Killer Mike Reviews His Reviews

Last Tuesday, Killer Mike – the proudly outspoken Atlanta rapper who came up with Outkast’s Dungeon Family crew in the early part of last decade – released his sixth studio album, R.A.P. Music. A full-length collaboration with underground hip-hop hero El-P (he produced every beat), it’s a charged, relentless piece of music that’s gotten Killer some of the best reviews of his career. And trust that he’s been paying attention. Recently, Mike tweeted “Attn: Journalist, Writers, Mags, Bloggers & Blogs. I will b reviewing yalls review. So listen close & do good. Believe dat!” Always appreciative of anyone supporting print/web media, we got the ever insightful Killer Mike on the phone to talk good and bad press.

So the Pitchfork review was very favorable.
I will say this, I was absolutely shocked about getting an 8.6 from Pitchfork. I know they don’t throw those around gingerly. I don’t know if I’ve ever even gotten a 7 from them. I was very honored. I think that Pitchfork, because they had kind of followed me out of the Pledge series to this, it feels like their review had a lot more texture. They really took the time to listen to the record as a whole. Everybody was getting the snippets before it came out, and I can tell the difference between who listened to the whole album and who just got a few songs.

Oh, you think some people just kind of skim over the album and then knock out their reviews?
Yeah, I can tell who’s bullshitting. I can tell who really doesn’t know rap music. Like, part of this record, in reviewing it, you have to understand certain historical elements. I put a lot of secondary and tertiary messages in this record. If you’re not a West Coast rap aficionado, when I say “a smalama doomalama,” you might know that’s a direct homage to J.J. Fad. When I reference NWA, I call Ice Cube by his real name, O’Shea. There are a ton of subtle little differences in there, not just from nineties rap. Jeriko One, that is one of my favorite characters from Strange Days. There’s a movie that Quentin Tarantino wrote but didn’t direct, True Romance, where Christian Slater’s talking to a fake Elvis. He’s talking to a fake Elvis projected out of his mind. In “JoJo’s Chillin,” JoJo is talking to a fake Ghostface, a Ghostface projected out of his mind.

So, yeah, I can tell who really listened to the record as an album. When I say “That Miles Davis Bitches Brew, that ‘biaytch’ said by playboy Too” — when you catch that line, it’s significant. Usually, people who are music aficionado are kind of elite, and they never gonna put Too Short next to Miles Davis. But saying the word ‘biaytch’ and bringing that to the forefront the way Too Short did in the nineties — that’s significant to hip hop. My whole life, I’ve seen hip hop be an outside child of the black music experience. But the black music experience has pushed all of America forward, and I’m tired of being the child by the other woman. We deserve our place.

Is there other content that you feel has been somewhat misconstrued?
“Reagan,” that’s not like my old records. I am assuming responsibility as a rapper for the bullshit in my community. I am a product of the Reagan era, I am a product of crack and guns flooding my community. And for me to say, as a product, that I’ve been a part of the harm, no one has ever done that. That was revolutionary in itself. The lines, “serving the country’s real masters” — I’m not on some “Illuminati controls the world behind closed doors” bullshit. When I say that, I’m not attacking the president. The president works within a structure of power. He’s one out a fraternity that numbers 44 men that have been powerful but not all-powerful. I wanted to [get across] that Reagan is an actor, just like we all actors. Rappers are actors. And if they get that it’s almost like they were in the studio with El and I as we were sequencing the record. Because we knew what the impact of the record was supposed to be.

So what kind of reviews, in your opinion, missed the point altogether?
Any review that says that I’m trying to regress to the nineties I immediately know, you didn’t get this record. This record is a product of two kids who grew up in the nineties, and who are trying to progress it. I don’t want to go back to wearing oversize hockey jerseys or wearing my pants backwards. I don’t think that the illest beats ever came from this rap group circa this year. I think the ideal, whether it was the Golden Age in the late eighties or the Golden Age in the mid-nineties, I think there was a particular level of excellence. And we’re interest in surpassing or progressing that. Any review that tries to play this as a throwback — it’s not a throwback, it’s a throwforward. Its propelling rap forward based on its true pillars. And it’s not what I’ve been told to do by a marketer. This is true. This is the closet to a blues album that I’ve ever made. This is my soul on record. Rap for the last twelve years has been a pop fixture, has been very much about flossing and glossing. But not very much about the core values.

There’s been a movement in hip-hop toward emotional honestly, intimate confessions, that kind of thing. Do you think reviewers in part are responding positively because you’re attempting to make bigger statements than that?
There’s definitely personal stuff here: “Willie Burke Sherwood,” [a track about Killer Mike’s grandfather], that makes me want to cry every time I hear it. And I’m rapping about my woman laying in the bed while we in the strip club until seven in the morning. And I mean there’s a place for the emotional rap. But that was there with R&B music, that was there with soul music. Any time a woman has tried to get a guy to love her, that’s been there. Rap added a sense of community that I’m responsible for. People hear rap and try to live out of those worlds. You have young men who started businesses because of Jay-Z and Damon Dash and Kareem Burke. You got guys with tattoos in the middle of their eyes, not because of biker gangs but because of Lil Wayne. And every kid I meet’s a Blood now. Rap affects the larger community. There’s a responsibility there. I just accept that responsibility more than others.

Any other reviews on your mind?
The Source usually writes me a great review, and gives me the shittiest mic rating. I’ve never understood that at all. You read the review and go, I know a four, four and a half is coming, and a damn three and a half pop up. It’s the most insulting thing, to the point where I don’t’ know if I’ll submit another album to them for review. And just know it’s not a personal thing, because I have every Source since ‘92. XXL, they’ve never given me an XXL [rating] even though I feel I deserve it. Just as an artist man, when you put this much into it, you get tired of being an afterthought. I want this for the right now, I don’t want people to go back and be like, “Oh I missed this.” And in lieu of having millions of marketing dollars, all it takes is a little word of mouth, to get somebody to get a little less jaded and say, “Go buy it.”

Amos Barshad has written for New York Magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ AmosBarshad