"White Jesus is one of the most destructive forces for black people."
43-year-old southerner Michael Render AKA Killer Mike is better known as one half of the explosive hip-hop group Run The Jewels. He's also an intellectual activist who has been running his mouth for over twenty years. Born on the frontline of the African American experience, he is someone acutely aware of the problems that plague his particular demographic, which range from police brutality to mass incarceration and systemic welfare.
But Killer Mike is intent on taking full advantage of a system that disempowers his people, using his conscience to go on a wrecking tour with his new hit Netflix TV show Trigger Warning.
It’s at times a highly eccentric, confronting and laugh out loud expose of some of America’s most divisive issues such as systematic racism and identity politics, based on not just the African American experience but broader communities throughout the US.
In a watershed study, released back in March of 2018, that followed the lives of millions of black and white Americans for many decades, it showed black men raised in America, are worse off than their counterparts in every measure of life. Even black men from most well-to-do neighbourhoods, still have the odds stacked against them.
Killer Mike knows all about this economic disparity and is using his TV show to fire off a round of shots at the establishment. Is America at breaking point? Killer Mike certainly hopes so.
Killer Mike promoting Crip-A-Cola (Netflix/Trigger Warning)
Let’s talk about your Netflix show Trigger Warning; it’s terrific, there’s a lot of humour, it’s eccentric and divisive as well. The obvious point you’re trying to make is about the lack of involvement of the African-American population into the homogenised white system?
That is one premise. That is the perspective I have to start from; I am a descendant of the people that were brought to this country in bondage and slavery. I know there is a bigger perspective, but I have to approach things from my perspective and arguably within a disenfranchised community. My goal is to go out and in unorthodox ways, find out why we are not sharing some of the greater privileges that the rest of our community are experiencing, and that takes me on whimsical adventures.
For example, I think and still do that white Jesus is one of the most destructive forces for black people, period. That is because you are unable to identify yourself in him and having a messiah that doesn’t look anything like you is not helpful. That leads us to a more significant spectrum of people. People that feel judged by religion, feeling let down by it. That turns them inward not outward, which leads us to the church of sleep experiment in the show.
So we start from the African American disenfranchisement perspective, but it doesn’t end there.
A lot of people say there is an infestation of identity politics at the moment in our society, does your show help embolden this paralysis or help it do you think?
No, I think the show presents that there are just different people out there with different thinking. This is what happens when you involve different people in different interpersonal relationships, and on a one on one basis.
Some people as you see come as a Juggalo; some as a proud white man, some say ‘I’m this and that’. But what people ended up being are participants in experiments that brought them together, sometimes for better, sometimes in disagreement. They were forced to have a dialogue not only from their perspective but other peoples perspective, which also gave them a greater view of a greater community than just themselves.
"After you search for greater truth or a greater version, you start to understand it's all just enslavement."
Do your friends or close circles think that you’re weird; I’m reminded of one of the scenes in the show where the record producer says, only you could bring this all together?
Yes, my friends think I’m fucking crazy, one of my oldest friends told my wife that he’s been the same person since he was a child, I am who I am, exactly who I am supposed to be.
Does EL-P share your diversity of opinions? What do you disagree on?
We’re radically different about a lot of stuff, but I am one half of the Run the Jewels, one half of a marriage with my wife, and then there’s the totality of Michael Render which you see in this show.
Let’s talk about America; it seems to be in a surreal state right, although you would probably argue it has always been the same, meaning with healthcare, political gridlock, incarceration, trade wars.
It has always been the same shit; it is the same America than when my grandfather was alive.
What would your grandfather be saying about the show?
I can’t believe them white folks let you get away with this shit. [laughing]
Having said that, the world is being run by infants right now. Are there any adults in the room?
It’s been run by adults, but it is being run by adults who are nefarious and who don’t give a damn about the greater public and want to meet their interests and needs. We need to become more childlike and share and care as children do. We’re being run by selfish teenagers, and I don’t mean the millennials I mean the people who run our nation.
I think that all these old people that are sending young men and women off to war should be forced to get in the gladiator circle themselves. Let’s put some knives in your hand and see how you deal with it.
Killer Mike performing at a senior home (Netflix/Trigger Warning)
"I can't believe them white folks let you get away with this shit."
In what respect you mean with the Iraq or Syria war?
I mean period. As a human being, as a species, we should be at a point where we are ready to end war seriously. And we’re not, we know we’re not because our resources and products demand that we are not. That is because of the way that we allow the system to keep perpetuating pain and suffering for the capitalists.
You participate, we all engage in it, and at some point, we all have to say this system is enough we have to do something. At the very least we have to figure out how not to kill teenagers as well as not allow this to be the best way for governments to make money and do business.
But you are a gun lover and advocate for arms?
That plays into my idea that you should not trust the government. No government cares about the general interest of people; no government should be trusted to be armed. The proletariat should be armed. I don’t care if your a Marxist or a communist if you are a capitalist, follow the tenements of the American constitution. Whether it was the father of my nation or the father of the USSR both founders agreed, you should never be disarmed and trust the government as well.
You travel the world, how do you describe America to other people?
I don’t, its the same batshit crazy that it always has been. We’re just another extension of western society, although we’re a few hundred years behind. We got a proverbial headstart with slavery to participate on the world stage. But we’re still an infant regarding being in the world stage. So we’re learning. That said, I love it, it’s a great country, there is a lot of opportunities, but we have a lot of growing to do.
You say in the opening trailer, “Anything that does not help black people, needs to be burned the fuck down, now!” You reference the terms proletariat and Marxist in some of your interviews. Would you describe yourself as an anarchist?
