I’m feeling way good.
How’s your new album, 16 in the Kitchen, coming?
It’s coming along nicely. Smiff and Cash (producers) are killing it. We were supposed to be done with it in December, but I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind is still killing it. It still has legs. I have to be a businessman and an artist. Once I have other people handling the business part of the grind, I can get back to being an artist and focus on the music. I’m about to go back in.
Are you happy with your new music?
It’s dope. I wish I had more money to do more marketing, and when I say “marketing,” I don’t mean I want to buy a billboard like a record company would do. I wish I had more money to do more grassroots marketing. But I Pledge Allegiance has been the best learning experience for me. It’s matured me in ways that I never thought it would have. It’s made me grow as an artist and it’s made me a lot more sympathetic to what artists go through.
You’re working primarily with Smiff and Cash on 16 in the Kitchen. What are they bringing out of you?
Between them and a few others, they gave me a sound. They took what was in my head and brought it out. I’m an improvisational artist. I’ll go in the booth and just do something. Everything about my style is kind of like freestyle. But there’s substance to it. I can sit down and have a conversation with them about what I want the music to feel like and the next day they come back with that.
That’s great for you.
Yeah, it is. The only regret I have is that I’m not a pure artist. I still have a business. The thing is, I’m looking for my business being on course so that I can just live in the studio with them. Smiff and Cash just want to live in the studio and that’s my goal. I want to live in the studio with my producers.
What was your inspiration for your album that never came out, Ghetto Extraordinary?
Ghetto Extraordinary was a celebration of not only my struggle but other people who have been able to make it out of the ‘hood. It was more of a celebratory album where I literally became a boss on that record. I had put out undergrounds and mixtapes and I was smashing it. This album was really me coming into my own. I was bringing some water to my clique and signing producers. I was working with 8Ball and MJG and everything I ever wanted was coming to fruition. Then the situation dissolved. Not that anyone is to blame for that, but the situation went to shit. I didn’t get to be the John Gotti. I had to go straight into Michael Corleone mode and go straight to war. The next step for me as an artist and a businessman was to literally be out there on my own and putting my own product out because I had decided to leave Purple Ribbon.
Was leaving Purple Ribbon a difficult decision for you to make?
It was hard. It’s always hard to make that kind of decision. When a country artist signs another country artist, they probably know that person through some degree of separation, but it is probably solely based on talent. It’s like that for rock too. But with rap, you have people who have bloodline interests that are involved. I can say that I’m the only artist signed to Purple Ribbon that didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know them and they didn’t know me. We didn’t grow up together. I’m from the interior of Atlanta. I didn’t know people like that. When you have a brother and a best friend in a group, that’s a new thing to me. I came up as a battle rapper where you’re only as good as your merits. The other situation was more like, ‘Well, this person’s been waiting this long to come out…’ That just didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Otherwise, it was probably the best tutorship I could have gotten in the game.
Do you have any regrets over how that situation played out and your time spent at Purple Ribbon?
I don’t have any regrets in the sense that ‘my life is messed up.’ The only regret that I have is that we didn’t get to reach our full potential, so in a lot of ways, we proved the haters right. I saw my dream and I felt that what was going to happen was Big Boi and Dre were coming off of LA Reid and they were opening up a label where rappers could shine. You could also have a guy like Jemel Money and other dope R&B artists. After we reformatted for Purple Ribbon, I thought we had the potential to be the next Loud Records that focused on credible hip-hop because you could see the deterioration of lyricism in the South. I thought we could have done that and it didn’t happen. I really wanted the Big and Puff thing with me and Big Boi. I really wanted to be the face for that company and then I saw that it wasn’t happening. So I had to go out and make my own situation. I regret that we couldn’t make it heavy. I still have my Purple Ribbon jacket in my closet. I feel like that’s always going to be in my heart. When I get inducted into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame, that’s definitely going to be mentioned. But it’s all day Grind Time now.
What is your relationship with Big Boi today?
I don’t think we have one today but I think in the future, we’ll have one. I hope and pray that his kids are good and I hope he does the same for me. We’re very much competitors right now. I’m on the bottom and clawing my way to the top and he’s at the top. I’m competing with him and it’s my job to make sure we get those radio spots and that time on stage and that we do our thing.
There was a rumor that you guys had scrapped a couple of months ago. Is that true?
