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(interview) Hip-hop As Empowerment, Second Amendment Rights And African Americans

" I don't understand how _any_ black person - any black person - can tell me that they are not pro-gun. "

Hip-Hop as a Tool of Empowerment, Part Two

In Part Two of our extended conversation with rapper Michael Render - better known by his stage name, Killer Mike, who is one half of the hip-hop duo Run the Jewels - he discusses confrontations between African Americans and the police, his views on gun ownership and how his upbringing in Atlanta shaped his artistry and his life.

" I don't understand how _any_ black person - any black person - can tell me that they are not pro-gun. "

Killer Mike - Hip-Hop as a Tool of Empowerment, Part Two

Posted 7/17/15

In Part Two of our extended conversation with rapper Michael Render - better known by his stage name, Killer Mike, who is one half of the hip-hop duo Run the Jewels - he discusses confrontations between African Americans and the police, his views on gun ownership and how his upbringing in Atlanta shaped his artistry and his life.

Michael Render, aka "Killer Mike" (KM) of the duo Run the Jewels
their 2014 followup, Run the Jewels 2, was hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as the best Hip-Hop album of the year

[ FULL INTERVIEW - audio ]


TEXT TRANSCRIPT from approximately 3:00 in (to ~ 15:00) :

TAVIS SMILEY - You said a moment ago that your rhyme partner is white.

KM - Yeah.

TAVIS SMILEY - For anybody that didn't know that - they might find [that] a bit of a surprise; given how "'tough' you are on the white man." My phrase, not yours.

KM - Yeah. Not 'tough on the white man' - Tough on the people who are in positions of power.

The people that run these economies - that run these lands that they call countries that separate you - for the most part they look alike, for the most part they're of the same origin; and if you look like them, that doesn't matter. They don't care. We are _all_ a part of the worker class. We are all suffering under this oppression. And we've taken the bait of racism - which is another form of classism, mass of color - to infight and not see the real enemy.

So, you know it shouldn't be a surprise that I have white friends. I brought white people here today; part of my management is white. My wife ain't white (laughs) - Not that there's anything wrong with that, but let me be clear!

TAVIS SMILEY - The other thing you said I want to go back to, in describing the lyrical content of the song we just heard earlier [in the program], there's a line in there : "Every day I'm gonna fight for my soul". Do you feel that way? That every day, in this country you are in a 'fight for your soul'?

KM - How could you not? We could leave here, as two prestigious black men who have the utmost respect for one another, the people around us in this room have respect for us, we're respected by the general society ... and when those blue lights go off [behind your] car, you become terrified for your life. I become terrified for my life. Dick Gregory, who's 83 years old becomes terrified for his life.

And it's not that, you don't want to have faith in the tax money that you're paying that the civil servants are doing the right thing. It's just that you _know_, it can go bad. And you know that it's [gone] bad for hundreds of years. And you know that your skin devalues you in the eyes of people who are paid to protect you, or in the eyes of people who are paid to uphold the law (in the case of the courts), and even the politicians who you often vote for. And that's a reality that you have to accept. And, not like "oh I accept it / it's a burden / it's bad", because we accept it and we succeed in spite of... But I think that when the world is faced, to look at that mirror and see that - it's something that they want to turn away from. It's too ugly for me to see.

I saw an interesting quote on Instagram - someone said "If you get tired of me complaining about the perils of being black - imagine how tired I am of having to go through them."

TAVIS SMILEY - Another phrase you just offered ... What do you make of the fact - and again, what happened in South Carolina, Charleston is another example of this, that black people have learned (to the extent that we love this country, whatever that means), that we have learned to love this country _in spite of_, and not 'because of'.

KM - I love America. This is a / it's an important thing for me to say. Because, unlike a lot of other people in this country (black or white) I've traveled the world. You know, I ain't just traveled a couple states. There is no other country in the world - in the world - with the type of opportunity for minorities that you have in this country. Anywhere in the world. There's no more opportunity in any other place, but - with that opportunity comes (a lot of BS, and we understand that...), but it comes with responsibility.

We are responsible to do better, as black people in this country. And I don't care how white people look at you, I don't care how you think the government looks - I care that we have a 1 trillion dollar spending base. And if you want to see change, then you have to start to focus on economically, how can we change our communities. How can we self-segregate our dollar. How can we get 1 million black people, in one weekend, to take one hundred dollars and move it to one black bank? That's what I'm interested in seeing.

