Killer Mike wants rappers to take it up a notch. No, not by getting more blinged-out and buying bigger rims, but by focusing less on ego and more on social issues.
The Southern rapper — who has been featured on multiple Outkast albums and lodged his 2003 debut, Monster, in the top 10 — rails against police brutality and conservative black churches on his forthcoming Ghetto Extraordinary.
"In the late '80s/ early '90s, if you didn't have some type of consciousness, no matter who you were, you were considered a sellout," Mike said. "I think that what's happening now is everybody's kind of bought in. Now rap is about one's self and glorification of self."
Instead of inflating his ego, Mike tackles a number of social concerns on his second LP. He said he has "some very deep ideas" on topical tracks like "Shot Down," "Speak Lord" and "Mama Said."
"I actually wrote ['Shot Down'] around the time a young teenage girl was killed in Dallas by the police nine months to a year ago," he said. " 'Shot Down' is about more than police brutality; it's about gun violence also. A young man here in Atlanta was killed at a MARTA station [Atlanta's commuter train]. He got a hold of a firearm, flashed it at another teenager and the other young man shot and killed him."
Mike, who grew up in Adamsville, Georgia, but has since relocated to nearby Atlanta, said, "It's easier to buy a gun here than it is to get a [drivers'] license. This song ['Shot Down'] was just on my heart when I did it, and I couldn't let go of the hook: 'APD will get you shot down/ LAPD will see you shot down/ NYPD will get you shot down/ Come f--- with me, you'll get shot down.' Then I let a few people hear it [and] it was relevant to them. Stories started coming out like, 'Yeah man, the police just did this to me.' "
It's not just gun violence that Mike thinks is ailing contemporary society. He also has choice words for black churches.
"Essentially, the black church has become Republican," he explained. "We've abandoned what is really our salvation-based ministry and we've bought into blessing-based ministry. It's saying that if you act this way, in accordance with God, morally and spiritually, you can get this stuff while you are here."
While Mike has packed Ghetto Extraordinary with social commentary, he said he didn't have to sacrifice beats in order to do it. He did, however, modify his style this time around. While his rhymes have been gruff on past tracks like "AKshon (Yeah!)" and Outkast's "The Whole World," he said he smoothed the flow this time around (see "Outkast Protege Killer Mike Deals With Fame, Calls For 'AKshon' ").
"I decided to just take what's stereotypically Atlanta — Chevys, beautiful girls, big rims, purple haze — and tone my style down and do a new Killer Mike," he said. "Do something that's jamming and not abrasive that people could move to."
Mike said he lifted the beat to the first single, "My Chrome," from rapper/minister Mase.
" 'My Chrome' sounds pretty slick. In fact, I was scared to do the song, and then Mase walked in and he wanted it," he laughed. "I couldn't let Mase have it! Mr. DJ laced the track and Big Boi told me it was crazy, but I wasn't sure. But once I saw how Big Boi and Mase reacted, I was like, 'These guys have sold a lot of records. If they like this, maybe you should put this on your album, Michael.' "
Big Boi is just one of many guest artists featured on the album. Ghetto Extraordinary — which has "more of the player aesthetic that I feel like the South has lost," according to Mike — also hosts Outkast, Juvenile, Jagged Edge, Bun B, Chamillionaire and Scar, a new artist signed to Outkast's Purple Ribbon label (formerly Aquemini).
"Choose Me" features another guest: SL Jones, who is on Mike's independent label, Grind Time Official. His roster also boasts Nario, Zach Nichols, Big Slim and Sharp Shooter.
"We want to build up a grass-roots following so that a major deal will come to us," he said of GTO.
Along with having Ghetto Extraordinary ready for release and a video in the works — for which director Hype Williams is in talks — Killer hinted he might follow in Andre 3000's Hollywood footsteps. He recently shot "Twenty Funerals," a Swirl Productions independent movie, with Big Boi and Lil Jon.
"I play this guy named Fat Tony and I get shot and killed," Mike said. "I got interested in acting when Dre was first taking acting lessons out in California. I just kind of hung out in his trailer and saw the study they had to go into. And I'm just like, 'Yeah, I can do this.' So I'm actually gonna go out and stay in L.A. for a month or two and do some reading. I wanna try it. They pay a little better than music, I heard."