Congratulations on signing with Grand Hustle. How did the deal come about?
I’ve spent the last three years on the independent side of it and T.I.P. stepped in. He was paying attention and felt like he could help me expand my brand and put me on a bigger plateau. He feels that I never really got my just due. I really respect him as a businessman and I trust him as a man and I’m looking forward for Grand Hustle and Grind Time doing some stuff.
From talking to you in the past, it seemed as though you liked being independent and putting out music whenever you wanted. Did you get tired of that hustle?
No. I never said I was. I want people to understand that there’s a natural evolution to good work and hard work. T.I.P. was a major artist on Arista and parted ways with Arista. He was in the streets and hustled mixtapes on his own and it led to a bigger deal with Atlantic. I just remember meeting him years ago. I want everybody who listens to my music to know that T.I.P. is not coming in and trying to regulate me to doing what his artists do. He is respectful of the work that I put in. He is respectful of that independent mindstate. He honors that and when T.I.P. first started talking to me, he started out talking about helping me with what I’m doing independently and the conversation grew into something else.
What I’m doing now is I’m like a guy who started three or four restaurants on his own and a larger chain is coming in and saying that they would like to be a part of my business and help you expand that. That’s the natural order of business. Grind Time, as well as being a music label and a mantra and a philosophy, it really is a business. When you buy those records you’re helping the business grow and this is the first phase of growth and expansion.
With Grand Hustle coming in and partnering with us, it’s going to help expand that grind. This is the natural evolution to what I’ve been doing independently and one day hopefully Grind Time will be worth enough money to sell because that’s the goal of any business – to get their business profitable enough to sell. That’s just me becoming a more mature businessman and realizing that there are 100,000 people I can impact with Grind Time, now I have the ability to impact 500,000 to a million people and still have a presence on the independent scene through putting out independent, specialty records, compilation records, Grind Time artists’ records…I’m able to give back to the nucleus of what brought me here and that’s the underground rap market so I see me as being, you know, not something that’s being taken away from the independent rap scene but a greater advocate now. It’s like 3-6 Mafia had their deal with Select-O and Cam’ron and the Diplomats doing smaller deals with Koch and Asylum. Hopefully this will help me be a better businessman and this is part of the evolution.
How important is it for you to be a part of an already-successful team?
It’s extremely important because the caliber artists that are over there, especially on the street rap side, is amazing. You have artists like B.o.B. and young artists that are coming up and producers that are coming up. So having those resources to marry with those ideas, like I wanted to shoot a low budget video for every song on Pledge but now I have the resources to shoot low budget videos and having a street team and a team to push my singles to radio. It’s going to be very helpful to me and very helpful to what Grand Hustle and Grind Time is doing. I’m really excited about being able to do this. I wanted to see what I could do over here. I’m very excited about it.
It’s amazing about the other artists they have there and the camaraderie. I’m a very strong believer in steel sharpening steel and being around the absolute best rapper in the game right now, being around T.I. on a daily basis and being around the caliber of artists that he has right now with Kuntry and everyone, just being around them is going to be an opportunity for me to lick my competitive chops and work harder. I love being in that kind of environment and I’m looking forward to it.
How can you improve as an artist today?
That’s a great question. I think the last piece of my puzzle is radio. You know, radio and video. I think that being around people who readily dominate radio and video is going to teach me a little bit more about that formula. You can’t play for the Lakers and still play East Coast basketball. If you play with Kobe every day, you’re going to adjust to learn West Coast basketball and that’s what I’m having the opportunity to do. Outkast made records for their fans. They didn’t make records for the radio necessarily. That’s a great thing if you have 10 million fans supporting you but if you don’t you need to have outlets for radio and video.
So if I want to expand the brand for Grind Time this is something I have to learn. I can still make street records and I think Grand Hustle is the perfect company for that. I think they’re the closet thing in the South to a Rocafella and I’m pretty sure that this is going to grow into a State Property or a Dipset and I’m going to be a powerful in pushing this forward. That’s how I can reward T.I.P.’s confidence in me.
T.I. has always been good at balancing street hits with radio singles while maintaining a steady, loyal fanbase. Was that a factor you considered in signing to Grand Hustle?
Yeah, it was. I’ve always been asked if I would go back to a major and I never said I wouldn’t. I love being independent but this is a business. I want Grind Time to be around longer than my career. If I really want that to be something I have to make sure that I master the balance of the street and the radio. I’ve done a better job on the street side and I don’t mean street fights and every nigga running through the block to the trap. I mean blue collar stuff and guys in the trap. I know I have to get some music on the radio and video and that’s my intention going to Grand Hustle, to get some of those kinds of records out.
Is it important for you to distance yourself from Dungeon Family and establish yourself more as a solo artist?
I think it’s important that people know that I am the Dungeon Family. I think it’s more important that they realize that the Dungeon Family is not this obscure crew of guys. If you need a definition for what the Dungeon Family is in 2009, then you need to be looking at Killer Mike and Grind Time. I would not shun any alliances to the Dungeon Family. I would encourage them so people could see that this is that new shit and this is where we need to be.
You’ve been working with NO ID a lot lately. What’s it been like working with him?
Yo, you ever saw the Muppet Show?