I'm not interested in saying, "Oh America's so down on me." "Oh I don't wanna - " That's why I'm a strong supporter of 2nd Amendment rights. I don't understand how _any_ black person - any black person - can tell me that they are not pro-gun. And I don't mean, "I need 80 guns, the government is comin' , I need to protect myself"; I mean, we're only fifty-one years into real freedom. There's no other group of people that have been oppressed, in any other place - from the Sudan, to the Palestinians, to the Jews of Nazi Germany - that have been given the option to stay armed, [and] know how to shoot, would. My grandfather shot all his life, because he came up in Eatonton, Georgia. My grandmother knew how to shoot because she came up in Tuskeegee, Alabama. Now, just 'cause we moved to the cities, and poverty has caused us to infight, is no reason to shut down gun laws. But we don't understand the uniqueness of this opportunity, even to engage in having armed citizens, because we've never been anywhere outside [in other parts of] the world. So for me, I think there's much opportunity in this country as black people we're not taking care of.

So before we go the gun route, I wanna just say: Black people - take 100 dollars, pick one Black bank or credit union, organize 10 of your friends, organize ten of their friends, and organize a hundred people, and put that money in that bank [on] the same day. If you want to go bigger, one of these leaders/one of these organizers - organize one million people, get your big things, rap stars you always call, have them come out to sing (where they want you to come out and 'buy some product'), have them take 1 million black people, to take 100 dollars, put it in one Black bank, and watch what that money does. Watch how differently you're being treated that Monday, after that Friday. And that's what we need to start doing. We need to 'attack' economically in places we haven't been.

TAVIS SMILEY - Let me go back to the gun issue. I'm all for 2nd Amendment rights. I've said, any number of times to friends (privately) and in media, that if you really want to solve the gun crisis in America, give every Negro a gun.

KM - Our laws would change overnight! (laughing)

TAVIS SMILEY - That's my point, you want to stop this mess, give every Negro in the country a gun! This stuff would stop quicker than right now, and sooner than at once. If every Negro had a gun. Having said that, and I believe that with my heart, I still don't believe that arming the general public is the answer.

KM - Why not?

TAVIS SMILEY - ( Those two things are not mutually exclusive )

KM - Why not? It worked for this country.

TAVIS SMILEY - Well it worked for this country... One could argue that it did work for the country.

KM - It did! We have a country, because of rebellion.

TAVIS SMILEY - Yeah, it's true. That is true.

KM - And I'm not advocating an armed rebellion against our [government] country. I'm simply saying, that a Mexican standoff is a Mexican standoff for a reason. A Mexican standoff is: everybody in the room's got a gun.

If you look at that rancher [Bundy Ranch] that was just out West - who was armed, had other armed men come out there - when those marshals and those Federal agents got there, everybody pointed at [each other and said, "We need to discuss this before brothers start [..]in' out." And you look at that biker gang [Waco] that was arrested, a weekend after those kids in the pool were drugged like animals, a week after that they arrested a biker gang with utmost civility - because they knew that, these are people that are going to fight back.

Now I'm not suggesting that you go get a gun and you challenge the police. What I am saying is that as an American and as a black person in America, embrace the rights fully. We should love the [United States] Constitution fully. We should love the Bill of Rights fully. Because, even though you didn't come here on fair grounds, you have them now. And I tell people all the time, there's only 2 groups of people in this country that can't leave: the people that came here on those debt boats from Britain, and the people that came here as slaves from Africa. We're all we have. We act like we don't like each other, we play like we're each others' enemy, but we both don't have a homeland to return to. We both don't have anywhere else to go. So we may as well finally come to our senses and do the right thing for this country.

TAVIS SMILEY - Let me contradict my own [earlier] point, for the sake of argument. I said a moment ago, "You want to solve the 'gun crisis', give every Negro a gun, problem solved." I believe that. Now, for the sake of argument, I contradict myself. That philosophy only works, to the extent that one believes that mutual deterrence would work; and I'm not so sure with the 'kooks and crazies' that mutual deterrence works, even now, in this country - much less broadly when we start talking [nuclear weapons] nukes. I'm not sure mutual deterrence is going to work.