Big Boi and I both have too much to lose to get into an altercation. Especially Big Boi. Millionaires do not fight in the street and if they do, then they’re dumb. I think anybody who’s an Outkast fan knows we wouldn’t do that. Those things aren’t really an issue for me. I don’t work for anybody. I don’t have to protect anybody. People have to protect me.
What are your goals as an artist right now?
I think my main goal is just to create a profitable record. I have to expand the Killer Mike brand and the Grind Time brand and make big records. I want to get Grind Time into a major label situation. I want to get a situation where you can have Grind Time Independent where you can build artists and then have them cross over to the major label. I would like to do what Triple 6 is doing. I have a lot of respect for them. I would like to do what Rap-A-Lot does. I want to make classic records like Outkast. I also want to do what Master P did and make money selling records. I want to sell millions of records and I want the artists under me to be able to do that too.
How difficult is it for you to balance the business side of things along with being an artist?
I kind of take myself out of it. I don’t want to do the business shit but I do it because it’s necessary and it’s necessary for me to learn. I have to do it so I know what I’m talking about and so my expectations are realistic. My family is dependent on that. I want my company run by qualified people. That’s something I saw Kanye do and I respected and admired him for that. That’s what Rocafella did in the beginning and that’s what Puff does. Look at Russell Simmons, Kevin Liles and Lyor Cohen’s relationship. You have to know when to shut up and when to give people your broad vision on what steps need to be taken and what needs to be done.
I thought Purple Ribbon had an enormous amount of overly-qualified people around them that were ready and willing to work, but a lot of times it takes a check to be cut to get work done. If it takes two or three weeks for a check to be cut, then morale comes down and that trickles down to the artist.
Have you found a new label for 16 in the Kitchen?
No. I can’t talk about it, just because we’re arguing over $25 grand and I haven’t signed yet. Hopefully the argument will be over in the next couple of days.
There were rumors that you were going to Bad Boy.
I was. I really wanted to. I never went back to ask Puff for the deal after I left Purple Ribbon. Puff really was the person who gave me a lot of confidence to do exactly what you’ve been hearing out of me on Pledge and what you’re going to hear on 16. I felt like Puff had his own lane. The months that we fucked around and hung out, it really motivated me and inspired me to do what I do. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough. I had seen the success of Yung Joc and Boyz N Da Hood and I was excited to see that but I felt like he was handled badly.
I’m not going to name names because that’s not right, but there were four people involved in the Puffy situation. It was me, my manager and two heads of the label. Puff was lied to and he wasn’t handled honestly. I didn’t have the control to say what was happening. I did tell Puff if he was going to make an aggressive move, he had to do it now. He didn’t do it because nobody wants to ruin relationships. I felt like he was dragged around because people were arguing over $70-80,000. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I couldn’t put myself back in a situation where I look dishonorable. That’s why I’m not on Bad Boy.
Puff, I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry you got dicked around. I’m sorry you got bullshitted.
With your fanbase, it seems like you could do real well on an independent level.
Yeah. When you say “independent,” it costs about $150,000 to market and promote a record on an independent level. If you’re not working with that off the top, then it’s a flow and go. You do songs to get exposed. When you’re looking at any independent, money has to be involved. I feel like a major label is the best possible avenue for what I’m trying to do. There is no trade-off for a major label. I don’t care what anybody says. Being famous attracts dollars for you. Paris Hilton is not showing the world her panties because she has to. She’s building her stock outside of Hilton Hotels. She has fragrances and all of that now because she’s building herself up. Wu-Tang built a brand that still stands today. Every now and then you’ll see that Wu-Tang jacket pop up. Of course I like the money on an independent level, but there is no exchange for the money you can make off the fame of being on a major label. If you know how to wield that power, you can really prosper.
For those that don’t know, what exactly is Grind Time?
The short answer is that it’s a record company with dope MCs. There’s SL Jones, Gangster Bill, the Bill Collector and Super Mario. They’re just dope rappers I found. Essentially, we want to be the new Wu-Tang Clan. We have different styles and I feel a lot of our music is just better than everything else around us. We’re at a point where we’re not trying to sell you music. We’re trying to sell you a lifestyle. You can listen to our music and figure out ways to make music productively without sitting on the block. A lot of those hustles are dated and they sound cool, but that’s not making millionaires.
How did you form Grind Time?
