“I needed my audience to see that Killer Mike is something that this nine-year-old kid created to be fierce and badass and protect him from any ailing,” the artist born Michael Render tells Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. “That is my come-home moment musically. It’s gospel, it’s soul, it’s funk, it’s hip-hop. And from an ethical standpoint, I used to be taught morality through the Black Southern Christian church, which gave us the civil rights movement, the abolitionist movement, which gave us a few of the most beautiful music ever. And I feel like I’m honoring that and I finally found out my place.”
Released 10 years after Run The Jewels transformed Killer Mike from a workaday regional rapper to the form of guy holding public court with national politicians, MICHAEL is, on some level, a celebration of just how far he has come. But it surely’s also an exploration of the complex personality that got him there: the son of a drug dealer who must mourn his childhood but struggles to let his guard down (“MOTHERLESS”), the community leader attempting to elevate youth while snapping back on the perceived narrowness of their politics (“TALK’N THAT SHIT!”), the middle-aged man finally reckoning with the collateral PTSD of Black life in America (“RUN”).
“My mother and grandmother left me,” he says. “‘MOTHERLESS’ is about that and concerning the emptiness you’re feeling, and as a human I feel like I’ve lost something. But when all of the electricity left tomorrow, there’d still be trees moving, there’d still be wind grooving, and that is all we return to. Whenever you close your eyes, you hearken to this record, this device ain’t how you’re hearing this song. These vibrations are the way you’re hearing this song.” There’s also “SCIENTISTS & ENGINEERS,” which features fellow Atlanta legends Future and André 3000. “Artists love and respect each other,” he says. “The what, who’s done what, it’s literally the style. You simply waiting to listen to your partner’s next style.”
And on a production level, the sustained mixture of slow-and-steady trap beats with gospel choirs and soaking-wet organs evokes each the humidity of his Atlanta summers and the mix of sacred and profane that has characterised Black pop from Sam Cooke to Kanye West. If he weren’t so smart and soulful, you may call him a crank. But he’s each.