KM - Yeah, yeah I understand that. People always say, "well what're ya gonna do? The government has bigger tanks. They have bigger guns." Well you know if you drop a nuclear bomb in the continental United States it's going to affect more people than anything it's dropped on. Most governments are not going to do that. But with that said, a lot of governments have nukes / are seeking to have nukes simply because they know "if I have one, people are less likely to attack me."

Now I'm from the South. I'm from Atlanta, Georgia. But I was raised by people from Eatonton, Georgia and Tuskeegee, Alabama. I asked my grandmother one time, "Why weren't you afraid of the Klan?" She said, "You see that driveway? That's an eighth of a mile. If any white man want to come down that driveway an eighth of a mile, he gonna come back up with pellets in him."

And that's just the truth of it all. So I'm not saying that, hey, be armed and be paranoid. But there's nothing wrong with being armed.

We have young men in the streets that want to be fighters, want to be warriors, want to be soldiers. A lot of them just need to be in something like the Cub Scouts! In something like, the junior NRA learning to shoot a rifle. A lot of them need to be fishing, and hunting, and foraging. But we have lost our rural roots. We do not farm any more. We do not grow food. We do not hunt. Now I do these things, but people think I'm a crazy rapper, you know?

But we have to embrace who we were. We are not all Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, New York, Compton, Watts - there's a bigger diaspora of black people. There's black people in Oklahoma, black people in Little Rock, Arkansas, black people in rural Georgia that can show us differently. And we need to embrace these other [ways of life].

TAVIS SMILEY - Let's take your argument to its logical conclusion, logical extension.

KM - Yeah.

TAVIS SMILEY - or just extension period. That means the folks in Emanuel A.M.E. Church should've been armed? Going to church?

KM - Well, I'm not going to say "They should have been armed, they're stupid." Because that's wrong, that's evil, and I've heard that said. I said publicly (on Twitter), "I _wish_ they had been armed." I wished it in the way that a child wishes that Christmas had come early. I said I wished in a way, that I wish there had been some deterrent. I wished the angel Gabriel would have really been in front of that door, to stop that man.

I can't tell you that I want them to be armed in church. But I can tell you, the Nation of Islam frisks everyone that walks in the door. So if you're not going to arm the parishoners of the church, and you don't want that - and I'm not saying that because not every parishoner, or everyone in the church should be armed.

But I certainly would not be against - especially in that church, the church that's the home of [freed slave] Denmark Vesey - I definitely would love to see an armed guard that frisks, or that waves a [magnetic detector] wand, because when that guy came in that church, he looked _different_. He looked like 'you don't belong here'. And it's time that we just say, someone should have been able to be there professionally, to say "Hold on brother. Are you in the right place? Okay, well it's fine, you can come in - but do you mind if I search your jacket, search your clothes before you come in?" Because when I met with Mr. Farrakhan a few weeks ago (he knows me, he called and asked me to come) -

TAVIS SMILEY - And you still got frisked, by the FOI, going in that joint.

KM - Twice.

TAVIS SMILEY - I know you did. (laughing) I've had that experience many times, I love the brother minister.

KM - Absolutely.

TAVIS SMILEY - Does any of this mean, that you don't fundamentally believe in the goodness of people or in the capacity of people to do better?

KM - Absolutely I do. Why wouldn't I?

TAVIS SMILEY - Because you want us to be armed?

KM - Absolutely don't. I say, why should I not enjoy every right that people (on 'Swamp People') enjoy? I wish to enjoy every American right possible. So do I wish to be armed? Absolutely. Do I wish to be armed because I fear that other people are 'going to come get me' tomorrow? No. Mostly I think we should be armed because I like to kill what I eat. So there's nothing wrong with that. But if someone should ever come through the door [on] my wife, when I'm not there, they'll most certainly be met with a shotgun blast to their chest. And she will certainly not stop shooting it until you are dead.

And that's just the truth of it all. Because we live in a time where anything can happen; so be prepared for everything. And, it gets you out of the house! Get out of the house! Go shooting. Go on a safari. Do _something_ besides sit there and be fed fear, all day.

So in a word brother, I just think we ought to have the full American experience. And we should stop sheltering ourselves in this victimization that we're in: that everyone is [out] to hurt us, and the only [one] that can protect us is the Federal government. Because that's not the truth, and they don't do a very good job.

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