music in the park san jose

.ATL to SFO

music in the park san jose

Killer Mike talks about Black enclaves, Southern roots and his new album MICHAEL

Many Black people in the Bay Area have seen more than a few friends leave the region for Atlanta. The Bay Area continues to consistently see its Black population leave for the Southern city for a variety of reasons, including cheaper cost of living, safer environments and better career opportunities.

However, with the influx of new residents—and not all of them from the Bay Area—Atlanta has undergone a radical shift in dynamics as well. In 1990, 67% of Atlanta’s residents were Black; by 2019, that number had fallen to 48%.

In addition, during the past few years Atlanta metamorphosed into one of the fastest growing technology hubs. Apple and Microsoft both opened offices in the city and found success attracting Black talent to work for their companies. A 2018 report also found that rent in the city was rising three times faster than the national median.

Excluding attracting Black talent to the tech space, these are statistics that Black residents in the Bay Area know all too well. Yet in spite of all the changes happening to Black communities in both regions, hip-hop remains a unifying force ensuring that the Black presence will not be erased.

Michael Render, better known as Killer Mike, will always be Atlanta to the core. That is one of the messages listeners will walk away from after listening to his sixth studio album, Michael. The album serves as his love letter to Atlanta and the diverse Black community that raised him.

Killer Mike grew up moving back and forth between Atlanta’s Adamsville and Collier Heights neighborhoods. Born to teen parents, he spent a lot of time with his grandparents, specifically his grandmother, who became an influential person in his life.

After graduating high school, he briefly attended Morehouse College. It was while at Morehouse that he connected with Big Boi from Outkast and secured a feature on the song “Snappin & Trappin,” off of Outkast’s platinum and Grammy Award-winning album Stankonia.

From 2003 to 2012, Killer Mike grew from an emerging rapper to an underground Southern rap titan. In 2006, he had acting roles in films Idlewild and ATL. Killer Mike’s fifth album, R.A.P.  Music, signaled the beginning of a creative partnership with rapper-and-producer Jaime “El-P” Meline, who handled all the production on the album. The two joined forces to form Run the Jewels, and have gone on to release four critically acclaimed albums.

When speaking about some of the overarching themes of the album, he acknowledges that Michael is a love letter to the city and the Southern Black people who raised him.

“It gave me a view of the world that although the world was not perfect, it was perfect for me. If I failed myself, I had myself to blame and I could pick myself up,” he said.

When Killer Mike joined forces with El-P to form Run the Jewels, one of his goals was for the group to achieve the status of one of the best rap groups of all time. With four critically acclaimed albums, they have entered that conversation. Now returning to solo music, he aspires to present his upbringing and life experiences to the world on the biggest stage possible.

With Michael ’s release and overwhelmingly positive reception, he wants to perform the project on a national tour to bigger crowds and venues, and to hopefully win a Grammy Award.

Not only is Michael filled with hard-hitting bars by Killer Mike, the album also features some marquee names, too. True to his Atlanta roots, Killer Mike made sure Young Thug, Andre 3000 and Cee-Lo also contributed to the hometown theme.

The album’s second song, “Shed Tears,” features a stellar verse from Sacramento’s own Mozzy. On the song, Killer Mike raps about the loss of his mother and Mozzy reminisces on his late grandmother and the challenges she had in raising him.

“Mozzy was perfect,” Killer Mike said. “He talks about missing his grandmother, he talks about getting a whooping. They saw humanity in him, you know, and that’s what I love about him.”

While Killer Mike has always expressed appreciation for his Southern musical influences, he is also well versed on Northern California’s rap scene. He mentioned E-40, J-Stalin and Too Short as some Bay Area rap artists he listens to.

Renowned hip-hop and R&B producer No I.D. served as executive producer for the album. Though the two had been friends for 20 years, it took a while for Killer Mike to develop the courage to make the ask.

“I finally conquered the fear of procrastination and saying, ‘what if,’” he said. “I said, ‘Hey man, I need beats.’ He sent me a book of beats and said, ‘Pick whatever you want and let’s get to work.’”

