Of all the new voices emerging onto the hip-hop music scene, only one can say that he won his first Grammy award before his debut album was even released.
In last month’s ceremonies, Killer Mike took home the coveted honor of Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group for his appearance on Outkast’s “The Whole World,” in which he dropped an ear grabbing verse full of energy and confidence.
Instantly following this Grammy triumph, Killer Mike has recently released his first solo effort, Monster. The album includes 15 tracks of pure emotion and hunger. Monster is an entertaining exhibition of Killer Mike’s unique brand of hip-hop music. Never falling into one sound, the recording is a fitting introduction to a man ready for the recognition he feels he deserves.
“The top five in the game need to look over their shoulder,” said the Atlanta-born MC. “I’m here now and I’m on the hunt!”
Albums backed with creativity and musical diversity are hard to find amongst today’s rap releases, making Killer Mike’s debut a rather unique listen.
“The album is diverse because that kind of diversity is me,” Mike explained. “I grew up in a very poor neighborhood, one where I was taught to just be proud of who you are.”
He says that this sense of pride comes out in his music. Killer Mike’s music is about sex, drugs, rap and roll, which is covered by the album’s wide range of sounds. Whether it be the eardrum-shattering xylophone and percussion arrangement of “Akshon (Yeah)” or the laid-back mood music of “U Know I Love U,” Killer Mike’s aggressive delivery remains consistent as the production transcends all coasts and styles.
While his name may be new to the minds of listeners, Killer Mike has been putting in work for over a decade to reach the level of success he has been experiencing. After shutting down his peers in high school battles and freestyle competitions, Mike attempted to reach success through a group known as the Slumlordz in the mid-90s. The Slumlordz’s rock-influence sound never took off, but allowing a chance meeting with Big Boi of Outkast in 1994, which later developed into a working relationship between Mike and Outkast.
Big Boi attempted to introduce Mike to the world back in 1994, but Mike felt differently.
“Back then, Atlanta’s music scene was made up of kiddy groups and pop girl acts,” he said. “There was no real street movement yet.”
Now, in 2003, he feels that the industry is diverse enough for his music to be felt the way he wants it to be felt.
“I feel like now I can come out and not have my creativity slaughtered,” he said.
Serving as the album’s associate producer, he made sure that the finished product reflected Michael Render (his birth name) to the fullest degree.
“With this album, I was learning my method, being that it’s my first one,” Mike explained. “Outkast has already found their method, so being in the studio with them helped me become comfortable and develop my own musical formulas.”
Monster sets Killer Mike apart from the majority of artists dominating the rap scene today thanks to its undeniable honesty and realness. Delivering his verses with undeniable aggression, Mike’s voice is instantly recognizable and impossible to ignore. He even manages to shine over the album’s innovative production, a difficult task, which he makes seem effortless. After one listen to the record, repect is inevitable as the listener grasps the genuine openness in which Killer Mike presents his music.
“I had the bulk of creative control on the album, which I’m happy about because it allowed me to put out the album I wanted people to hear,” Mike said.
The personal feel of the record is no more evident than on “All 4 U,” a genuinely touching and emotional song in which Mike pledges his devotion to his mother and those growing up in the same type of poverty he endured throughout his life. Backed by an uplifting soul sample and blues-drenched vibe that screams “real,” Mike provides an inspirational declaration of love to those who have impacted his life.
The MC admitted, “When I was recording that song, I could barely get through it because I would start crying in the vocal booth and my emotions would take over. That song is so special to me and I’m glad the world will be able to feel it.”
The heartfelt association with his poor upbringing is an obvious driving force for Mike’s career.
“One day, I saw this little baby girl walk right through a crowd of street dudes, with a real focus and drive. She was a young girl in the gutter, but she still had a dream. Seeing underpriveledged people like her, full of determination, inspired me to grab a pen and write.”
The most interesting track featured on Monster is “Rap is Dead,” which finds our host commenting on the current state of the music industry, which has been taken over by commericalism and mediocrity.
“What’s gone wrong in rap today is its pioneering spirit,” explained Mike. “Rap was built on young people constantly one-upping each other and that isn’t the case anymore. People are happy with just being good and I’m here to let them know that just being good isn’t good enough anymore.”
Whether or not Mike’s honest brand of hip-hop is the saving grace for the culture, he does admit that he does want to receive a platinum plaque for Monster, despite the common attitude that honest rappers usually shy away from fame and fortune.
“Don’t let people fool you; record sales do matter. The amount you sell is the measuring stick to how far you can go with your career, because if nobody buys the record than I won’t be able to try new things and be even more honest with the listeners.”
Buying a record is like a vote, a vote on what kind of music the listener wants to hear, according to Mike.
Buying Monster is a smart investment and a smart vote for music fans unafraid to hear something new and fresh, something that goes against the commerical grain to provide the listener with authentic musical emotion and feeling.
Despite the triumphant appearance of Big Boi on the infectious first single “A.D.I.D.A.S.,” Monster allows Killer Mike to properly introduce himself to the world without a clutter of big name guest artists, an all-too common trait of modern rap albums.
Killer Mike is definitely a name that will remain in the minds of rap fans, as long as rap fans continue to support the diversity and orignality of the culture.
His personal approach to this music is what Mike hopes will set him apart from every other MC putting their pens to paper.
“More than anything, I want to be known as the dude who had the chance to do something different,” he said.
“And it worked,” he added.