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Killer Mike, Atlanta’s Rap Journeyman, Is at the Peak of His Powers

In recent years, Killer Mike has become a target for a certain type of leftist criticism, especially from Black activists and anticapitalists, who decried his emotional admonishment of protesters after the killing of George Floyd in 2020; his interview about the importance of Black gun ownership to NRATV in the wake of the Parkland school shooting; or his chumminess with Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp.

“There are people who live to disagree and to catch a celebrity, especially, in the wrong,” Mike said, defiant as ever. “But I’ve been an activist way longer than I’ve been a successful rapper. You’re having arguments and debates that I was having at 16 years old.”

“You’re a child to me — and I don’t mean that in an insulting way. You’re just so young,” he continued, growing heated even as he gestured toward empathy. “You don’t understand the nuance of give and get. You don’t understand the nuance of politics, of bartering. There is no winning team.”

“I don’t have time to win debates,” he added, echoing the purposeful lack of nuance of “Talk’n That ___ ,” one of the most confrontational tracks on “Michael.”

Overall, however, the album, which was born of cathartic necessity during Covid, seeks understanding, not further division. Following a fierce bout with the virus early on, Mike realized, “I have to present something in these times that’s not weak and feeble or exploitive and aimless. I have to present something from Atlanta that shows the tradition of thought and lyricism and wit and soul and gospel — what Dungeon Family brought to the game, what Curtis Mayfield gave them, and what Outkast and Goodie Mob ushered into the world.”

“And at the same time, acknowledge what’s going on now,” he added.

Cuz Lightyear, a longtime friend and collaborator, recalled realizing in the studio that it was the first time he had seen Killer Mike recording from a place of freedom and happiness. “He never got to have that moment as a solo artist, where his back wasn’t against the wall and he wasn’t creating out of desperation,” Lightyear said. “For the first time, we were going to do it right. If it ain’t for money, you can get on an album and tell the truth.”

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