Michael Santiago Render, known to the world as the Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, is half of the so-chaotic-it-works rap duo Run the Jewels, whose excellent fourth effort, RTJ4, debuted last week. For a group that is arguably ahead of its time, it only seems appropriate that lines like these — from the track “Walking in the Snow” — were recorded before George Floyd’s death or America’s current moment of revolution:
“And every day on evening news they feed you fear for free
And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me
And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe’
And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV
The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy
But truly the travesty, you’ve been robbed of your empathy
Replaced it with apathy, I wish I could magically
Fast forward the future so then you can face it
And see how fucked up it’ll be
I promise I’m honest, they coming for you
The day after they comin’ for me”
The lyrics appear prescient, given what is now happening in the world. But they also feel like an appropriate condemnation of those responsible for not doing more to stop systemic racism. They reflect not only the disproportionate dangers of police violence against black people — they also warn white people, many of whom are now taking to the streets to say that black lives matter, about how their own apathy to black plight will eventually be chickens coming home to roost.
The inherent trepidation we are taught to feel as black men in the presence of police — even when, in Mike’s case, your father is a cop — is but one of the many topics that he and I covered in the course of our conversation. Also on that list: the themes and spirituality that run through the work of Run the Jewels, Mike’s collaboration with Pharrell on the new album, and the impassioned speech that Mike gave to his native Atlanta alongside T.I. and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms last month while demonstrators caused property damage and fires during protests. Plus, he discusses the things that give him hope in what may seem like a hopeless time. But the reality of today’s America was never far from our minds.
“I love being black,” Mike observed, as I mmm-hmm’d in agreement. “With that said, it can be dangerous as fuck.”
This is the latest installment of Rolling Stone’s “RS Interview: Special Edition” video series, which features in-depth conversations with notable figures in music, entertainment, and politics. Episodes premiere every Thursday afternoon on Rolling Stone’s YouTube channel.