Killer Mike’s First Trip to a Strip Club Was to See 2 Live Crew

Photo courtesy of Columbia Records

Killer Mike is in vigorous spirits, having recently released his latest solo album, R.A.P. Music, to almost unanimous critical goodwill. The project was top-to-toe produced by EL-P, and as Mike tells it, that decision was in part inspired by Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, which saw Cube ditching N.W.A to hook up with Public Enemy’s Long Island sonic architects the Bomb Squad. But if R.A.P. Music benefits from a tight union of conspirators, not least with El’s booming and authoritative beats matching Mike’s weighty vocals, its glory is in the breadth of Mike’s content: Over a sensibly scant 12 tracks, he raps and rants about police brutality, Reagan-era politics, and the idea of hip-hop as religion, while just as readily throwing in raucous references to iconic Atlanta strip clubs, J.J. Fad songs, and kicking a yarn that, as he puts it, “… is a wonderful amoral hip-hop story.”

So with R.A.P. Music brimming with points of opinion and prompts for further discussion, Hive simply asked Killer Mike to go deep on some of the songs and the inspiration behind them. Happily, he obliged.

The song “Reagan” seems to have really caught on. Are you surprised people have gravitated towards that one?

Yeah, that’s the biggest surprise I’ve had with the album. I was surprised it stuck like it does with so many different demographics. I knew that my core audience would love it, but I had no idea it would stick to people who I thought had no interest in concepts like that.

What do you remember about growing up during the Reagan era?

Everything changing. I remember adults who had pretty decent jobs all of a sudden talking about their jobs being threatened, like steel plants — my family worked in steel plants and they started closing and going overseas. Cocaine just flooded our communities out of nowhere. One day it was kids skipping in the street and hula-hooping and in a process of months there was cocaine everywhere. At first no one knew the connections with Iran-Contra, but when it came out later we got a chance to see we had been used. Used as consumers of a product that will destroy our community. It was a secret war. I remember adults in my family and my teachers being very distrustful of [Reagan]. I remember my grandfather’s disdain for him. I remember arts and music programs leaving our schools. Reagan affected our lives in so many ways. It wasn’t just Reagan the man, but Reagan as an ideology, like protecting the rich and only caring about oneself. With that, America just became a different country. Everyone took a bit of him. Certainly the drug dealers became narcissistic and damn near evil: all these young drug dealers that had been in my community before became very much like neo-cons and very much like Reagan and the Republican party now. Reagan affected all of us.

At the time, did you hear rumors about theories about where the cocaine suddenly came from?

No, I got hipped as soon as the Oliver North stuff fell out. My mom and her friends did a pretty good job of explaining the connection to me, and then Maxine Waters brought to light the connection between Iran-Contra and the C.I.A. and illegal cocaine distribution. It wasn’t only cocaine, it was fire arms too. They flooded our community from California, like guns coming out unmarked. There was a lot of death and violence in that era. We knew that as a community we had been had.

Was it hard to stay optimistic during the Reagan years?

It was very hard to stay optimistic. I remember how brutal the police were. I got two brilliant ass whoppings from the cops — it was some fuckin’ Pulp Fiction shit they would do to us and we was kids, like literally children. I can only say that no other country would have allowed children to be treated in such a way. We were beaten, our clothes were pulled off in public, dogs were allowed to be used against us. The amazing thing was, it was all under the guise of, “We’re protecting the community from the evil drug dealers.” But on the flip side it was the C.I.A. allowing this shit to come in on military planes to our country! They were flooding us and then punishing us! It was a very brutal time for police enforcement. A young black male under Reagan really became the arch nemesis of all that was the American good. We had that ugly characterization of us.

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