By John M.
When Killer Mike hit the scene in 2000, it was as a young Morehouse College student featured on Outkast’s Stankonia. He worked his way into the inner circles of Southern Hip-Hop, met Big Boi and landed a coveted guest verse on Outkast’s now-classic 2000 album. At first, he was just another Dungeon Family protége´, riding the early-00s Southern Rap wave to prominence. Now, twenty years later, he is one of hip-hop’s epochal voices.
Michael Render was born in Atlanta to teenage parents. His father would become a police officer, a fact that did not prevent Mike from selling drugs as a young man, and certainly has not prevented him from speaking out against police injustice. Following the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Mike issued statements condemning the conduct of police in black neighborhoods, describing them as a “paramilitary” occupying force.
As for his electoral politics, Mike has endorsed and campaigned for Bernie Sanders. An active supporter of Bernie’s 2016 and 2020 presidential bids, Mike has described himself as a “proponent of political revolution.” He courted a fair amount of controversy from the politico-media class when he refused to back Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election, citing the former Secretary of State’s abysmal record on race and criminal justice issues over the past several decades.
Regardless of his choice of candidate, Mike’s most potent activism comes from his artistic output. He has always taken a politically-charged approach to hip-hop, but his ideology took center stage on his 2012 album, R.A.P. Music. The popular track, “Reagan,” featured an artful and accessible breakdown of the economic warfare waged against Black America by the titular administration. The song’s popularity came at a time when droves of Millennials were graduating into a society wracked by profound inequality, despite Obama being well into his second term. The radical politics of the acclaimed track undoubtedly helped steer a generation of liberal-minded youth toward the left-wing insurgency of 2016.
Outside of his solo career, Mike has incorporated politics into his creative works across media. His popular Netflix docu-series, Trigger Warning with Killer Mike, delves into issues in the black community. His successful hip-hop duo with fellow rapper El-P, Run the Jewels, has the honor of being one of the few acts to lure former Rage Against the Machine frontman and leftist rock luminary, Zach de la Rocha, out of retirement for musical collaboration. On “A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters,” one of such collaborations with de la Rocha, Mike reflects on his outspoken role in the 2016 Democratic Primary and takes shots at journalists who he feels were disingenuous in their criticism of him.
Just when Jay-Z and Drake’s luxury-brand-obsessed lyrics were dominating hip-hop, Killer Mike was providing moral clarity and reviving “conscious rap” with songs like “Reagan.” Now, nearly five decades after the birth of hip-hop, the genre’s roots as the most radical art form of the late 20th Century seem to be fading from our collective view. But Killer Mike continues to serve as a socio-political north star in hip-hop and beyond.