuff, and there’s murder porn that you’re watching on the television, now it is to the point where I am here in your living room. You’re watching me as the police murder me. And that is simply meant to put the gravity of what we see in the theater of music, so that you can listen to it and absorb it. We know that it is easier for the police to kill someone who looks like me in this country. And that is a terrible thing for us to allow, because if we believe in what the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution has promised us, and if we understand that the history of policing growing out of slave catching and things of that nature, then we should be compelled as Americans with a higher ideal to change that relationship.
So why is that — you know, you could have written those lyrics now.
So what is progress to you? Is there actually progress? Because you talk about the soundtrack of progress.
Yeah, it’s a protracted struggle. There is progress. You know, Eugene Debs ran for president from prison in the early 1900s. Bernie Sanders actually stood a shot four years ago and a few months ago. It’s 100 years of progress, unfortunately, that it took, but that is progress.
But when you’re writing a lyric that then just continues to be accurate —
— year after year after year, how does that feel?
Well, it’s hurtful. But I mean, it was true in my grandfather’s time. But you get to feel like this is the way it is because it is.
Not the way it should be, not the way it has to be. But I would argue that part of that is less about how I feel, because you’re gonna feel [expletive] as a woman, if you keep getting [expletive] on. And we know that the protracted struggle of women’s suffrage, women’s rights, and now equal rights and beyond, we know that that’s been over 100 years. There was a time the abolitionist movement was married with the women’s suffrage movement, and it split.
And much of us know why. So we could have faster progress if we all attacked our common masters together and said, “I’m not going to accept this unless everyone gets this.” But we don’t. What are we not doing to progress us faster? Because we don’t have to stay here.
One of the things you said in this lyric is, “every day in the evening news, they feed you fear for free.” That’s a real condemnation of the media.
Well, we do. We have a want.
What am I wanting? Why do I keep going to the bloodiest of headlines? Why don’t I read two different newspapers for two different perspectives? Why do I simply find something that makes me comfortable in my opinion and belief and lean into that? And why am I not demanding better news stories of my media? We seem to enjoy watching or talking about or discussing the worst more than we do the better.
Except that these videos did create protests. It did lead to shock and horror.
A lot of social media, actually, is where that happened. So how do you balance the two? Because you’ve got to see these things.
Well, that’s not — yeah, the opening of Emmett Till’s casket is a version of that.
That’s not what I’m protesting. What I’m protesting is the 363 days where they show you Black men as evil, villainous creatures that make half of your work office that day say, “well, he should have just complied.” That’s the “feed you fear for free.” That’s the fear. The act of seeing someone die on camera is a brutal act to see, right? But it is a necessary act, just like the pictures of lynchings were necessary, just like the opening of Emmett Till’s coffin. But the fear that I’m talking about you’re being fed for free is the fear that white people are fed to be afraid of everything non-white, non-Western, and non-American.
And that fear — and I’m not saying this in condemnation or judgment, but scared white people scare me. Because violence come soon after. You know, when those women pick up their phones and say, “I’m gonna call the cops on you“, they’re using the power and privilege of being a white woman in that moment in a park, and the power of the state will be used to potentially murder you.
Let’s about that. So you grew up in the West side of Atlanta, a city you call a fortress for Black America. Let’s talk a little bit about police and the city itself, because you went viral in a very powerful speech recently with protests breaking out there over George Floyd. Rioters were vandalizing part of the city. There were peaceful protests going on. And you stood up, and you appealed for calm.
I was mad. I didn’t wanna be there. Yeah, my friend made me come. You know, TI is a very dear friend of mine. He’s a business partner.
And we are from the same neighborhood. We have a business called Bankhead Seafood, and I was taking other rappers around, taking them food. I was playing salesman, and drinking champagne and eating fish. And the next thing you know, Tip says, the mayor wants us to come down, and after about an hour of us arguing back and forth, you don’t let your friend go and do stuff by themselves.
Why didn’t you want to go? You were angry or?
I was angry.
So why didn’t you want to go?
