Killer Mike Talks Activism and Music at SxSW

The question of whether the famous have social responsibilities beyond their artistry is a polarizing one. But for rapper and activist Killer Mike, it's not a question — he's been politically involved since his elementary-school years, and he hasn't slowed down.

Killer Mike, aka Michael Render, is one-half of the hip-hop group Run the Jewels (along with rapper El-P) and part of a storied and beloved history of rap music in Atlanta. That means he's had to reconcile the need for catchy lyrics and radio success with his social conscience and convictions.

Despite this struggle, he's still managed to infuse his music with political messages. Run the Jewels even released a parody album full of cat sounds, “Meow the Jewels,” and gave the Kickstarter-raised proceeds to the families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, two black males who were killed by police officers in 2014, as well as the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee, which provides legal support for political and social activists. And if the topics he tackles in his raps, like police brutality and racism, don't illustrate his activism well enough, his feet-to-pavement engagement definitely does.

There's a good chance you've encountered Mike's work, even if you're not into his discography. Over the past few years, he has gotten a bunch of viral attention for his outspokenness on social and political issues. (See: his appearances on “Real Time With Bill Maher,” his interview with presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his controversial comments on Hillary Clinton's candidacy.) He even attempted to run as a write-in candidate for Georgia state representative in 2015 and lectured at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Of course, Killer Mike isn't the first artist to use his visibility to encourage social awareness. There's precedent in the roots of hip-hop and ‘80s- and ‘90s-era political rap as well as the contemporary music community. But it's clear the rapper's origins in Atlanta, a city entrenched in a history of civil rights advocacy and social justice, has played a major role in his narrative as an activist. As an artist with ties to noted musicians like Outkast and T.I. and as a business owner in Atlanta, Mike remains involved in and inspired by the city in which he developed his musical and political voice.

While HowStuffWorks was at South by Southwest, we captured a conversation between music executive and author Shanti Das and Killer Mike, hosted by ChooseATL. Watch the video above to check out their discussion on Atlanta's history, Mike's political goals and activism and authenticity in music today.

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