The older I get, the more of an anarchist I become, and I understand why Noam Chomsky is. You learn all systems are evil and corrupt you know what I mean, it’s very difficult, after you search for greater truth or a greater version, you start to understand it’s all just enslavement. And I’m not doing myself any good, by allowing myself to try and participate in it.
So you’re going to reform Rage Against The Machine?
Yeah, I’m going to reform… [laughing], actually Tom Morello hit me up the other day.
Where did you get your knowledge? What environment did you grow up in?
I grew up the grandson of a nurse and a man who is a functioning illiterate but counted better than anyone I ever met; they were my grandparents who raised me as their own child. I went to Frederick Douglas High School named after the great abolitionist.
I’m a product of mentorship and reading, I aimed to grow and be better. I’m a direct mentee of a woman named Alice Johnson and a man named Reverend James Lawson who worked with Martin Luther King personally. I’m a product of a lot of people who have invested in me from my village who saw something in me as a little boy. I’m also a product of my grandma and her peers. She tried to make sure I read and was understood, and I took advantage of a good education. But I’m also a product of the streets. I’m happy to be a product of my city which is Atlanta, which I think is great.
How does your street education mix with your bookish education?
It’s the same stuff. Donald Owings, in his writings, was profoundly intellectual, he had as much colour and depth as a Shakespearian playwright. It’s the same human emotions, love, hate, rage, jealousy. There is only the difference between a pirate and emperor, and that is the way you choose to view it. Pirates rob ships and emperors rob the state.
But I think the show Trigger Warning also showed even you don’t have all the answers, at times you are stumped and confounded, but you are doing your best?
That’s it, all you can is your best, no one has all the answers. The answers come from the greater community and the conversations outside of that. We have some solutions to things that have become problematic, as long as we understand that problems are problems and that we should solve problems together instead of pointing at one another.
I know you invest a lot in barbershops, would you say that the barbershop could be considered the white people’s version of the enlightenment salon?
I don’t know what that is. Explain it to me.
Back in the 18 Century men and women would meet to discuss the world’s problems in a cafe like settings.
Ok yes, I know. The barbershop is undoubtedly that in the black community, and it has been forever, it is where you hear radical suggestions, and thoughts and that’s where some of these ideas come from, but the barbershop is a safe space. It’s a place for men and masculinity, it’s also a place where the coolest of women go and assert femininity and make sure it’s not forgotten, it’s a place where free thought is encouraged, and radical ideas are debated. After that everyone is still equal and there shouldn’t be any hate or resentment, for both and white and black.
Do you often have white people come into the enlightened barbershop?
Yes absolutely, one of my faves is a Bernie supporter who is a long time customer and a great brother now.
Are you worried about the future of your country it seems awfully fragile at the moment?
I’m worried about the future of the world. What’s going in America is not isolated. Nationalism is pervasive everywhere. If you look at the UK pulling out of the EU, or nationalism in India where Nigerian students were attacked and even in places like Russia. When you start to see a wave of nationalism, it usually predates a war. I’m hoping people understand that if we focus on statehood and nationalism, it will lead us to war.
You are a master of language, correct?
Yes, I have a mastered tenements of the English language. [laughing]
It could be deemed contentious, but I want to explore it with you, you talk about the slave trade experience, the African American phenomenon, you have only had been out of the civil right era for 50 years now. You’re part of the intellectual experience that emerged with others such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King and others. The language you speak, do you feel you had to co-opt that from the white class so that they could better understand your experience?
I get the question you’re trying to ask, you are saying as a descendant of the enslaved class of people, have my people used white intellectual talk to get white people more sympathetic to listening? Of course, we fucking have.
That’s what you do when you are enslaved, the better you speak, and the more accurate you are, the closer you can work to the people who are in power.
That’s something that has been passed down to us for 400 Years, that’s why my grandma made sure I spoke well and read well, from the point of education it makes you an emissary and go-between.
I understand that weapon is a language, it can be as close as I need it to be, but with that said, I talk white and mainly as a southerner, we use words that you would use in the UK, and that’s because my people were bought and sold by those people.
So there is no better or worse, no intellectual less or more, I speak a foreign language given to me by foreign people because they use people who look like me. For me the bigger question is less about am I using language to disarm white people, the bigger problem is for me is what do I have for myself? Do I speak my language? What am I going to do in this life that satisfies me? Apart from thinking about what does not belong to me and what has not been given to me.
Killer Mike with EL-P from Run The Jewels (Netflix/Trigger Warning)
Is there anger that goes with it?
There’s not really anger in it for me; we are where we are. I’m not going to waste my time being angry about slavery and apartheid when there’s nothing I can do about that past.
What I can do is something about it right now. Because my ancestors toiled away on behalf of America, I now have a thing called American censorship and the ability to use capitalism as a means to change my life and the ones in the pan-African diaspora. I operate within this system, as an individual with my family unit and my greater community. And I will continue to do that.
Now if people want to revolt, turn out the lights and kill all our masters, then I’m for that as well. I just haven’t gotten that email yet.
Run The Jewels is poetic, powerful and explosively political music. How has Run The Jewels helped you in clarifying your vision and yourself?
I think E-LP and I have a fantastic friendship which bleeds through the record and on tape and I think that energy of affection encourages people to reach out and befriend other people, especially with people who don’t look like them and us and I hope we can do that for the next 15-20 years.
What is your favourite line from Run The Jewels?
“You can run backwards through a field of dicks.” That’s pretty fucking amazing.
Feature image: Zach Wolfe
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