Spirit radiates from Killer Mike, and throughout Apogee Studio.
Video directed by Angie Scarpa. All photos by Andres Herrera.

Killer Mike: KCRW Live from Apogee Studio

Intimate performances, fresh sounds, and candid conversations with a view.

Comparing secular musical performances to church is always a bit of a high-wire act, but in the case of Killer Mike during his KCRW: Live From session at Apogee Studio, we mean it literally. 

“I want to encourage you to keep vibrating high. Holy does not mean a religion,” the Grammy-winning emcee and activist says. “It doesn't matter to me who, or what, or if you worship. It matters to me that you understand that there is something divine in every human being. 

“There's something divine in you, and I want you to wake up [and look] in the mirror, and realize you're looking at divinity. And treat yourself in such a way. You are special, you are loved, you are encouraged, [and] somebody gives a damn about you. Turn to your neighbor, and say ‘Neighbor, it’s gonna be okay.’”

Killer Mike commands the stage, filling the simultaneous roles of pastor, gregarious choir director, and just-irreverent-enough youth minister. The mixing of the sacred with the profane has never been more thrilling. 

From the pulpit, err, the stage, Killer Mike serves up songs from his reflective new album MICHAEL, including “SHED TEARS,” “EXIT 9,” and “HIGH & HOLY.” And guest Eryn Allen Kane’s gut-punch delivery of the poignant “MOTHERLESS” is sure to leave many marks in a set recorded and mixed by the legendary Bob Clearmountain

Plus, in conversation with Anthony Valadez, Killer Mike gets real about making amends, discussing the finer points of disco with his mom, and knowing that he was “the s***” when he was 9-years-old. 

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The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

KCRW: Your new album MICHAEL is connected in many ways to your imagination as a 9-year-old, what can you tell us about 9-year-old Michael?

Killer Mike: I knew I was the s**t [laughs]. My mom gave me a lot of confidence. I grew up in a very proud neighborhood called the Collier heights and Adamsville community in Atlanta. You know, we hear about redlining, and segregation, and Jim Crow, and the horrors of the South… And there were. But the neighborhood I grew up in was started in 1946, by  and for black people. They were so stubborn about being proud and black that they gave us no excuse for failure. I was told from the time I was a child at Herrington daycare center, to the day I graduated [high] school that you were expected to be the best you, you could possibly be. And the only impossible were just doubts that you believed in yourself. So that 9-year-old kid wanted to be a rapper more than anything in the world. He saw Roxanne Shanté, and was like “F*** that. She's 15, she's a girl. I'm going to do this s*** because she's kicking ass.” When a child believes anything is possible it's not your job to seed that child with doubt. And my mother just kept encouraging me, so that 9-year-old kid’s imagination is what built the character Killer Mike.

Tell us more about your mom giving you disco records? What were the records and how did they make you feel?

My mother and I had a unique friendship built around music. I still remember in 1984, I lived with my grandmother in a little 900 square foot house. Me, my grandpa, my grandma, and my two sisters. I was laying in my bedroom, [and my mom came in and] threw a Sade tape on my chest. She said, “Listen to that.” 

I went to her house on Fridays. And she said, “We'll talk about it [on] Monday when I take you to school.} Now, who gives a 10-year-old a Sade tape? To help understand the complexities of love…? You know what I mean? And I remember riding 30 minutes to school talking to her about it. My mom encouraged art and music all along the way. My mom would have me draw pictures of flowers for her. She would encourage me, we would discuss music. So I grew up loving art. I grew up loving music. My mother, man, [she] would listen to Donna Summer… We listened to the Gap Band Together.

More: Get vulnerable with soul-pop songwriter Emily King: Live from KCRW HQ

You’ve been referred to as “The [wrestler] Dusty Rhodes of hip-hop” and the album MICHAEL really brings to mind this particular Dusty Rhodes quote: “I've wined and dined with kings and queens. And I've been in dark alleys eating pork and beans.” Does that resonate with you, especially as a wrestling fan yourself?

Absolutely. A lot of people, they want to polarize you, they want you to fit their ideology — whatever they think of you. It's my job as an artist to do what I'm compelled to do, and to speak to the highs and the lows… It’s a true story that I apologized to an addict. I [said], “I didn't know that I was taking money out of your children's mouth.” And I remember him hitting me on my back. He said, “Hey, son, you was 12 years old, I didn't have no business asking you for dope anyway, you were just smart enough to have some.” 

[And] I say that just to say [that] people want to not like you. People want to disagree with you, people want to argue, but I'm making amends for what I did. As a teen, I didn't know any better. I was a child. [But] as a man, you carry that guilt. These are the lessons I've learned. And I want other young men and women — especially out of my community — [to hear this]: If you can delay gratification a little bit, if you can use your mind and work smarter, not harder… If you can do that, there is something on the other side that you won't have to be seeking redemption for. I don't want another man to feel the guilt that I felt. And I wanted to have a piece of music that felt like the gospel my grandmother would play … She played this beautiful gospel, you know, she played Aretha Franklin [sings]  “How I got over, how I got over.” I would just light up with joy. I wanted to make sure that I brought it home. This is a prodigal son, returning home. These are my grandmother's words, “You can't run from the Lord all your life.” And the way I choose to praise is through music.

More: Explore KCRW Live From sessions


KCRW Music Director: Anne Litt
Interview: Anthony Valadez
Recording / Mix Engineer: Bob Clearmountain/Apogee Studio
Audio Editor: Myke Dodge Weiskopf
Director / Editor / Color: Angie Scarpa
Director of Photography: Vice Cooler
Camera Operators: Dalton Blanco, Vice Cooler, Angie Scarpa, Miko Scarpa
Executive Producer: Ariana Morgenstern
Event Producer: Krissy Barker
Producer: Anna Chang
Art Director: Evan Solano
Digital Producer: Andrea Domanick

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