Despite his intimidating name and his forceful, cinderblock-to-the-chest flow, Atlanta rapper Killer Mike (aka Michael Render) insists most of his days are filled with laughter. "I've been out on the road with El-P and eXquire and all the crews are nonstop laughing," he said in a recent phone interview from a tour stop in San Diego.
True, there are plenty of moments on his El-P-produced magnum opus, "R.A.P. Music"--a bare-knuckled bruiser that stands as an early contender for album of the year--where the 37-year-old MC's indignation takes over (clearly he's none too fond of Ronald Reagan, police brutality or Piggy from "Lord of the Flies"). But, as the rapper acknowledges in our conversation, a little righteous anger is needed from time to time.
In reviews, I've seen you described as everything from "stone-hearted" to a "malcontent."
[Laughs] I think I'm a nice guy. I'm a very funny and fun-loving person. Most days are filled with laughter, honestly.
You couldn't do voices for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim if you didn't have a sense of humor.
What voices have you done at this point?
I played a cell phone on "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." I did the voice of Taqu'il for a couple seasons on "Frisky Dingo." Those guys moved on and do "Archer" now. Damn, I wish I'd auditioned for "Archer." When I get back to Atlanta in a month or so I'm gonna go read for some other parts.
In a lot of ways it seems like popular culture has moved towards this idea of entertainment as a distraction, and this album seems to play as an antidote to all that.
Well, I'm glad be people see it like that. I definitely think a little righteous anger is needed for folks.
Do you find different things make you angry as you get older?
Naw. What makes me angry as I get older is that the same stuff keeps making me angry, which means we ain't solving [bleep]. When old people are really, really angry, it's not because they grow angry when they get older. It's because they're like, "This is the same [bleep] we've been dealing with for 40 years." I hold the same social anger that (civil rights activist) Dick Gregory holds. The same social anger that (professor and author) Michael Eric Dyson may hold. The fact that we're all angry about the same things is a telltale sign that [bleep] hasn't changed as much as we like to think it has.
How familiar were you with El-P's production style going into recording?
I was aware of him and liked his [bleep], but I never thought we'd travel in the same circles. I've been looking for this thing for years--that one producer/one rapper record--and once we got in the studio the chemistry just kicked. It's like I found my musical soulmate, and I think for the rest of my career you're going to hear about me making records with El-P.
You drop several references to "Lord of the Flies" in "Willie Burke Sherwood." Why did you connect so strongly with that book when you first read it as a sixth grader?
Well, they're children. I'm reading about children. I believe if you want to encourage love of reading in any child you have to start them off with books that meet them where they are and not try to pull them up to where you are. Some of my first and favorite books were "Animal Farm" and "The Outsiders." Even if Ponyboy was white in the book, in my mind he was black. I made him relatable to me, to the point where I named my youngest son Ponyboy.
What's one thing you've read recently that really spoke to you?
I haven't read a book recently that spoke to me, so I'm going back to read the entire Robert Beck/Iceburg Slim collection starting with "Mama Black Widow." And I'm probably going to reread the autobiography of Dr. King because when I looked at how many times I've read the autobiography of Malcolm X I thought it shameful I only read King's autobiography once.
You have four children, including two daughters. What influence has fatherhood had on your music?
Well, I don't say bitch as much [laughs]. I think having two daughters has challenged me to deal with my own sexism. I've never been a misogynist. Like, I've never thought women were below or beneath me, but they've really made me more sensitive to the role of women in our society. My 14-year-old daughter challenges me. She's me with breasts, and it's weird talking to a woman with your mind.
Andy Downing is a RedEye special contributor.
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