INTERVIEW: Killer Mike Talks Atlanta Protests, 'Kill Your Masters' T-Shirt
Atlanta rapper Michael "Killer Mike" Render knows the city isn't perfect, but still believes better days are ahead.
Render made the national spotlight following an emotional speech during the mayor's press conference on Friday night. In his remarks, he spoke out about the protests in the city, and urged Atlantans against "burning your own house down."
GPB's Sarah Rose spoke with Render to discuss the national response to his remarks, the pushback surrounding the "Kill Your Masters" T-shirt he wore, the new Run the Jewels album Run the Jewels 4 and the state of the city.
Sarah Rose: You and El-P dropped Run the Jewels 4 two days early this week. What brought on the decision to go ahead and release it?
Michael "Killer Mike" Render: It was originally supposed to come out in April. We know it took us longer to record this record. Obviously, we just got a relationship with fans where, you know, they love the music. We had promised them they'd have it right before Coachella, then Coachella and the world ended up kinda closing on us. We just got tired of waiting. We got tired of kids wanting to hear it. So what better thing to do than give it to them?
Rose: I was listening to your verse on “Walking in the Snow” and it seems to have a reference to George Floyd and his last words “I can’t breathe” in it. How recently did you write that?
Render: That was written in November 2019 and I don't write, actually. So, it just kind of poured out of me. Even though it mirrors Floyd, it was, of course, an allusion to Eric Garner. It is as common as Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit" and by the time she sang that, she was accustomed to black men being lynched, being the strange fruit hanging from a tree.
At this point, we have become accustomed to seeing police murder with guns and putting chokeholds on black men. And it's a shame that I was talking in November about a past incident that can be relevant right now.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Atlanta's Killer Mike: ‘It Is Your Duty Not To Burn Your Own House Down’
Rose: Your remarks on Friday night at the press conference with Mayor Bottoms have become part of the national conversation. Now, we're about a week out from that. What's your take on where the city of Atlanta is at now?
Render: Atlanta isn't perfect. Did we need a protest? Did we need that atmosphere for the night that we did? Absolutely. Because it wakes this city up and it wakes the nation up. Do we need that going forward? Not as much as we need programs like the New Georgia Project, which is getting people out and registered to vote. You know, we have an opportunity now to organize.
Did the riots and protests make sense? Absolutely. Because the country needs to know you cannot simply murder black men as an agent of the state or otherwise. Now we must plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize on a consistent basis to make sure that we keep Atlanta a place of opportunity, grow that opportunity and remain a place African Americans can have.
Rose: Touching on that, I know you spoke in your remarks about how people should hold the powerful accountable in the voting booth. In Georgia, people like Stacey Abrams have called out what they believe is a systematic campaign in the state to disenfranchise minority voters. So why should people take that call to action seriously?
Render: I want people to know that both political parties, they're not in danger of losing their party. Both parties are usually kind of quiet with low voter turnout. Parties start making noise when there's an issue or there's potentially a seat that could be lost or a gubernatorial race that could be lost. There's a system in Georgia that, for over 200 years, has allowed the secretary of state to oversee elections. The system needs to be fixed. The system was bad when Democrats had the governorship.
The system is still bad with a Republican governor.
I believe in the New Georgia Project and what they've been doing in getting people registered. I believe that those absentee ballots that are missing need to show up. I believe that we need to be vigorous about voting always.
I've seen my polling stations go from having 16 machines on the regular to having four to six on the regular. We want to know where those other machines are. We want to know why black people, why poor black people, in particular, why their machines and their polls seem to be shrinking in number when they used to proliferate. People came out and voted and they didn't have to wait for two or three hours in line. We need to be making it easier to vote in Georgia.
Also, I own barbershops. I'm just making sure black men know when they come in, we expect you to get out and vote.
Rose: Speaking of your barbershop, at Friday's press conference Mayor Bottoms joked that you and T.I. own half of the west side. How does your role as a property owner impact something like this?
Render: Well, I wish we did own half of the west side. We don't. There are white developers that own a lot more in the west side that I want to own. I want to continue to make strides to develop the west side. But what we are is two kids who grew up on the west side who understand that we have a social responsibility to bring back some of the spoils that we've got for being famous for singing and dancing. We sing and dance.
I'll never forget when T.I. first got his first record deal, he immediately started a construction company to start refurbishing and flipping houses. I did a similar thing about eight years later with the first check that I had and bought my first home that we use as a rental property in my old neighborhood.
So, for me, it's just not about us owning half of the west side. I want every black person on the west side to have an opportunity to own a home on the west side.
When we were younger, 70% of the homes on the west side were owned by black people. Now, 70% of the homes are rented. We need home ownership. We need to support black banks. We need to make sure that schools like the Frederick Douglass District, which Bankhead Seafood sits in, are putting out tradespeople and putting out educated people who matriculate to college and can come back and reinvest in that community.
So me and Tip are absolutely are going to keep developing the west side. We're going to keep buying more buildings, buy as many blocks as we possibly can.
But with that said, I don't want to have a gentrified neighborhood where people who are kids who grew up like us don't have an opportunity to live, dream, and to become the next T.I. and Killer Mike.
Rose: There’s been a lot of talk and debate on social media about the “Kill Your Masters” shirt you wore on Friday night.
Some people probably aren’t aware it's referential to a Run the Jewels song. Just touching on the phrase itself, what do you want people to take away from it?
Render: Let me calm what some people think is the wrong message. I got a call from a friend of mine and he said, 'That shirt is problematic.' And I said, 'Why would you see my shirt as problematic?' This is when I wore it on Bill Maher long ago. He said, 'Well, what would it lead white people to think?' I said, 'Why would you think I would allow a white person to be my master?'
My master happens to be sugar. So I have to go work out, drink more water. I don't have a physical master right now. I have to master myself in situations. I have to master my discipline. I have to master my need for powerful people to want me or to give me approval. So it's self-mastery. That's what I'm talking about.
But ultimately, my question I would say to anyone that feels a certain way about my shirt. If you happened upon a real life slave, and you had a weapon on you, what would you do with that weapon and what advice would you give? Ask yourself that.
You happen upon a real life slave. You have a weapon on you. It's you, that slave, that master, in the middle of anywhere or nowhere. What do you do with that weapon and what advice would you give that slave?