I don’t know if I ever wanted the group to be a particular way. What happens to every artist on their label with exception to some of the older groups like Boot Camp, there’s a lot of nepotism. You have a lot of, “I’m going to put you on because you’re my brother or you’re my cousin.” I’m going to give you an example. SL Jones is up next in Grind Time. One of his relatives wanted to fuck with him and Grind Time. He had to tell him he wasn’t fucking with his relative. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love his relative. That just means that he takes his craft very seriously. I have family that rap and we could be a gangster clique, but it has to be hot. There’s a certain level of exclusivity and if you’re not on our caliber and striving to make the songs you need to make and grind, then we don’t need you. We have people on a business level who have their grind on. Our thing is really a movement and I hate to say that because it’s almost a cliché, but if you check us out on our MySpace, we have a team in place. We’re just trying to do everything we can to expose people to what we’re doing and spread the message that if you work hard, you deserve to shine. We’re trying to inspire people to get up out of it.
How did your I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind mixtape do for you?
That did well. We did 20-30,000 of those. We don’t call them “mixtapes” anymore because they have no value in the marketplace anymore. They’re good to strictly promote or push yourself, but an artist can’t press up a mixtape like, ‘I’m going to make money off of this.’ We try to make “undergrounds” or “street albums” or tell people to just download it for free. I’m really more inclined to do underground albums. The mixtapes I do, with Smallz, Drama and Clue, that’s the promotional game and that’s how you get your name out there. We try to do underground street albums.
Were you able to do what you wanted to do on your album that never came out, Ghetto Extraordinary, on I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind?
Actually, Ghetto Extraordinary was a little more audibly polished. We purposely made I Pledge Allegiance dope as fuck, but we actually stripped it down some. If you take “The Next Chick,” that song is actually stripped down to where it was when I first heard it and I freestyled that song. I wanted everybody who bought Pledge to feel like they heard a new record by the time they hear the new album.
At Grind Time, we say we don’t have “fans.” We have “supporters.” We really have a support system instead of a group of fans. That’s why I try to direct people to our websites because that puts us in direct communication with the people who buy our music.
Will you do a new street album before 16 in the Kitchen drops?
Yeah. I want to put out a street album right before. Maybe even a couple.
Between street albums and mixtapes, how important is that presence to you?
It’s extremely important to me. But it’s very important that it’s done right. I don’t want to do it wrong. You can see one guy’s face on 15 mixtapes or only on one. Because the marketing is so saturated right now and so flooded, it’s more important to make good music. People are looking at mixtapes like they’re albums. Thanks to people like me, T.I.P., Jeezy, Chamillionaire and Wayne, you can’t put out a regular mixtape anymore. Your shit has to be phenomenal.
How’s I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind Part 2 coming?
It’s coming good. There’s a kid who’s been sending SL Jones beats and a kid who’s been sending me some beats on the internet. I think enough of it is going to be done by some new producers. We’ve been trying to give some new guys a break. Look for Smiff and Cash and some others. It’s almost like an apprenticeship at Grind Time. We really use that ‘Each One, Teach One’ philosophy.
How important is it for you to be known as Killer Mike and not Killer Mike of the Dungeon Family?
I’m going to tell you a story. When I got accepted into Morehouse, you had to sit down with the counselors and they talk to you. They start to give you a sense of why you’re fortunate to be going to Morehouse and the caliber of men that go through there. For those who don’t know, Morehouse is a historically black university and it’s the college that Dr. King and other prestigious men have attended. The counselor told me I was about to be a “Morehouse man.” I told the counselor, “Well, no. Actually, I’m a man and I’m about to be at Morehouse.”
So in reference to Killer Mike of the Dungeon Family or Killer Mike of Purple Ribbon, it was an honor to be associated with Outkast and Purple Ribbon, but Michael was who he was before he got there. Wherever I am, that’s where I am. And this is Grind Time. I looked at it like I needed to be separated from there in order to truly be on my legacy. I’m still Dungeon Family. I’m just not associated with Purple Ribbon or Outkast in the same capacity. We’re more equals now.
From the way you’ve spoken, it doesn’t sound like you’re ruling out working with them again.
Oh, no. Hell no! Big Boi gave me a track last year and I still wanted to do the verse for that. I would be a fool to sit here and tell you that I would not be open to collaborating Outkast, who’s one of the best groups ever. You won’t hear any tracks from me and Big Boi right now, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t hear something with me and Dre. We’re supposed to do something. Since I signed my deal with Aquemini, I just wanted to do a track with Dre. He’s one of the dopest MCs ever. He’s the bar of Southern lyricism and I would like to measure myself against him on a track. You’re definitely going to hear something from me and Dre. Definitely sooner than later.