Because I watched a man of 200 and some art pounds put his knee on the neck of a man for eight minutes and kill him. And you know, as a person who hunts and fishes, I wouldn’t allow a deer that I had shot to spend eight minutes dying. There’s a humanity in ending the suffering that that cop didn’t have. So I wanted everything to burn. A part of me did. I was very angry. It was more Magneto than not. And with that said, my father had been a former police officer. My cousins are on the force, and are good police officers. And as we walked into police headquarters, I saw a lot of good men and women of color. We have a large Black police force. It started from those first eight Black cops in Atlanta. And those people are people I know from the community, and not just in a police uniform. I know they’ve done good in the community. I’ve seen the product of their work. And I knew that my community, although angry and bubbling over, I knew that we have been a safe haven for Black organization and organizational power here. And I knew that if we allowed ourselves to fall into the hopelessness and despair of burning our city to the ground, Black America may not have that in the same way. And that scared me. Because for the first time in my life, I saw us angry enough to be chaotic enough to not organize, to simply watch it burn. And the problem with that is, if you’re already on the low rung of the totem pole and everything goes to chaos, how do you feed, clothe, and shelter the people that you’re fighting for?
How do you make sure they have the base bare minimal necessities? How do you make sure that beans and bread are gonna be provided? How do we make sure that water gets to you? And you know, I heard people say, well, he was standing up to defend businesses. Well, a week after that brother Rayshard was killed at that Wendy’s, the mother of his children and his wife were given a car. The people who gave him the car did not work for the city. It was not city money. It was not state money. It was private money. And one was Pinky, who owns the Slutty Vegan, a Clark Atlanta University graduate, and the other owned Big Dave’s Cheesesteak. His business was nearly destroyed. They smashed out his windows. He spent what it took to finish his windows. He gave money to other businesses that had suffered. And then within a week, he didn’t hold anger. He didn’t hold rage. He understood why the riots happened. But within a week he was giving a car to the family of a man who had been robbed of an opportunity raised to his children.
But you’ve gone there. I’m not sure if you’ve supported burning down police precincts in Minneapolis, for example, when you said what was radical was not that they burned targets. They burned down police stations, so the governments know we’re fed up with this.
How do you reconcile those things?
I’m not calling for violence against the police as individuals, as human beings, as working men and women with families. That’s not what I’m doing. What I’m doing is saying that by any means necessary defend yourself against murder from the state. And when the proletariat is fed up —
— the proletariat must in protest let the state know we are fed up. Burning a police building or a government building at all is a much more effective means as a proletariat of letting the people who you entrust with your money and to lead you is a much more effective means of letting them know I’m fed the [expletive] up than burning a retail outlet. That’s simple. You paid for the buildings you burnt up. Your tax dollars paid for them. So what you’re saying now is, we paid for this, we’re not satisfied with the outcome, we are letting you know, in much the same way the Boston Tea Party did, much in the same way of even those who sympathized with the Confederacy, the Confederacy attempted to do, that’s the American way. The American way is to say I’m fed up, I’m gonna burn some [expletive] down, so you know I’m serious. In a capitalistic system, that’s what you do. When you let the government know that we pay for the buildings, we pay your salary, we’ve had enough of this, it seems that measures get taken into consideration a lot faster, and the progress that could have taken hundreds years all of a sudden starts to take 10 months.
It also creates a backlash and an ability for, say, the Trump administration make ads about that.
And portray things as anarchy in the cities. It’s not your preferred method of change.
No. No, it’s not. It’s not my preferred, and I’m not saying to do it. I just say, if I see it done. You know, old people in the South gotta say you ain’t wrong. You know, they ain’t saying, I agree with it, but you ain’t wrong.
My grandmother said that.
Exactly. You know, it’s one of those things where I can’t help that Trump is a marketing master.
But I can say, remember why you did it, and take that into the booth. As vigilant and as you were about seeing the government understand your anger, take the same vigilance into bringing 10 people to the polls with you and vote downticket. Because as effective or ineffective as you think any president is, your city council person, your county commissioner, your local judge and prosecutor, your local sheriff have a much bigger effect on your life on a day to day basis. And we need you to be politically organized and nuanced enough to attack them. If you hate Trump policy, make sure it doesn’t get to your municipality.
Right. So you’ve talked about the importance also of having a podium. And you seem to think a lot about your power and how to use it. You use the word a lot in a lot of your speeches, including giving voice to the powerless.
