Killer Mike on politics, art and what it’s like to give lectures across the country

By EMMIE Magazine Staff

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Prior to his Red Talk on systemic racism and police brutality, rapper and political activist Killer Mike sat down with EMMIE staff to discuss his lifelong political evolution and what’s next for him in 2017.

What have you found to be the best way to stay politically active?

KILLER MIKE: Stay local, stay local, stay local, stay local. Get nosy and stay local. You wanna know who your school board member is, who your city council member is, who your cabinet and commissioner are, you wanna know the secretary at your mayor’s office. When you think about it, local is what intrigues you the most anyways. It’s why old people watch the news; just stay local. Focus on the 20 to 50 miles around you that you can really affect, because staying local also helps you feel less defeated. A lot of times we use national politics like we use sports. No one cares about the Super Bowl until their team’s in it, right?

I think that national politics does that sometimes, where you can kind of pick your team and you’re riding with them until the end. Local politics allow you to actually become politically savvy because you have to understand perspectives besides your own. You have to understand how the speed bump in your neighborhood affects not only you but your neighbor. And build allies. You should be organizing with people who don’t look like you, who are not culturally from where you’re from, who don’t share your same background … I feel that allows you to grow your perspective.

Do you think that artists have an obligation or responsibility to stand up to perceived injustices?

KM: No … I don’t believe that artists should be required to. I think artists have an obligation to create art. I think that if you’re compelled to [take a stand] you are absolutely obligated to do so. I am compelled to do so, therefore I do.

Do I like the artists that do? Absolutely, from Picasso to Curtis Mayfield. Artists have that power, but I can’t delegate them saying they should use it.

How have your political views changed and evolved over your many years of being politically active?

KM: Well, you start as a kid in the south in Georgia, you start as a staunch Democrat and you think that’s all that the world should be. Then you learn that 40 years prior to you being a staunch Democrat, black people were staunch Republicans. Then you start to learn the political tapestry that kind of brought you there and you start to evolve. When people say “progressive people,” they instantly think liberal or Democrat … There have been libertarian politicians I like, there have been Republican politicians I like on a local level, there have been people that I like who I didn’t agree with who aren’t like me, but I pushed myself to interact with them and I’ve grown from that.

And how have I grown? I’ve grown, first of all, in confidence when I first learned to value my color. By 1987, a man named Jose Williams who was lieutenant to Dr. King came to my school and told me I was African. Wow. And [he] told me about Egypt, and told me about Mali, and told me about Ghana. So, you know, for the next probably ten years I has staunchly afro-centric.

But we’re still just human beings, and ultimately that is my progression. What I have progressed to is past my black; I am human. We all are human and [I’m] on a grander hunt for my humanity. It’s fun learning culturally about myself, because you’ve been robbed of so much of it, if you’re an African-American in particular. It’s fun to learn these things. I’m still very proud to be black, I still see the world from a pan-africanist view. But with that said, my progression is one where I know I’m on a road and on a path to a greater humanity.

Working and organizing with kids who weren’t like me, who didn’t look like me, who weren’t from inner-city schools in Atlanta when I was 15 until I was about 20, 23 years old was one of the best things that ever happened in my life. I met all these different people from different places, L.A., Chicago. Some were rich, some were poor, and we as a group of kids organized together. We figured out how to get past our own given prejudices.

You came to Madison a few months ago to play a show. How is playing a show different than giving a lecture?

KM: Playing a show is easier because you’re high and drunk already (laughs) and you have to be sober for these. Shows are fun and I have the best job on earth. … But [lectures] actually give me the opportunity to interact with the people that are from or live in Madison. [They give] me the opportunity to see America from a very ground level. So I enjoy doing these talks not so much for me talking, but me communicating with and conversing with and learning. I actually take more away with me. A couple months ago, I took away some money and good times. But this time, I’m taking away a wealth of knowledge that will help me as I progress toward a greater humanity.

For those that aren’t able to attend your talk today, what’s the message?

KM: I think ultimately what I would like to do is inspire people to collaborate more against the forces that oppress us all. I would like the people to get outside of their social constructs and cultural constructs and interact with, befriend and ally with people who don’t look like them. And I would like to get to the point where we’re safe having hard conversations out of those relationships. The will to do that is often what we lack.

What are your upcoming plans? Anything in 2017 that excites you?

KM: My grand plan is getting $8 million and leaving for Jamaica (laughs). That’s my grand plan.

But I’m excited about the elections, like Jon Ossoff down in District 6 in Georgia. I used to live in his district. To see him force a runoff is very exciting to me, because I’m tired of seeing the old guard run the Democratic party. With that said, I’m very excited about Our Revolution and what [Bernie] Sanders is doing and I’m excited to be a part of that in any and every way I have been or could be or will be. I’m very excited about Nina Turner becoming a national voice. I’m excited to see what the next set of midterm elections will be.

Socially what I’m excited about is that for the first time in my life I’m starting to see that on a grander scale, organizations and people have to collaborate because they’re fighting the same fight. I’m excited to see what organizations pop up, what young and new voices emerge, and again, just to be part of the fight.

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