Killer Mike with Adam Matthews
These days, a gold record doesn’t guarantee a release date. Despite a plaque for 2003’s Monster, Michael “Killer Mike” Render was no longer Sony Records’ priority. So he left. He also – temporarily, at least — severed official ties with Big Boi’s Purple Ribbon imprint.
He’s shifted his focus to Grind Time Rap Gang, a collective featuring S.L. Jones, Da Bill Collector, Big Slim, Nickle Plated Nario, Young Pill and producers Smiff and Cash, Chaotic Beats, B-Don and the Drum Majors. As self-proclaimed MCEO, he’s favoring a hands-on approach to running his new label, Grind Time Official. Fresh home from picking up 2500 CD’s in Houston, he discussed brand building, Southern hip-hop dominance and why he’s rolling with the underdogs.
You just drove 24 hours roundtrip to Houston to pick up CDs. Why?
First time I ever brought a brick of dope, I tested it myself. That ride to Texas was symbolic for me. I wanted to shake every hand in the record stores. I wanted to pick them up myself because I did this. I planned the cover and Grind Time and me hashed out the music. This was a total team effort, so it was symbolic for us to go down there and pick up the product. Now I’ll never do that shit again. I’m shipping from now on.
When does this album comes out?
I Pledge Allegiance featuring Grind Time Official is 22 cuts long. I’m a drop it officially on October 31st. I’ve been dropping it off at some tastemaker spots early, but it’s officially dropping in your Best Buy and all those places on October 31st. Right now, its self-distributed and we have some one stops that are picking it up. They’ve been taking orders of five to ten thousand.
So what really happened with Purple Ribbon?
I didn’t leave in the sense of fuck them, I am just on a sabbatical. I still talk to Big Boi a few times a week and go through the office, but until they figure out what they’re doing as an organization, I can’t properly represent them. In the meantime, I am building the Killer Mike and Grind Time Official brand.
Paperwork-wise, I am on whomever shows me that big bag of money. What ties me to Purple Ribbon is my loyalty to Big Boi – Antwan Patton. If he secures a better deal, then we’re back in business. If I find a better deal, I am going to make him a part of that situation, because he saved my life. My loyalty goes beyond any contract.
Is it weird to have a gold record and not have a second major label record in stores?
I’m a fan of consistency. In order to have longevity, you [have to fly] below the radar for a while. EPMD and Mobb Deep, who went gold every time, were my fucking heroes. Their music was always dope. Eight Ball and MJG, UGK, had 15-year careers. Kriss Kross was dope, but they’re not EPMD. They sold five, six, seven million records as kids; Erick And Parrish changed hip-hop.
But it’s hard to be a rapper without a gimmick.
It’s not a rappers’ fault. There are no fledgling rap labels with the specific intent of putting out [innovative] artists anymore. One of Def Jam’s earliest slogans was “Our artists rap because they can’t sing.” I knew every Def Jam record I bought had a certain amount of authenticity. Right now, small labels aren’t reaching out to do anything.
But labels have to answer to big corporations now. Does that make it more difficult for you today?
I am six foot three, three hundred-some-odd pound black man. The name Killer Mike has shut me off from endorsements, which could have put me in front of a different audience and expanded my fame. But The Killers, three or four skinny white guys, get endorsements out the ass. So that’s subtle racism, but I’m not tripping off it. I don’t run the corporations that make these decisions. It’s my job to get directly with the fans. I’m used to rap being treated unfairly. So therefore, I’ve got to overcome those obstacles. I stopped trying to chase the impossible: corporate acceptance. I don’t care if I get a deal from a major sneaker company. I’m supporting A-Town sneakers and other fledgling companies. So when you see me, I’m wearing the Hundreds, Crooks and Castles or 10 Deep. I’m not chasing Heinz, Nike, Reebok, Pepsi and Coke and asking them if I can change myself to fit them.
Why is independent hip-hop so strong down South?
We were closed off from traditional hip-hop venues for so long. Even if you don’t get money off CD sales, you can get money off shows and put out your own record and ride to the next town.
If you’re in the South, you can eat. It’s a little harder up North just because they haven’t worked hard enough on building their independent market. I haven’t had a record out in three years, but thanks to South Carolina, Tennessee, North Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, I haven’t filed for bankruptcy.
A lot of small down South labels are signing deals with Asylum. Is that a possibility for Grind Time Official?
I just want to do it in a way that makes sense monetarily. Asylum is offering $25, 000 or at most $50, 000, on the front. They’ll support you. They’ll do great at taking a radio single that’s regional and blowing it up and [giving you] a video after a certain amount sold. That’s not a bad situation, but I’d rather work my ass off and walk into a joint venture with more on the front to better situate my artists and producers. I’m looking for a situation that’s inclusive of my company. I want somebody who wants to help me build the next thing. Right now, I’m a player on the farm league team with potential and people are scouting me. But I’m not going to run and ask people to sign me again. If I do what I’m supposed to do, then my phone will ring.
How many albums would you need to sell to feel successful?
Success for me would be between 250, 000 and 500, 000 albums independently. I’m not uncomfortable being on the underground. I done slept in the palace, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t my palace. I’m back out here getting money. Me and my crew, see us in a year.