Several other notable producers contributed to the project as well. Fans of Southern hip-hop production will be delighted to see DJ Paul’s production on “Talkin’ That S***.” The unlikely pairing of DJ Paul on a No I.D. executive-produced album is an example of why Killer Mike feels the hip-hop community needs to remove itself from self-imposed limitations.

“We have to stop allowing ourselves to think that there’s a ‘talented tenth’ in hip-hop,” he said. “That’s not to say we don’t have masterclass craftsmen lyricists, but the possibilities should always be endless.”

Once listeners and hip-hop critics got a hold of Michael, rave reviews immediately began to pour in. The positive reception by people from different walks of life didn’t surprise Killer Mike at all.

“You’re gonna get a good book,” he said. “You don’t have to live Fences to understand what August Wilson was trying to express to you. I think that the Black experience ultimately is just a part of the human experience. But there’s a nuance to our experience that people get to experience on this album that I proudly put on display.”

During the last 10 years, Killer Mike has become a frequent spokesperson relating to social-justice issues and causes related to the Black community. Although his lyrics have always contained social-justice messages, after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, Killer Mike’s position as an activist increased. He constantly speaks on cable news programs and was also a high-profile supporter during Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020.

His work as an activist hasn’t come without criticism. In 2018 Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp narrowly and controversially beat Stacey Abrams in the gubernatorial election. In the 2022 rematch between the two, Kemp won again, and in a move some might consider surprising, Killer Mike chose to accept an invitation to meet with Gov. Kemp during the pandemic to discuss issues impacting Black Georgians. To Killer Mike, meeting with the governor was just politics, and about positioning himself to have influence regarding policies that impact Black lives in his home state.

One particular issue he is passionate about is reducing the recidivism rate for Black men in Georgia, and working to advance causes to improve those outcomes. Project Pinnacle, for instance, is a program that aims to teach young people facing criminal charges for the first time crime, career development, critical thinking and life skills.

“Black men go to prison more than anyone else in this country,” Killer Mike said, regarding his meeting with Gov. Kemp. “I have an interest in making sure this program works. So I’m going to work with the people appointed by the governor to make sure it works.”

On July 29, Killer Mike will perform Michael live at the Fillmore in San Francisco. In “Something for Junkies,” a standout track from the album, Killer Mike raps about how a close family friend’s mom suffered from drug addiction. San Francisco is currently the Bay Area’s ground zero for the opioid crisis. In 2022, 647 people died from accidental overdoses. Walking the streets of downtown San Francisco, pedestrians confront the realities of addiction every day.

When asked about the message within “Something for Junkies” and how it resonates with the Bay Area, Killer Mike became emotional.

“Our parents who got addicted to cocaine, they were just partying,” he said. “They didn’t think that it was going to take them. Now, anything the doctor gives, you think it’s safe. You don’t know it’s going to give you an opioid addiction. I had to make a song about addiction, because it was on my heart.”

As his time in the Bay Area approaches, I wanted to learn more about Killer Mike’s thoughts on gentrification, both in Atlanta and the Bay Area, and if he notices any similarities between the two. In true Southern fashion, Killer Mike looked back on thoughts his grandfather shared with him.

“Cities churn,” he said. “One group stays there for a while, and then 20 or 40 years later, it’s gonna churn.”

After listing off a number of Black neighborhoods in Atlanta that have undergone changes in demographics during the last 10 to 15 years, he suggested a political and economic tactic for Blacks across the country—develop a 10-year plan to move to Atlanta.

Killer Mike is currently in the middle of a 19-city tour and then he and El-P will embark upon a four-city Run the Jewels tour to celebrate their 10th anniversary in the fall. As fans new and old give Michael a listen, he offered them a simple suggestion:

“This album is to be listened to from start to finish,” he said. “Just hit ‘play’ and work on your car, clean your house or take a long drive. But it is meant to play like an audio movie.”

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