Killer Mike is the definition of an artist who uses their platform for the greater good, and his contributions to the rap game as a whole do not go unnoticed. Born and raised in Atlanta, real name, Michael Santiago Render, exploded onto the scene after his appearance on Outkast’s critically acclaimed Stankonia album… and he’s been making waves ever since.
While it was Big Boi who initially heard Killer Mike’s mixtape in the first place, and proceeded to sign him, things come full circle as Andre 3000 delivers a rare verse to Killer Mike’s most recent project, MICHAEL. The self-titled body of work serves as his most vulnerable work to date, even deeming it one of the best projects Hip-Hop has seen to date — and fans and critics alike can’t help but agree.
And while Killer Mike’s solo career carries its own weight, what he did with Run The Jewels speaks volumes in itself. It’s his ability not only to spit, but create substantial, meaningful music with a positive message that has allowed him to tour all over the world.
The Source spoke with Killer Mike at the GRAMMY Museum moments after his standout performance. This included shedding tears to “MOTHERLESS,” dedicated to his late mother Denise. Read below as we discuss his favorite artist, getting that Andre 3000 verse, relationship with Gangsta Boo, key to generational wealth, and more!
Hip-Hop celebrates 50 years this year. What was the moment you fell in love with Hip-Hop?
It was my mother’s music first, because she was only 16 years older than me. So hers was Kurtis Blow, Houdini. When I heard Fat Boys, Run-DMC, I was going crazy. But when I knew I was in love was Roxanne Shante. She was a 15-year-old girl, standing next to boys and men just rapping her ass off. She’s been my hero, to this day she still is. So Roxanne Shante. She sent my mom a signed picture of her, a picture that she went and got developed back to me. It let me know nothing was impossible.
I just interviewed The Pharcyde…
The Pharcyde, I done learned Spanish because of them. We had Ms. Blaze for Spanish class, and Pharcyde had dropped a year. Me and Ernest, all we did was listen to Pharcyde and talk Pharcyde all day. Man, “that shit keeps on passin’ me by,” I felt that way. That’s how I felt when my wife turned me down first time. She said “no sex on the first day,” so you doing something. [laughs] She could have gave up that ass.
I love that you and your wife go to the strip club together. What is the key to a healthy relationship?
Just be into the same things. If you’re into church, be into the same church. If you’re into cars, be into the same cars. If you’re into girls, hopefully you’re into the same girls. But you have enough likenesses to keep you together and you have enough things apart from one another to keep you occupied, so that you appreciate one another. You just try your best, then still be a stubborn, determined motherfucker too.
Who’s the current Queen and King of Hip-Hop?
I’ve never recognized kings and queens. I love the fact that there’s so many queens in Hip-Hop. Because again, one of my biggest influences was Roxanne Shante. The king of Hip-Hop, for me, one of my best friends is the King of the South. That’s T.I. I’ve seen him carry that throne and crown well. I love the fact that the guys who say their kings carry themselves like they that, and the queens are winning. I don’t know who the king and queen is, I just know it’s a lot of them out there.
What’s your favorite Ice Cube song?
You listen to Ice Cube by albums. You listen to AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and Death Certificate. But in terms of the hardest diss record ever, Ice Cube was not lying. “No Vaseline.” I would not want “No Vaseline” written about me. He really did break up my favorite rap group at the time, N.W.A. [laughs] So I gotta agree with Cube on that.
Speaking of albums, MICHAEL is incredible.
Thank you so much.
How the hell did you get Andre 3000 and Future on the same song?
Well, I was in the Dungeon family so that’s a cheat code. There you go.
Andre 3000 is a bit of a unicorn. Did you have a convo with him when the record dropped?
No, with Dre man. Once he told me he loved the record, he gave me the verse and helped put the record together. I was amazed just because it’s been 20 years since they gave me a deal. It’s been a hell of a long time since I was asked to be on a record with him —
Everyone wants an Andre 3000 verse!
