Editor’s Note: The following interview was conducted several weeks after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Since that time, the announcement that Darren Wilson, the police officer responsible for the death of Michael Brown, would not be indicted has sparked protests throughout the country. Upon hearing the news before a performance in St. Louis, Killer Mike made an emotional address to the audience, in which he states, “I can promise you…if I die when I walk off this stage tomorrow, I’m gonna let you know this…it is not about race, it is not about class, it is not about color. It is about what they killed him for. It is about poverty, it is about greed, and it is about a war machine…it is about a war machine that uses you as the battery. So I might go today, I might go tomorrow, I might go the day after, but there is one thing I want you to know, it is us against the motherfucking machine!”
Apologies go out to Killer Mike and El-P. This article was supposed to be about the greatness that is Run the Jewels 2, and how the response to their first collaboration lead to the creation of the second. It was supposed to be centered around the group’s latest endeavor, and not so much about the world around us. Unfortunately, the interview was cut short due to Killer Mike having to head to the stage where he was performing during the Sunset Strip Music Festival in Hollywood. Call it a classic case of the “too many questions, not enough time” dilemma that writers often go through. This article almost never saw the light of day, given that the majority questions during those precious few minutes revolved around the then recent shooting of an eighteen year old unarmed Black male in Ferguson Missouri, and the subsequent protests that followed. The concern for not having enough to say about Killer Mike’s music seemed less important however, given the decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson on Monday, November 24th, the officer responsible for the killing of Michael Brown. At that point, it made Killer Mike’s thoughts on the situation, and the larger issues that loom over us all, not only important, but necessary to share.
“…if everything becomes racism, nothing is racism.”
“I think it’s more. I think it’s bigger, badder, deffer, darker, funnier, and I think it has a level of depth that people weren’t necessarily expecting, because I don’t know if we expected to go to that depth,” says Mike as he provides a high level description of the 11 track, 39 minute Run the Jewels 2. “A lot of the things that are happening now, especially around police brutality against U.S. citizens, we kind of talked about. A lot of the things that are going on now, in terms of people not trusting government and realizing that there are multiple, dubious reasons why our country’s at war in different places is talked about.” For those who have yet to listen to Run the Jewels 2, one of the songs that he speaks of is the track, “Early,” in which both Mike and El-P describe a situation through their respective lenses where a man is being profiled and arrested in front of his wife and kids. The lyrics paint a far too familiar scene for people of color: “Please don’t lock me up in front of my kids/And in front of my wife/Man, I ain’t got a gun or a knife/You do this and you ruin my life.”
“You’ve got to preserve states’ rights, but what you have to do is become more diligent as citizens, at protecting and making people aware of their rights.”
It is lyrics like those found in “Early” that prompt more discussion on the situation in Ferguson. When asked about what people can do in the wake of the incident, Mike offers the following thoughts. “The first thing you can do is not get caught up in stupid secondary and tertiary stories. I was just saying, if everything becomes racism, nothing is racism. I can’t give the Atlanta Hawks owner saying something dumb in an email, the same validity as I do [when] police officers kill a black man a week in this country, and no one raises an eyebrow. I can’t give the fact that your business may not like me the same validity as black males [having] doubled the national unemployment rate. Mike references the situation where an NBA owner admitted to making racial remarks in an email, prompting him to sell the team, but explains that not all of these incidents carry the same weight. “Whether I ever go to a Hawks game or not has more to do with the fact that police can stop you and frisk you, and ask for your ID and you’ve done nothing, and that matters more to me. So, that’s where I’m going to place my focus, that’s where my fight is going to be, that’s where I encourage all Americans fight to be. Because at a certain point, that supersedes what color I am, what sex I am, what race I am, and that makes sure that all of my rights, human and Constitutional rights, are recognized. And then we can figure out the rest of the dumb shit. But let’s figure out now just how to make sure that everybody’s human and Constitutional rights in this country are honored.”
“I said that I don’t think that everything is going to shift or change until you see the same kids that were at Occupy, marching with the same kids that are mad and rioting in Ferguson in unison, fighting for the same rights.”
Given the complexity in determining a solution to the rampant problem of police officers abusing their power and violating civil rights, many people have pushed for more oversight of law enforcement. Mike is quick to caution that this too, can have its challenges. “Well, you have to be careful of what you ask for. You don’t want so much federal oversight of police departments, that your federal government now becomes your local and state municipality, because that becomes totalitarianism…that becomes a totalitarian government where pretty much [direction] comes from “on high.” Rather than relying on government, Mike suggests that citizens take a more active role in holding law enforcement accountable. “You’ve got to preserve states’ rights, but what you have to do is become more diligent as citizens, at protecting and making people aware of their rights. Like, Black people need to be aware of “Cop Watch.” And the people that are running Cop Watch need to post when road blocks are happening in black neighborhoods too, not just the suburbs.”
“The proletariat is supposed to lead the government, not the other way around.”
There is no doubt that the present situation does not yield an easy answer, and that there are multiple layers to the issue. It is larger than Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, and the problems go beyond police brutality and the excessive use of force. Each day since the death of Michael Brown reveals more and more about the undercurrent of racism and classism that exists within this country, and a growing power struggle between the “haves” and the “have not’s.” By no means will the answer be solved by any one hip-hop artist, but there is value in the fact that Killer Mike has made sure that hip-hop has a voice within the discussion. While offering his final thoughts on the topic, Mike states that a real difference won’t be made until there is a unified front willing to enact change. “It’s time that everyone that is working on the same problem from different angles converge together. I said that I don’t think that everything is going to shift or change until you see the same kids that were at Occupy, marching with the same kids that are mad and rioting in Ferguson in unison, fighting for the same rights. Because they are asking for the same thing, but they are not organizing together. When you start to see that galvanize, that is when you will start to see systemic change in this country.” Mike’s clairvoyance is worth noting, as many of the protests that happened in New York City and across the country after the announcement was made were organized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, with much of their website being dedicated to “Ferguson Solidarity.” Mike’s last statement before ending the conversation is a powerful reminder that should be kept in the front of all minds. “The proletariat is supposed to lead the government, not the other way around.”
Words by: Mark Anthony Jenkins
Photo Credit: Samantha J.