Killer Mike Biography
With Monster, Killer Mike makes hip-hop the way it oughta be -- and probably was -- made before the fronters went out and messed everything up. Killer Mike's songs are rugged, raw real and relentlessly funky: making Monster one of the most anticipated albums of the year
If you love hip-hop, then you know Killer Mike. That's him bringing his furious flow to Outkast's hit "The Whole World," and announcing the arrival of a new contender. Monster builds on that glory and gives Mike a chance to flex and push himself further than even he had imagined. You can hear the proof on songs like "AKshon," the album's first single. Produced by ET3 Productions, "AKshon" struts with attitude as Mike announces "my mind don't slack, I'm totally focused on beating up tracks." Queried as to "AKshon"'s intent, Killer Mike offers this: "'The Whole World' was the best thing 'cause it allowed me to learn how to make a better song. Then I learned the curse of making a great song is learning how to get past it. 'AKshon' is me thinking "How am I gonna make people forget about 'The Whole World?'" The answer? Make something totally new and let folks know whatever they heard before is dead. This is the new-new for you-you."
You can hear more of that "newness" on "Rap is Dead," Mike's favorite track on Monster. Built on a squiggly synth line (and produced by The Beatbullies), Mike says the song "encompasses my feelings about my music and I don't mean my music. I mean hip-hop; it's the soundtrack to my life. We can't keep trying to be Biggie, Pac or Kurt Cobain. We have to push past that. I'm competitive by nature and at the end of my run I want people to say he was one of the best. 'Rap is Dead' addresses that."
Other matters dear to Mike's heart are addressed on the funk blessed "All 4 U." " I wrote that for my mother and about the struggle of people," he says. "You can't hear that song and not smile. It's about me saying through it all I'm with you."
From standing by his family to holding it down for fallen friends, from parties to battles, Monster is rich with experience and infused with the wisdom Killer Mike has drawn from his life.
Born in Adamsville, in the heart of Atlanta ("if I was from New York I'd be from Brooklyn!"), Mike is the eldest of six kids and the only boy. His grandparents raised him but his mother had a huge influence on his life, especially when it came to exposing him to the arts. Yet his biggest cultural impact came when Mike heard Run DMC's classic "Rock Box" at the age of 9. Mike had already gotten into hip-hop via his mom who used to buy Sugar Hill Gang singles but as Mike recalls, "When I heard 'Rock Box,' I felt my life change. I was like 'whatever this is, this is for me. This is what I'm doing with the rest of my life.
By the time he hit junior high school, Mike was freestyling against guys in his neighborhood. But unbeknownst to him, his competitors were merely parroting the popular rhymes of the day, while Mike was actually composing off the top of his head. His skills impressed everyone who heard him and the positive feedback further convinced Mike that, despite his abilities in other areas and keen intelligence, rap was his salvation.
Atlanta's underground scene was flourishing in the late '80s and early '90s and Mike was right in the thick of it. By 15 he was already a seasoned battle rapper. "We'd go to Five Points where the trains all met up and there would be 25-30 kids and we'd all battle each other," Mike remembers. "That's what I came out of: Not having a song, but who was I gonna beat that week." Like many battle rappers, Mike had never put his rhymes on paper until friends schooled him in the craft of structuring songs. "When I did learn how to write it," he recalls. "It opened up new possibilities and I thought I needed to get a record deal." By the mid '90s, Mike was pressing up his own tapes of himself and his crew Slumlordz. "I figured, 'why waste time with a demo?' If it's good enough to sign, it's good enough to sell."
The Slumlordz sound was one Mike likened to "NWA and Metallica getting really drunk and doing a session," and that guttural attack earned the group a rep. That rep followed Mike along his brief tenure at prestigious Morehouse College. Eventually word of Mike's abilities made its way to a major player in the Atlanta music community.
Mike had met Outkast's Big Boi casually back in '94 and they reconnected a few years later. Big was impressed with Mike's skills, and encouraged him to get a record deal. Yet Mike was convinced that the industry wasn't quite ready for his hardcore flavor and shrugged off Big Boi's advice. "Then Big said to me, 'OK, when I get a record label I'm gonna sign you,'" Mike laughs. "When someone says something like that you believe it but take it with a grain of salt." But, in Big Boi's case, it was the real deal. In 2000, Big Boi called Mike and asked him to come down to the studio. "I wrote a verse and Big was, like 'OK? cool' and the next day he called and said 'do you want a record deal?'"
With his crew's blessings, Mike signed with Aquemini declaring his motto to be "this ain't your mama's music!" Yet in an all-too-familiar industry tale, Aquemini became embroiled in a distribution dispute and Mike was forced to stand by waiting for the dust to settle. It was during his forced hiatus that he recorded "The Whole World" and set the industry on fire.
When Aquemini found a new home at Columbia Records, Killer Mike began work on Monster. Already confident, Mike felt ready for the big leagues, thanks in great part to Dre's and Big Boi's guidance in helping him shift his focus from battle rapper to all-out performer. "Big was able to see a diamond in the rough but for me the struggle was making that transition from the streets to the rest of world," admits Killer Mike. "I learned that as an MC you have to step outside yourself and tell a bigger story than the one you're living."
The pay off of that struggle is loud funky and clear on Monster: The new-new for you-you.