Down for skating on multiple levels, Killer Mike's latest album R.A.P Music is ideal fuel for the session, and it is only a matter of time before you hear one of his tracks cut to some high-speed lines. This is the extended version of his interview from our March issue.
Where are you from? What was your debut appearance in the rap circle?
I'm from Atlanta, Georgia and I'm from a neighborhood called Adamsville. I made my debut with Outkast on a song called "The Whole World", that's what most people know me for. Then I left the majors. My career has kind of been like a parallel to what happened with skate culture. I was a kid in the 80's and I remember when skate culture first rolled to prominence on my side of things, which was basically young black kids. It kind of came in and leapt out like a fad because big corporations were behind it and we got tired of it and we walked away. That's kind of how rappers careers get dead. After my first album went gold, at that time going gold wasn't like today, where the biggest rapper in the world, Rick Ross is a gold artist today, gold means something again, but at that time it just didn't mean as much, so for me it just made more sense to walk away and just go independent the way a lot skaters and skate companies did. I just kind of forced my own way with a company called Grim Time, put out a series called Pledge that with each one that dropped the audience grew and last year dropped an album called "R.A.P Music" with the underground legend El-P of Company Flow, and it's been hailed as one of the three best albums of the year, all genres so, I'm very happy and thankful to people like Time magazine, Rolling Stone, and Spin. It's just a cool to be mentioned in those publications in their list.
Were there skateboarders in your neighborhood growing up?
Yeah, it was something we got watched and when we were really little kids in the mid-eighties. By the time the late eighties, '92, '93 came along, kids that I had gone to elementary school with were skating, one in particular was my man Lawrence Johnson, he was one of the first kids that skated. There was a movement you know in Atlanta in that time called the prep movement where kids would just kind of emulate stuff they saw in other places of the culture, so kids, the preppy look they saw on TV, the kids would pick that up, you know some kids were into b-boying cause that was already just hip hop. But the skateboarding popped up and kids just took an infatuation with it. Ya there were a group of kids who were down hard about it. Lawrence Johnson was a friend of mine and he was one of those.Five points has always been a skate haven, Stratosphere (skateshop), shouts out to Thomas and his son. Stratosphere's been a store that's been down there that kids been supporting the culture they've been supporting the store forever so you know black kids have been skating in Atlanta a long time, at least 20 years that I know of.
You've recently performed at the SPoT 20th anniversary party. Is there a noticeable difference between doing a show like that and a general audience show?
Our audiences have been wildly enthusiastic. I toured all year with El-P. The hip-hop audiences that I'm used to rocking it in front of really give it to you, they really do. But I can honestly tell you I've never encountered an experience like at that event. I knew when you hit a bad-ass move on a ramp or something they hit the deck to let you know, "We f--k with you," you know, "Good job." But I didn't know that at shows they did that. Kids' hands were red from hitting the edge of the stage. I pushed my son into the crowd like, "Hey, he belongs with y'all. This is y'all scene." They caught him. I will gladly rock any skate crowd, any skatepark, anywhere because of the overwhelming enthusiasm I've gotten from the skate events I've done.
You had thanked skateboarding for helping bring your son up. How did it help?
I had children too young, and a lot of guys make that mistake, and I don't mean chronologically and age, a lot of times you can have a child when you're still chasing something. He showed an interest in skateboarding. I became fully supportive no matter how much the boards cost, no matter where he wanted to go. For me it's important that my son has found something he's passionate about in the way I was passionate about rapping and it's kept his nose clean. He doesn't want to do dumb shit because he loves skating. Y'all have got a supporter for life in me.
Did you ever see any skate videos that your son had been watching when he was younger? Do you know if he has been introduced to any music artist through any vids?
Yeah, he definitely has them. Skate videos are some wild shit. I honestly (look at them) like "Wow, this is another world." What I saw out of the videos that were coming out of the east coast at one point, a lot of them just got wild, almost turked up, like I heard Three 6 mafia on a video and shit and I was like wow this looks like some aggressive stuff. Then the stuff I was hearing that looked like it was sun shining, I guess it was Florida or west coast had this cool 90's aesthetic it had Souls (of Mischief) and stuff on it. I had been playing music with my boy since he was a child, so it gave me something to converse with him about within the confines of the tape and it was interesting to see the different skate styles are and how the music and scores are laid out on each one, I applaud it. The shit is fresh as fuck man. Sometimes we just get buzzed out on the bus and still catch a few if he's coming around putting them in.
What track from R.A.P. Music would work best in a skate video?
"Big Beast" would go. "Go!" in terms of super fast skating because it's breakneck. Something that feels really dark and lurked-out, like if guys are skating at night, go for "Don't Die." I think the music complements skate life, so I encourage people to use it in their videos.
What interested you in starting a barbershop at this stage in your rap career?
I've had a career where I've went gold, I can feed myself and my family, and I live well, but I didn't want to be chasing what some of my friends have. Big Boi and T.I., they are millionaires. Everybody's not going to have those types of careers, so you have to define what's your success. I didn't want to go try and start a club or a bar. What is hip-hop, what is rap? Something that's a part of the culture that people do every week, and it's cheap. It's a barbershop. We got these 1,500-dollar red chairs in there that are like old-school style so you get laid out with your shave, hot towels. All this is for 20 bucks. Check it out on Instagram [@killermikegto]. Graffiti Swag Shop. If you get to Atlanta, check it out.
Over the years your music has become more based on political and social issues. Do you think you music will continue to become more and more socially aware over time? How important is the lyrical balance of social issues and every day things like strip clubs.
I just see things I think as they are. It's funny you say social issues, what brings me to social issues are not grand media driven plans and shit. I'm not jumping on gun control bandwagons because that's what we do this month or jumping on breast cancer because it's next month, I'm not doing that. I'm looking at what's really around me, and seeing what's going on in the needs of people. So for me, I say fuck city ordinances, and fuck municipality for telling kids you can't skate at a public park that your parents paid for. You get what I'm saying? That's what angers me. Based on that, that's the seed that grow into records like "Reagan". I was there when Reagan took programs out of schools, I was there when local counties followed suit and started closing recreation centers and neighborhoods, I was there. And so strip clubs, I know the average girl who has or doesn't have a high school diploma she's coming out and either waitressing at the waffle house, prostitute yourself or strip clubs. Why is it costing girls $500 to get a license and a different license in every club, that just becomes extortion. If a girl wants to dance at three different clubs, she has to give the government $1500, that just becomes extortion, but if I'm a barber and get a license, my license is covered in the whole state, what's the difference, both of them make you feel good (laughs). I'm just a defender of our basic rights and I believe in the concept of America, I love my country and I just want to exist and be left the fuck alone to chill, kick it with some skaters and smoke some weed and watch some strippers. And if I could do that and run about 10-20 barbershops my life is cool. Whatever interrupts that, I gonna rage about and that's what that's about on my records.
What are you currently working on? What's do you have on the schedule for 2013?
If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram (@killermikegto) you'll know that El-P and I were taking about to upstate NY and running up on a farm and just starting to record a duo EP. I just got back after six days up there, five songs are recorded. I'm about to go to Europe for a month on a world tour. You can go to killermike.com and see the scheduling. I come back and El-P and I are going to go right back up and finish more record. Your going to hear a duo EP form El-P and I. You're going to hear mix tape verses, I'll maybe do a tape or two. I'm going to get ready to do "R.A.P. Music Part 2" and "Pledge 4" to be dropping next year.