So before I take a podium, I seek the wisdom, the knowledge, the understanding, and the experience even from organizations that are working locally that people should pay attention to, I believe, nationally. The Gary Davis Next Level Boys Academy is an academy that provides an alternative to long prison sentences for boys who made a mistake. You may have a nephew who makes a stupid mistake. He sees a stupid thing on a movie. He decides he’s gonna take a gun and do something stupid, like rob a Family Dollar, right? The court may want to give your nephew 27 years. Gary says, no, this kid has dealt with some trauma. This kid has not had direction. We think that two years with us is a better alternative to 27 years of incarceration. His academy is turning boys’ life around. And if it were not for Fani Willis, who’s the new Fulton County District Attorney, who’s a progressive-minded district attorney, wants to find restoration versus imprisonment, if it wasn’t for her pushing this a few years ago, it never would have been set up. So when it came time to help her get elected, it made sense to help her get elected. I want to give voice and podium to that, so that’s why I big up Gary. You know, when you look at racial justice now, a lot of times racial justice becomes a beige word.
Yeah, it becomes beige. It gets watered down. Racial justice now specifically deals with racial justice from a Black perspective. And that’s very needed in this time, because Black people have grievances that are nuanced to us that other groups may not understand.
Talk about that. Because five years ago you said on Colbert that white people discovering just how bad it is for Black people in America are more blind than you thought, and George Floyd seems to have broken through to white people.
It did, it did.
Do you think you’re seeing a shift?
I hope I’m seeing a shift, because of Americans as a people, they’re tired of the [expletive]. Racism gets in the way of us all. Racism enforced by the state enslaves us all. Because if it can happen to George Floyd, it can happen to someone beiger than him next. The state is not an empire meant to rule over you. And a lot of times in our understanding of what government is and what this republic is, we lose sight of that, that this is a collective of individuals that should have equal say, equal play, equal push in matters of the state. And we’re not. We’re quickly giving our power over to the state.
I grew up in an all Black enclave, in a city that is virtually all Black. And I never had to worry about white people. I didn’t worry about what they thought of me. I didn’t worry about what they thought about my grandparents’ version of Christianity. My stores weren’t owned by white people, as we went to a big department store. The gas station was owned by a Black woman. My school was named for Frederick Douglass. Our rivals were Benjamin E Mays. So my entire world was engulfed in blackness. So all my heroes and villains were Black. I got a chance to understand that it is the character of someone. It isn’t just the color of someone. So I understand a white kid that may be from Illinois, or Iowa, or upstate Michigan or New York. They may have never had any, you know, Black people at all, not understanding. But what I wish to invite is the ability to say why, and then to find understanding. Now, there are other people that have simply been hypnotized by the news, or are comfortable in their own opinion, or have been told they’re like that because it’s like that. They understand, and that’s a willful ignorance.
They’ve gotten an image.
Exactly. And that image, that image makes them feel better, and they never have to challenge themselves, right? It makes you feel better to say, “well, those people are just like that.” Because then you never have to challenge the fact that teachers in Georgia who taught schools, where schools become test taking centers, and were forced into changing tests, they went to prison. Mothers in California who are white and of means lied, tricked the college system into getting their kids in, and they get to choose the prison they go to for two weeks.
That’s a hell of an insult. You have to say to yourself, have I got some chances that I know I wouldn’t have gotten?
Yeah, have you walked down the street with a sack of weed in your pocket and knew you weren’t gonna get searched? Abso-[expletive]-lutely you have.
So what we have to do is make it not less comfortable for white people, because I think that’s the interpretation of everything. I don’t know want stop and frisk for any American. But I definitely don’t want it in Harlem only.
More with Killer Mike in a moment.
You quote a lot of MLK. It’s so laced through with Malcolm X, who I don’t think — people have always set them up as different. Talk about them, because you also — you use pieces of Malcolm X speeches. It’s interesting to listen to you talk right now.
I have been influenced by both. I have been influenced by King. I’ve been influenced by X.
People tend to see them as the antithesis of one another, and they are not. And they died much more alike than that. Malcolm died after having traveled the world, and in particular Kenya, and organizing with Pinto, who was assassinated three days after him, who was an Indian and Kenyan by birth, but was an organizer there to end a corrupt government and give power back to the people. Malcolm had a much bigger view globally, but in understanding that it wasn’t just Black versus the masters of power race, that it really was the proletariat, which King understood in matters of shutting down the war machine. So they died, both of them, more similar than different.
And I have been influenced equally by both.
So when you’re talking about this, this idea of power, we’re talking about politics. So let’s talk about politics. You had an endorsement of Bernie Sanders, who I think talks a lot about this concept, of the larger picture.
What drew you to Bernie Sanders?
