Killer Mike Strikes Back

If rap duo Run the jewels are the X-Men, then “run,” the first solo single in a decade from Atlanta’s own Killer Mike, a.k.a. Michael Render, follows the continuing adventures of Wolverine. “As a Black American, I have a set of experiences that are totally unique,” explains Render. “So when you hear that rebel on a Run the Jewels track, this record gives you an opportunity to understand what helped him become so fierce and so dedicated to the cause of the X-Men.”

“Run,” which dropped on Independence Day as a reminder of a freedom which has always been tentative to some, was accompanied by a provocative video directed by Montreal native Adrian Villagomez. “It was inspiring to me [simply] because a French Canadian, because he was not American, did not come with the same prejudices, and really shot it like it was an Afrofuturist video,” Render says.

The striking and visceral short film depicts a young Black man running through a metaphysical war zone where modern-day allies stand alongside Black historical figures like Frederick Douglass, Shirley Chisholm, and Fannie Lou Hamer. While the subject matter sounds grim, “Run” is suffused with hope, from the soulful church organs that open the video to the soaring horns throughout the track, which seem to herald a better tomorrow – a future where evil is, if not fully conquered, certainly in retreat.

SHARP spoke to Killer Mike about the new track, his political ambitions, and the prosecution of Young Thug, Gunna, and YSL.

You’ve served as a campaign surrogate for Bernie Sanders, and you’re an activist, and a cultural commentator. People from all walks of life listen when you talk. When are you going to run for office?

Well, first, I’m going to keep running Run the Jewels. There’s some people that like politics — those people in ninth grade that are already running for school secretary or president of their class. I wasn’t that person. But what I didn’t understand was that I have leadership qualities, and that people were going to one day encourage me to run.

When I get a lot more grey hair, and after I’m done running up and down the road on rap tours, I’ll settle in and run for school board or something. I think my first responsibility is to myself and my family, and my next responsibility is to my local community. I encourage those people out there who might not be Killer Mike, but who know a few hundred people that want to make some change, to run locally.

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Your new video for “Run” shows the just rising up against the tyrannical, Black and white people together taking up arms against Confederates and Nazis.

Thank you! I love that you saw the white people that were with the Black people. I’ve gotten so aggravated by certain comments like “You’re insinuating a race war!” I’m like, there’s a Pacific Islander and a white guy right next to each other, what do you mean “race war”?

But it is the just rising against the unjust. The just cannot be content being silent while evil abounds. At some point, the just need to rise against the oligarchs to say, “Yo, this is not right. You’re gonna do right, or we’re gonna righteously get rid of your asses.”

Usually, when you see a Black man running in a video, you assume he’s running from something. But the star of my video isn’t running from anything; he’s running toward a future where we are unified together overcoming the forces of evil. What I wanted to show was that true patriots want freedoms and rights for all and are gonna push against traitors and tyranny together.

You’ve been outspoken about First Amendment rights and how that plays into art. What does that mean for you?

I think that First Amendment rights in America are something that we’re constantly in danger of losing. Noam Chomsky said, if you don’t want the right of freedom of speech for someone you vehemently disagree with, then you don’t want freedom of speech at all. There are people I disagree with, but I want them to be able to say their point of view, because if I call for them to be shut down because I don’t like what they say, next they’ll be coming for me.

It’s totally unfair to live in a country where a white woman who really killed her husband can write an article called “How to Murder Your Husband” and that article not be allowed to be used in court. It’s totally wrong for her to have her First Amendment rights valued, and for a Black kid who raps to have his lyrics used against him. Fair is fair; you have to treat them fairly.

The video contains signs including “FREE THUG, PROTECT BLACK ART, FREE GUNNA.” What was it like working with Young Thug on this track, then seeing his subsequent arrest and prosecution?

I spent two weeks with Thug and Gunna in the studio. What I saw were leaders amongst men, job-providers, and brilliant creators. And when Thug gave me this verse, hidden in it were a few gems that he placed there.

He says, “Thinkin’ the same but ain’t bankin’ the same.” Thug was one of the first people to jump on the Black banking campaign with me, to make sure that Black people used their dollars and circulated them in Black communities. When Thug says, “We gon’ escape on a yacht boat,” I envision this mass return to Africa on these luxury liners of Black people who have been brought here, who are descendants of people who were formerly slaves.

To me, he created brilliant, beautiful imagery that’s abstract and mixed it with all kinds of cool talk about designer stuff — but there really are fragments of abstract intellectualism in there. I value him as an artist; he’s a total rock star. I think that he’s in jail on trumped-up charges, and I also think that his lyrics should not be able to be used against him.