How important has the internet become to you?
The internet, to me, is invaluable. If you just dedicate yourself to the computer, you can grow a movement. The internet has been invaluable. I’m going to do a show called The Killer Mike Grind Time Rap Gang Sports Show. The internet has been helpful because people are on the internet looking for the new and the next.
Some people look at them like they’re stealing, but it’s impatience. If I could have downloaded Too Short’s album when I was 13, I would have done it and then I would have bought it. There are people that want to test it out first. Those are the audience members that deserve to talk to me on my MySpace page, because that’s me. We’re clocking how many people are downloading the Skulls and Roses album. I want to constantly be in contact with the people I’m representing for.
Do you ever feel underappreciated in the game?
I get the respect I deserve. I don’t get the checks I deserve. I’m underappreciated by people who don’t know what’s really happening. I’m a rapper’s rapper. They know what’s really happening. They talk to me with respect. They deal with me with respect. They know what’s happening. And I get treated like a Bun-B and I’m young in this. Bun-B called me once and told me I made a song that some artists who were in the game for 10 years couldn’t make. Because I planted those seeds early, I have a lot of respect that a lot of young guys don’t. It’s like I have OG status in my 20s. A lot of guys don’t have that and I’ve been fortunate to have that. I haven’t had the radio luck but the hits have been there. “Scared Straight,” “Body Rock,” I’ve been there.
My whole thing is that I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and work on my business arrangements. The radio might not be there because success is measured by the amount of units sold and the ability to move units. When I measure that with the respect that I already have, which is impeccable, then that makes me a more powerful artist. I don’t really worry about it. I’m a man. I’m not going to get fucked up. I’m not going to get fucked up, regardless. I tend to be the dude in the room, regardless of what’s happening, that’s giving an autograph and getting my picture taken without having an album out in two years. I’m of the people, I’m with the people and I think they feel that. That just puts me on a different tier as an artist.
You’ve never been the type of MC to floss and throw your money in people’s faces. Who is your ideal supporter?
It seems that the people who seem to gravitate towards my music are working men who put on uniforms and go straight to work, kids in college and mothers of men and young men and sons. And also women that are really on their ‘hood shit, who really understand dudes. I have a 10 year-old daughter. Her friends are doing the Bow Wow thing. They’re about that. I have cousins that are 18 and 19 years-old and their homegirls are on the player shit. I get love from white gay rights activists who love “That’s Life” to black, working-class dudes who work for the city who love “That’s Life.” People are attracted to my music. I guess that I have every type of fan that other rappers have, but I have them for different reasons. Like the girl who went out and bought Chingy, she went out and she bought I Pledge, but she bought it for a different reason from the working-class dude.
Some music gets you by. My music gets people through. My music gets people through a struggle. Some music just gets people by in the club for a few hours. My music is really for people in that everyday struggle. That’s the people who continually hit me up. And I don’t shit on people for who they really are. I wear one chain that’s worth a considerable amount of money. I don’t have 28s on my car, but I have an ’07 car. It’s not because it’s not the cool shit to do, it’s just because in the neighborhood where I come from, it’s like saying, “Hey, murder me.” When you grow up where me and T.I. are from, riding around like that, it’s like you’re asking people to put a bullet in your head and take your shit. We grew up around animals. The way I act now, I’m staying true to what I grew up in.
How overdue is 16 in the Kitchen?
Man, this shit is way past due, man. It’s to a point now where the supporters are like, ‘Okay, get this shit right!’ I have to do it because they’re not playing with me. I have to get this thing out. The people want to hear it. I heard a version leaked online and I’m trying to find it myself, just so I can see what version it is. I definitely have to get it out. The supporters are real. That’s what’s crazy about the supporters of Grind Time. There are a lot of people that are really about their grind. I have people that tell me, ‘Fuck all that other shit. I want you to drop your album now.’ I’m lucky that they’re hitting me with that energy because that helps me.
When can we expect 16 in the Kitchen?
This summer. Fuck that. It’s too fun. I haven’t toured in two summers. I’ve been doing my spot dates and have done a few cities at a time, but I’m ready to get back out there. I want to work hard and be able to go back out on a Smokin’ Grooves tour or an Area 51 tour or a House of Blues tour. A lot of rappers only get to see the clubs, but when you get people from the ‘hood to go to the House of Blues, that’s when you know your music is really affecting people. I’ve done huge shows and nothing is more satisfying to me than seeing thousands of people mouthing the words with me. That’s my favorite part of the rap, beyond the studio, beyond the writing process, beyond putting the album together. My favorite part is literally being on stage in front of a crowd of people.