Sanders was offering everything that everyone has always said they would want or would make us a better or more equitable society. And what drew me to him was his honesty in what he wanted to do. You know, he told me. One time we were talking. He was like, “you’re gonna be a billionaire, and I’m gonna tax the [expletive] out of you, too.” And I giggled, because I was like, “you’re right, I am.”
How close are you?
And here I am supporting you.
How close are you?
I’m not very close.
All right, OK.
I’m what we call in the South Negro rich.
So I still live very conservatively. If I can buy a million a house, my house costs a quarter million dollars. If I can buy $100,000 car, I don’t buy until I’ve saved up $100,000. I don’t buy things — I don’t — my wife is very frugal, so.
OK. In 2016, you said voting for Trump or Hillary Clinton, you’re voting for the same thing. What did you mean by that? Do you still stand by it? And does the same thing apply right now with Joe Biden?
I think they’re oligarchs.
OK, explain that.
Oligarchs are a class or people who rule over you, who are gonna give their kids jobs. They’re gonna intermarry. They’re gonna protect their class, and you’re gonna be a class that they pivot to every two to four years to get their vote, and you will constantly be used by them as cheerleaders for them to profit themselves and their closed circles first.
So you don’t see a difference between Biden and Trump at this point.
There are differences. I don’t know if the differences make a huge difference to my community. You know, I would ask the average non-Black Republicans — there are lots of Black Republicans, I would say why do you not champion the platinum package that Trump put together?
And if you can’t give me a viable answer, you have to go home and ask yourself why. Why don’t I want a community of people to get 3 million jobs? Why don’t I want a community of people to get 500,000 new businesses? And why don’t I want a community of people to get $500 billion? Because I know if this community grows, I know that the greater community grows. So you’re gonna have to say to yourself, why? And on the Democratic side, I would say to myself, in a time where my arch nemesis has dropped a plan that has some things in it that make a hell of a lot of sense, why am I not talking about that versus saying he didn’t denounce the Proud Boys? And what is it about me that my own ego gets in the way of saying, what could I co-opt from that plan?
So you always say that. You always say, show what’s in it for Black people.
Let me give you something for Joe Biden, for example, versus Trump. And you can — I can do the same for Trump, the crime bill and things like that. Joe Biden could save Obamacare, appoint an attorney general who doesn’t pursue mandatory minimums, start using federal funding to push through police reforms, increase school funding. What else do you want from the Democrats?
Joe Biden could apologize for the 1994 crime bill.
I think that that would do huge. And this isn’t me saying this is what I want to see, bow to me, Joe. This is me talking, getting my car washed yesterday, and a young woman saying, “Michael, I’m just conflicted about who I want to vote for.” And she’s like my daughter’s age. She’s like, “Just to be honest with you, I’m angry that older people in our community keep telling me to vote for Joe Biden.” And with tears in her eyes, she said, I lost my dad for 30 years. So you know, you gotta think about it, she’s no more than 33. To prison. It decimated a community. Male influence left with prison sentences. You know, and people say, well, they were selling drugs. Well, some of the drugs was just marijuana. I’m gonna tell y’all, everybody in the ‘70s and ‘80s did cocaine. You know, and how dare us be a country that celebrates moonshining and bootlegging, and not celebrate the cavalier attitudes of drug dealers in the ‘80s and ‘90s, because it’s the same motive. The same motive was making money. The same motive was allowing people a pleasure, alcoholism and alcohol, and addiction to sugars has killed far more people, and yet our community was decimated. So when you say those things that Biden has are gonna help, all right, I got you. I hear it. I’ve been hearing that for 20 years of my political engagement. I’ve been hearing those exact same things, and very little, if anything has happened. I would also challenge the Democratic Party to say, why is it more important to keep Obamacare than it is to do free health care? My thing is, why do I keep settling for the top of a building when I say I’m shooting for the stars? And that doesn’t say vote for Trump over him, but that does say it becomes very provocative. Trump understands that if the Black American economy somehow grows stronger, I get to keep political power, my party gets to get political power, this community gets an injection of funds, and they’re gonna spend those funds not only within their community and the greater community. So do I think he likes Black people? I don’t care. Will his plan help Black people? I don’t know. Does he have some provocative things in there that interest me a little more than the bland stuff I’ve been hearing out of the Democrats? Absolutely. But I don’t want to go vote for Trump. I want the Democrats to step up this year.
Right, but you say you don’t care. I want you to say that again, you don’t care.
