Race relations in America are crumbling right now. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner did not lead to any indictments, which caused riots across the country.
Standing on top of the rubble is a somewhat unlikely figure: Michael Render, a/k/a Killer Mike, a rapper who has been active since 1999 and released eight albums; six solo and two as one half of Run the Jewels alongside rapper/producer El-P.
Render has always been known to mix political awareness with streetwise tales of slinging cocaine in Atlanta, but since his rhymes were paired with the dense and futuristic beats of El-P, first on his solo album R.A.P. Music, people have been listening more to what he has to say.
From a musical standpoint, few acts are making songs as immediate, as angry and as fun as Run the Jewels right now. On this year’s Run the Jewels 2, the duo managed to mix rousing shouts of disobedience (“I don’t give a f*ck about power/I’ll pluck an eye out of a pyramid”) with the seemingly impossible: making Zach de la Rocha relevant again.
As a musical act, Run the Jewels will rightfully compete for the number one spot on many year-end lists, but it is as an activist that Killer Mike sets himself apart from his partner-in-crime. Not that El-Producto isn’t supportive of Mike, what makes the two such an admirable duo is their bridging of a racial gap, with El-P standing firmly with his partner in times of such racial tension.
Mike’s work with his community is no flash-in-the-pan publicity stunt. He owns Graffiti SWAG Barbershop in Atlanta, a place where he hopes to “lift up men in the community who are out of work and help move them toward sustainable, lifelong careers” and for his employees to have an “opportunity for real economic elevation.”
The barbershop has long since been an important cultural aspect of Black American communities and, recognising this, Render has spoken of his hope of eventually owning 150 barbershops nationwide, mostly in black-majority cities.
On the day that Darren Wilson, Michael Brown’s killer, escaped justice and amidst the riots that ensued in Ferguson Run the Jewels performed in nearby St. Louis. The show opened with an emotional speech from Mike who was clearly shaken by the American system’s blatant disregard for black lives. Upon being interviewed by CNN on the subject, he broke down once more, reflecting the demoralisation of the black community.
“When you n*ggas gon’ unite and kill the police?” are not the kind of lyrics you expect from someone whose father was a police officer, but Killer Mike stands as evidence to what, as he put it, the “excessive force and the hunt-and-capture-prey mentality many thrill-seeking cops have adapted” created.
From the moment in 2012 when he said that he was glad that Ronald Reagan is dead, it was clear that Killer Mike was becoming an entirely new monster. This generation’s answer to Ice Cube, Michael Render is The Suss’ person of the year.
Odrán de Bhaldraithe
Image credit: bet.com