What is it about you that allows you to appeal to such a diverse group of fans?
I think honestly, first off, I’m guilty of everything every straight man is guilty of. I’ve been guilty of homophobia and sexism. But at the end of the day, being a drug dealer taught me one thing – on the most basic level, all humans are the same. The old lady in the handicap chair will fuck you over for a dollar behind the counter if she wants to because she’s a stingy old bitch, and she has been since she could walk. The gay guy could be the only guy who lets you watch his cable in the whole neighborhood – not because he wants to touch you but because he’s the only guy who has cable and nobody else in the neighborhood will talk to him.
We grow these super-criminal mystiques and a lot of niggas have never been criminals. If you’ve really been a criminal, then you’ve really dealt with every type of person. I’ve sold or bought drugs from straight people, gay people, white people…My mother taught me very quickly that when you start to ostracize people based on who they are and what they do, that limits the amount of money you can make. I’ve really never picked up on the whole “I don’t deal with someone based on this.” One of my favorite uncles is gay. Why is he my favorite uncle? Because he loved me and he kept me in Polo. All my other uncles would have kept me in some flea market shit. I don’t have the ability to hate you for who you are.
Now if you’re a black, gay dude and you’re wearing a weave and you want to hang out with my entourage, security is going to drop you on your fucking neck. I’m just going to tell you that. Don’t do that in the club. But I’m never going to hate on you. What you do is what you do. I think people get that from me. I truly believe in the libertarian way of life. Everybody deserves the right to do what the fuck they want to do. Everybody deserves the right to freedom of speech. Everybody deserves to have a fulfilling life as long as they’re not fucking over other people. Everybody deserves that. I really don’t have an issue with anybody. Just don’t ask me to accommodate anyone neither, because I’m just going to be me. I think people get that part about me and they appreciate it. I think at the core level, Americans appreciate honesty. It’s not easy. It’s hard. And I think in this country in particular, and especially amongst black people, we’ve gotten too sensitive. We’re overcompensating. We’re not saying, “Hey, this world is hard. It’s fucked up. None of us are perfect but we’re working to get it right.” I think people identify with that in me. I don’t think I’m perfect. I think that people get that I don’t think I’m perfect and that’s why I’m perfect to them.
How’s the Grind Time album coming?
We’re all working on joints and then we mix our shit together. It’s really about constantly staying creative. We have to get an actual studio built. That’s our next move. We’ve had certain studios we’ve been to, but we have to get our own studio and office built so we really have a beehive 24 hours a day.
What’s going on with SL Jones?
SL Jones is going to drop his project soon. Jones’ underground is Banging on Wax and his album is Banging out of Little Rock. Bill is working on his underground, that’s called Rent Due, and his album is going to be called Eviction Notice.
Whatever happened to Slimm Calhoun?
What happened to Slimm Calhoun? I was on the phone with him and he was rapping his ass off. This artist J Sweet got a verse from me and a verse from Slimm. I’ll send it to you. The song is pretty fucking good. Slimm is in real estate now.
Do you stay in touch with everyone in the Dungeon Family?
I try to stay in touch with everybody I can. Like Backbone, he just signed a deal. I still talk to a lot of the guys in the Dungeon Family. Success is needed right now. But people need a reason to be around each other. Hopefully my album will give them that reason. I miss the days when every rap crew was dope. You had the Hit Squad, the Wu-Tang Clan, the Boot Camp Clik, Death Row, Bad Boy, the young Rocafella…I’m kind of looking forward to that again. Every crew was dope. I want artists to know that you owe it to the game to give your dopest shit. Don’t sell everybody the same bullshit you’ve been sold on.
What are your plans for the summer?
I have to step up my freestyles. I have to step that up. My goals for the summer is to be able to get two hot singles out, get an album out and to take my crew out on the road and work, work, work. God willing, that will happen.
What advice would you offer to up-and-coming artists?
Overgrind. I was talking to an artist that was going through the same thing I was going through. We were all moving at a sluggish pace, but when everybody started moving for the betterment of the whole, everything in Grind Time started happening faster.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Buy my shit! (laughs) Support the grind, support the grind, support the grind. Because we support you.