I don’t care. I don’t care. I have to assume that a part of whoever’s talking to me has the self-interest of their community at hand, so what’s in it for me? And I can’t care what you think about me. I care what your policy does for me.
Is there any — there are policy differences. Would an apology be enough? You want active things from the Democrats that show like full health care?
Yeah, I think Biden has a start. And I told Kamala. I told you Senator Harris, it’s the same thing. I think — what’s one of the biggest things you could do? You could start with a “hey, I [expletive] up.”
“I got this wrong.” Because if not, if you don’t do that, you’re perceived as arrogant.
Right. So something you did that upset some liberals, you met with Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a pro-Trump Republican.
Who was accused of stealing the election from Stacey Abrams, who I you think you supported.
I did support Stacey.
People said you legitimized him by giving him a photo op getting a haircut at your barber shop.
Tell us about that. Tell us why you did that.
Well, you cannot legitimize a governor. The governor is the governor. I can’t say, “well, you’re not my governor.” You’re my governor. I have to pay my taxes. My grandmother did not like every politician, but my grandmother engaged with every politician. She engaged with her mayor. She engaged with her city council. She engaged with her county commissioners. She engaged with her neighborhood associations. It was her duty, and she taught me it was my duty. My grandmother marched me into a Black bank at about five years old. She opened up a banking account for me. My grandmother walked me into a mayor’s office meeting with her and other meetings, because she thought it was imperative that I understood from a very young child how to control your economics, and how to control your community, right? So when you talk about meeting with the governor, people see me as singing a dance, and that I sing and dance. But I won’t allow myself to be belittled as simply that. I’m a 30 year advocate and activist in my community. And right now, currently, I’m half co-owner of the Swag Shop franchise. I’m a third owner in Bankhead Seafood. And I’d be damned if I’m not gonna sit with the governor of my state and give my perspective from a regular citizen and voter, from a small business owner. I’d be crazy not to. You’d be insane not to.
So your barbershops.
Millions of dollars worth of property across Atlanta, and now you want to start a community bank, Greenwood.
It’s funny that you’re starting a financial institution, because my favorite song of yours lately, and the video of the single “Ooh LA LA” I’ve watched about 20 times.
- killer mike
Old dirty [expletive], go in your jaw, shimmy, shimmy, ya. Got the semi in the hemi, go and gimme, gimme, ya. Pugilistic, my linguistics are Jeru the Damaja, and I rap it pornographic, bitch, set up the camera.
It’s sort of got this anti-capitalist anthem. You’re burning money. You’re burning credit cards. You’re burning piles of cash. How do you balance — again, we’re back to this balancing two sides. You’re enjoying burning money, and really burning it. Was that real money? No, that wasn’t real money.
Some of it was real. I got a little too happy.
See, that would have been boss if you really burned real money.
Well, I mean, we couldn’t burn that much real money.
You know, as we just got famous as a band.
So how do you balance you smashing things up and working within the system?
Yeah, well, enough of the proletariat hasn’t said enough.
So the necessity of participating in commerce is what brought me here.
So I’m not a capitalist in that I constantly look for the lowest possible wages and means in order to capitalize the most, but I’m a capitalist in that I understand that my goods and services are worth something in the market. And if I bring a better goods and service to the market, people will be willing to spend a dollar with me. And because of that, I’m able to hire Black laborers. I’m able to hire Black tradesmen and artists.
Which gives you power.
Which gives me power. Absolutely.
OK. For those who don’t know, explain why it’s called Greenwood.
Oftentimes people hear about the Tulsa Riots, which makes Black people feel incredibly victimized a lot of times, because it was a horrible event. It makes white people feel incredibly guilty, because it was a horrible event. I want people to take the victimization and guilt out of it, and I want to get to pre-riots Greenwood. Greenwood, as America was expanding West, was an amazing community of freed Black people, who got an opportunity to simply participate in the promise of America. They got a chance to set up their own communities, to create commerce, education, and religious facilities. And it thrived. It thrived. It thrived. It thrived until racism and hatred and envy ended it. And because it ended, that community never fully recovered. But the potential is not only in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The potential was in Harlem. The potential was in Inglewood. It lives right in Atlanta on Auburn Avenue and Edgewood Avenue. It has lived here for over 100 years. So naming the banking institution Greenwood needed to remind people that in front of the trauma and past the trauma, Greenwood has to stay in spirit and in philosophy a real thing. And the way you do that, it’s like Dr. Claude Anderson said, you start to organize your dollars. If we can take banking, as they take more brick and mortar locations out of Black communities and just out of communities period, there’s gonna be a need for banking right there in your hand. Now you have an alternative that’s for Black and brown people, not only to be depositors but also to be capital lenders, too.
