Grammy Award-winning rapper and activist Killer Mike has never shied away from hot-button issues. In fact, he’s usually the one pressing the buttons. Killer Mike has routinely used his social platforms and his music to speak out on topics including gun control, police brutality, and racial inequality. Now he has a Netflix show to amplify his message.
In Trigger Warning, Killer Mike unpacks education, religion, the black economy, and more through amusing (yet educational) social experiments. For example, in the episode “White Gang Privilege,” Killer Mike rationalizes that if a biker gang like Hells Angels can sell merchandise and capitalize on America’s fascination with the “bad guys,” why couldn’t a gang like the Crips do the same? Killer Mike’s solution: Creating Crip-a-Cola, a soda made and sold by Crips as a way to tap into a sustainable revenue stream and, in the process, destigmatize the thinking around black gangs. And yes, it’s a real soda.
“When it comes to the Crips, I know those young men have genius in them,” Killer Mike says in the latest episode of Fast Company‘s Creative Conversation podcast. “The one Yayo in particular. At one point in the show, he talks about having to go to treacherous neighborhoods and hock his goods and stuff. He does that. He’s a family man. He’s a great father. So he’s more than a gang member or street fraternity member. He is already a businessman. My thing is, how do I help him scale his business up from a thousand-dollar business to a million-dollar business?”
Killer Mike says that Trigger Warning has been in the works now for 10 years, starting out as a pilot he shot with FX. Not fully satisfied with it, Killer Mike and his producer shopped the concept around until they landed at Netflix. What Killer Mike was looking for was a way to extend and explore the conversations that take place in black barbershops, and to do it in a way that blends entertainment with information. The result even surprised Killer Mike. “In each episode, I found a humanity that I wasn’t looking for from a person I wasn’t looking for,” he says.
In this Creative Conversation episode, Killer Mike explains why Trigger Warning is required watching (even if you’re easily triggered), how he’s balancing his art and his activism, and why he compares his rap duo Run the Jewels with producer/rapper El-P to a classic American sandwich. Read highlights of the conversation and listen to the full episode below.
Getting better with age
“I honestly am becoming a better MC every album. I’m pushing my limit in terms of styles. I’m pushing my limit in terms of cadence. I’m pushing my limit in terms of, visually, how I show it. We, as Run the Jewels, in terms of our stage show, try and provide top-tier production. We went from playing 300-people rooms to now playing 5,000- to 8,000-people theaters and amphitheaters and hopefully coliseums one day. Technically, I’m always trying to be a doper rapper. As an MC, I’m always trying to entertain better. So I would argue I’m one of the few rappers that gets better with age. I think I’m seasoned.”
Two is better than one
“Working with El [as Run the Jewels] has grown me. It’s made me a more disciplined and focused rapper. It’s made me more willing to experiment with styles I may not have. It’s good to have a comrade and a partner next to you. It’s good to have someone who really gives a damn about it with you. I can’t explain why El-P and I are perfect as a rap group. I just know that I recognized it early and I was not willing to let it go, or to let any feeling of ego or self-inflation get in the way of it. It’s just like peanut butter and jelly. RTJ: We’re the new PB&J! In theory, peanut butter and jelly don’t even sound good together, unless you had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then you’re like, ‘Oh, shit!'”
Killer Mike’s most important creative advice
“Feed your imagination: Feed it, feed it, feed it. A lot of people see me and [my wife] Shana go to strip clubs. They’re like, ‘Man, you’re so lucky! Your wife goes to strip clubs!’ But for us in Atlanta, it’s a juke joint. It’s a real vibe. I just say it keeps my imagination alive to be in there listening. It’s one thing to hear Migos on the radio in your car. It’s another thing to see the club get lit to these three kids who you told your wife five years ago they’re going to blow up. Going to the High Museum with my 11-year-old daughter feeds my imagination. Stop allowing yourself to remain in the box that people told you were in once you entered kindergarten. Feed that 1- to-4-year-old’s imagination and watch the world change.”