Michael Render, a Grammy award-winning rapper professionally known as the Killer Mike, in his op-ed piece for Billboard Magazine following the non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, cautioned Americans: “I found no new words. I have no hope-filled insight to deliver. I only have this warning to all Americans: Whatever this country is willing to do to the least of us, it will one day do to us all.”
On Monday, March 23rd, Killer Mike gave a lecture at NYU, advertised as “a lecture on Ferguson, Police Brutality, For Profit Prisons And More,” sponsored by the NYU Program Board. His recurring focus was for the audience, and further, all of America, to “go make friends with someone who doesn’t look like you” in an attempt to increase empathy and understanding among people of different creeds, races, gender orientations, etc. He even went so far as to ask religious NYU students to travel to other places of worship and take a real look at their neighbors in hopes of gaining compassion for them – to understand why they are the way they are.
Mike isn’t just some utopian hopeful, though. He is the son of a police officer. He is an ex-drug dealer from the streets of Atlanta. He is a passionate, well-spoken man with a deep love for the Constitution and deep hatred for the very institution for which his father worked so hard. He raps in his song “Reagan”, “I guess that that's the privilege of policing for some profit / But thanks to Reaganomics, prisons turned to profits / Cause free labor is the cornerstone of US economics / Cause slavery was abolished, unless you are in prison / You think I am bullshitting, then read the 13th Amendment.” He is hyperaware of the fact that he lives in a country where young, black drug dealers like himself can rise out of their situations and initiate a social change – and if he can, that will empower others to do so.. He is a man that encourages all of his listeners to get “their asses the fuck to the polls and vote locally.”
Mike’s passion for these issues has frequently bled over into his intense live performances, and I have seen him perform in St. Louis, Missouri, as well as in New York City – both of which are cities with strained and divisive race politics. Their type of racism is one institutionalized so deeply into their bureaucracy that the widespread discontent that these cities have witnessed over the last several months should be no surprise. Both cities are hosts of murderous crimes committed by the police. Both cities have heard outcries from their citizens, citizens who have finally had enough.
Both cities should listen to Killer Mike: to not only go and meet those who are different than you, but also, to vote locally. He meets his utopian views of existing in a universal acceptance of one another with practical advice of changing the outcomes of our society through the political process. Kendrick Lamar writes about Killer Mike in “Hood Politics”, a song coming off his newest album “To Pimp A Butterfly”, saying that if America wanted to hear the truth, perhaps about police brutality and the racist systems in which we live, Killer Mike would have gone platinum. Well, Kendrick Lamar’s newest album (itself not lacking in social activist sentiments), which is number one on the Billboard 200 as of this writing, speaks to the exact opposite of that. We Americans do want to hear the truth. We actually need it, whether it be rapped in an album or communicated through spoken word.
- Trudy Wurm