Right, so what is this? Because community banking is a tough business, and most of it is loans to commercial real estate and things like that.
So what is this, if it’s a really a —
What is it on a very basic level for the average Atlantan is an alternative to check cashing places, and an alternative to predatory banking. And the next level after that is for people who are small business owners, medium business owners, or people who may not be in traditional businesses like tech and things to have a bank that’s willing to walk or risk it with you. So they’re gonna be capital lenders as well. And what we grow into, only the imagination can conceive of but I’d like to see us grow into one of the more competitive banks in the market as banking goes more into people’s hands, and more poor people are less check cashing places and more of our bank right here in my hand. And I hope to see it, like in cities of Atlanta, where you can find over 50 Black women-owned restaurants, and bars, and services, or the Black sports and athletes class turn into a business class. What I hope to see is that the capital partners, the lenders are more of Greenwood and less of the banks that have refused us 21% of the time.
But they have huge scale that allows them to charge better rates, to be more competitive. You may get the worst loans. You may get the more difficult ones. How do you make money doing this?
Well, I don’t have — yeah, you’re asking some of the same questions I asked as we’ve had the ask for loans. Some we’ve gotten, some we have been refused for. But I take that more than having all the answers now, what I have to say is that we have something in the market that finally makes it available for poor people to bank. And I believe that the unbanked, as they bank and as they become more financially literate, they become better banking customers, they become home —
So literacy is an important part of this.
Literacy is definitely an important part. And beyond that, I think that the unbanked go from, once banked and once understanding financial literacy, they go from renters to buyers.
Buyers stabilize neighborhoods that are dead or in descent. Buyers and a true tax base brings better schools. Better schools and stable neighborhoods bring in business and innovation in a different way. So the sky’s the limit. My grandmother moved to Atlanta in 1952. By 1980 something, she had paid off. By 1990 something, we were graduating high school, going into college, and my children have a much more stable life because of the sacrifice that my grandmother made. You know, her parents hid money in coffee cans under the bed. My grandmother banked Black national and kept some money in the coffee cans.
Are you gonna put your money in this bank?
Absolutely I am. Absolutely.
And what seed funding? Are you putting in money yourself into the creation? This is a startup, correct?
Yes, This is a startup. Yeah, I brought the equity of celebrity and a minimal amount.
So why banks? Because banking is a highly regulated business, and the government is always looking over your shoulder, make sure you’re not extending credit with too much risk. There’s all kinds of rules going in. If you really wanted to incubate Black-owned business, and literacy, and organization, why not pursue a venture fund?
No, I mean, I’m getting educated. So part of this is gonna be me calling you in a couple of days, like “educate me on venture funds. This is what I’ve looked up.”
I’d be happy to, yeah.
And I’m really gonna make that call.
Any idiot can open a venture fund. That’s what I would tell you. Have met some of them? Venture capitalists? You need a pair of khaki pants, though. You need to get —
I do have a pair. Shouts out to Ralph Lauren for the shirts and khaki pants. I want to say that I am a learned man, because I understand that I don’t know anything, and I’m always in the process of learning. Just like I learned about the town of Greenwood, just like I learned about Black banking and the importance of, as I learn, much like I do with social issues, the stuff that I vet out, that I see is having some value, I try my best to bring to the greater audience. Which is why I’m bringing people Greenwood, because I want to help us in every way we can. I want to die knowing that my grandchildren are better off for my hard work. But there will be a shame if I don’t make sure that my community is not better off for my hard work.
All right. Thank you so much, Killer Mike. We really appreciate it.
Love and respect. Thank you so much.
Thanks for taking the time.
All right, bye-bye.
“Sway” is a production of New York Times opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, and Vishaka Darbha. Edit by Adam Ty Teicholz and Paula Szuchman. With music and sound design by Isaac Jones. Fact checking by Kate Sinclair. Special Thanks to Binyamin Appelbaum, Liriel Higa, and Kathy Tu. If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to subscribe to a podcast. If you’re listening on The Times website and want to get a new episode of “Sway” delivered to you with an “Ooh LA LA” flow, I am the worst rapper ever, download a podcast app like Stitcher or Google Podcast, then search for “Sway” and hit subscribe. We release every Monday and Thursday.