But everybody didn’t get a record deal from him. He didn’t shape their early career, so it meant something to me on some big brother shit. I really, really appreciate that in a deep way. Him and Future.
What does it mean to get those text messages from Jay Z?
It means that I’m friends with someone I really respect and admire. Since the first time Shanti Das, who no longer is in music — does stuff around mental health now, thank God. Silence The Shame, shouts out to Shanti. She introduced me to Jay, took me to the studio with him for the first time. He’s been a consummate gentleman, and a player at every step of the way. To y be able to engage on a friendship level now is pretty cool and amazing, because he has a great mind. It’s cool conversing.
I saw someone say they called their parents on the way home after the LA show.
That means a lot.
What’s been the best fan encounter on tour?
The best fan encounter is every fan encounter, because I remember when I didn’t have many fans.
I love that you shouted out Lola on “TALKIN THAT SHIT.”
That’s my girl, I love her.
What was your relationship with her? Walk me through your decision to bring her on tour, because that’s so dope.
She was like a sister to me. She was an elder in terms of artistically, because Three 6 Mafia was on before me. But you never would’ve known, she was one of the most kind and humble and loving and connecting people I’ve ever met. She gives and wouldn’t ask much. Us getting an opportunity with Run The Jewels…
Run the Jewels is like the uncanny X-Men. El and I are the central characters, but they’re all these other characters that contribute. From her to Josh Homme to Zack de la Rocha. Big Boi’s popped up, 2 Chainz. There’s always someone in and out. Knowing that she’s never going to be back in, it breaks my heart a lot, because she was an important part. I love taking her on the road. From what I’ve heard, she really was honored to be and had a good time. She’s just a badass chick man, and I miss her.
What is the key to generational wealth?
Buying a house.
What if you don’t have money?
Then you have to figure it out. My grandmother’s parents were sharecroppers. They were the sons and daughters of enslaved people. They sharecropped, they managed to save. In 1948, they bought their farm. My grandmother had grown up on another farm they were renting before then. My grandmother came as an 18-year-old girl in 1950 to Atlanta. By 1952, she saved enough to get her first home. It is not easy. It may mean you may have to move. You have to go to Birmingham, Tampa.
But the key to generational wealth is to first own a piece of land, because that’s something that allows you to get a loan. That’s something that allows you to leave something for your children. We still own every home my grandparents own, I bought my daughter a house in the same one. That’s not to say you can do it too, it’s going to be the easiest. I remember me and my wife are living in an apartment. I got my first $60,000 royalty check, and we were trying to decide what the fuck we’re gonna do. The first thing we did was bought a house.
We bought a rental property that we couldn’t live in, but we bought it. She got it up to her standards, we rented it out for the next decade. You gotta figure it out. There’s a way to figure it out. I’d like to encourage more people to get focused on doing it together. If you and your cousins all live in an apartment, you guys are paying $2K a month. Which is cheap rent out here, but Atlanta it’s expensive.
I pay $3K for a one-bedroom.
Alright, you pay $3K right? You have three friends that also pay $3K right? So that’s $12K y’all pay. At some point, you gotta do the hard shit and say “we’re going to fucking live together. We’re going to save…” No bullshit. When I was growing up, my friends that were Korean and Asian, commonly known as East Indian, they taught me something about group economics that I hadn’t seen.
Friend of mine said when his parents got here, they all lived with their brothers and sisters. So everyone was in his big fucking house. Instead of paying an apartment complex one grand a piece, they were paying $200 a piece and saved the rest. My grandmother moved to Atlanta and all of her sisters and brothers lived with her for one year, saved all their money. She would not allow them to pay so that they can own something. We have to get unique. We have to get creative. We have to start to cooperate and collaborate so that we can save money.
Do you have your Grammy speech prepared?
Yeah, I won. I told y’all n*ggas! Me, Tom, and Ryan told y’all n*ggas. [laughs] I’m playing. I’m gonna very humbly — I’m gonna thank the people that are on my team that have worked for me. I want to thank God and I want to thank my ancestors.