You know the two old men that argue at the top in the balcony? That’s me and NO ID! (laughs) Except we ain’t old! That’s our chemistry right there! (laughs) And somehow that translates to God in the building. I love that brother, man. We argue like heck. He’s one of the few people who really helps me think outside of the box on some things. His nickname is Young Yoda and they definitely call me Darth. It’s just an interesting thing. He’s on his Jedi Mind tricks and I’m definitely on the dark side. It’s definitely interesting. It’s always interesting. I love working with the brother and he’s an amazing talent. Helpfully we’ll be working together for the rest of my career.
Who was your favorite Muppet character back in the day?
Animal, who’s on the drums in the band and Gonzo and the one with the gold tooth that played in the band. Probably Animal. Animal was my favorite. And I had a huge crush on Miss Piggy. I’d be telling girls, “You remind me of Miss Piggy” and they would be taking it as an insult but Miss Piggy was the shit! (laughs) “You remind me of Miss Piggy, girl!” (laughs) “What, you calling me fat?” “You’re glamorous, baby. You’re glamorous.” (laughs) Oh, man, I used to watch the Muppets so religiously as a kid! (laughs) Killer Mike watches the Muppets!
The cartoons that were on when we were young were way better than what’s on now.
Yeah. What’s on now is entertaining but we used to accidentally learn a lot of shit while being entertained and I just think that’s kind of cool, to learn a couple of things while you’re being entertained.
Gordon on Sesame Street taught a ton of important life lessons.
Man, how ‘bout Gordon! Gordon not only taught a ton of life lessons, Gordon was Willie Dynamite. Gordon played in a Blaxploitation film as Willie Dynamite. That’s like totally cool. That’s cool shit! (laughs) But yeah, man, I loved Gordon and Maria. I used to watch that shit faithfully. Even my kids are on that right now. It’s all about Sesame Street. Sesame Street and Dr. Seuss are the reasons I love learning.
Switching gears because I know you have to get going soon, how does your deal with Grand Hustle affect your Grind Time artists like SL Jones?
I’m going to make sure that he’s on this record. Ideally I want to do so well that it encourages Grand Hustle to want to take more risks and for us to expand relatively quickly but that’s going to take me making the best music possible so right now I’m totally focused on making the best Killer Mike music possible because I know it will be awhile before they open the doors for the other artists. Jones is my first priority while getting this record done. I’m going to make sure he has a situation and make sure that he gets his music out there. We’re doing two or three more projects with SLC and I’m really trying to get him out there as soon as possible.
Will you still be able to drop independent projects like your I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind series?
That’s what the lawyers are figuring out now. I want to take a major stage and spread the sermon, if you will, of Grind Time on a major label. I want to be able to do that. I want to have a situation that allows us to be able to put out independent music. Mixtapes and stuff are cool but being able to put out official records and sell 50-60,000 units and have collector’s editions are great. We’ll see what it brings. That is my goal. I’m not going to a major to be a slave. T.I.’s an incredible businessman. He has respect for the work I put in and we have a situation that’s good for the both of us and I think he still wants to see me on the independent market mashing, man. I think that’s what’s required of me based on what I’ve put out.
Tell your lawyers that you gotta keep putting out those independent projects.
When I said certain things people believed it and because they believed it I’m required to maintain a certain amount of integrity and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m sure a major label is not going to want to put out a record called “Dope Story” where I tell 10 crack takes and there’s no hook on it but that’s what the crowd will want and I think the independent situation provides me with the excellent ability to still put those records out. I think the Pledge’s should be independent because that was the situation that brought them out.
Have you started Pledge 3 yet?
Yep. I started working on it. I started working on it. I haven’t gotten very far but I have started! (laughs) What happened was we started working on this underground Atlanta album, man. I knew me and T.I.P. were doing a deal but I didn’t expect him to say anything so publicly so quickly and that just turned everything kind of upside down because now I’m working on music for 16 in the Kitchen and Underground Atlanta and hopefully I can finish all three by the end of January.
Are you recording all new music for the long-awaited album 16 in the Kitchen?
I promised people when I got a major look that 16 was coming out. Now it’s coming out. I think we’re going to go new with the tracks.
Are you still working with up-and-coming producers Smiff N Cash?
Yeah! The only producers I have funded for 16 in the Kitchen right now are NO ID, Smiff N Cash and Tha Bizness. That’s it. I’m going in. Smiff N Cash, I’m happy working with them and the Grind Time thing because that’s going to allow me to reward them and the other producers that have been staying down. I’m just excited and I think it’s going to benefit all of us.
What’s the next move for Killer Mike?
Man, getting my ass in the studio and don’t come up until my beard hangs to my chest at the end of January.
How glad are you that we did a whole interview without talking about any of your past drama?
(laughs) Hey, man, this is the first time in three years that it ain’t come up! Thank you! (laughs) I was just saying to myself that I’ve done all these interviews and this is the first time I haven’t had to talk about this shit. Thank you, man. It feels good, for real. It feels good to kind of be over that speed-bump.
And my condolences to Big Boi. His grandmother just died a week or two ago. I called him up and told him that but you know all the fans hit his MySpace up and this site up.