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Free Speech

Killer Mike on Empathy and Musical Activism

"Individual relationships, to me, are what's going to save the world," says rapper/activist
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 29: Rapper Killer Mike performs onstage on Day 2 of 2023 ONE MusicFest at Piedmont Park on October 29, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

Killer Mike is just as much an activist as he is a rapper. Since launching his music career in the early 2000s, the Atlanta-born artist has often used his platform to speak out about issues like social inequality and racism. When talking to SPIN backstage at Louder Than Life, Killer Mike credits many of the outspoken artists before him who paved the way.

“Artists that did the same for me … saying stuff that was important to them, that was very important or relevant to me,” he says. “You’re talking about Chuck D, KRS-One, Ice-T, Ice Cube, Scarface, but I think most importantly, in terms of my generation, you’re talking about Luther Campbell [of 2 Live Crew].”

As one-half of Run the Jewels, Killer Mike acknowledges that he and rapper/producer El-P may not agree on every issue. However, he understands that evolving their dialogue helps them better appreciate and respect each other.

“Individual relationships, to me, are what’s going to save the world,” Killer Mike says. “The fact that you know someone who does not look like you, who is not cultured like you, may not be of your sexual orientation—getting to know someone on a very one-on-one human level is what allows you empathy, and it’s what allows you to resist apathy.”