Last summer we went down to Atlanta to talk with Big Boi, Killer Mike and Bubba Sparxxx about their (then) forthcoming projects on Big's Purple Ribbon label. In the year since, Big Boi smashed with "Kryptonite" and made a movie, Bubba Sparxxx revitalized his career with Mr Collipark and some asses, and Killer Mike remained pretty quiet, never getting the chance to release his finished (and phenomenal) Ghetto Extraordinary LP. A month or so ago, new Killer tracks started leaking out, and they went hard, skewering everyone from fellow Purple Ribbon artists to George Bush and Oprah. We talked with Mike this week about the new songs (which will all be contained on the new I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind, available direct from Mike's MySpace soon), his real status with Purple Ribbon, and what to expect next - you can read the full interview after the jump.
What’s up Mike?
Today just wasn’t a good traffic day - I was running around like crazy. I do my own distribution on the [Grind Time] mixtapes and stuff, I just had to get my retail done.
The new mixtape is out already in Atlanta?
The one I’m talking about is back orders for the old mixtape, and the sampler [for I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind]. The album sampler got so hot that they called me and we just started selling the sampler.
Have you been encouraged by the response to the sampler tracks and the leaked songs?
I have, man. To be honest, I have. Extremely encouraged. You hope you got that love and support, and then when you see it…in the beginning, I felt people felt like, "He didn’t come through" or "He had flopped" - I was motivated by haters. Like, I’m gonna show them. But now that I’m getting all this [good feedback], I’m making doper music, cause I’m doing it from love. It’s beautiful, dog.
For I Pledge Allegiance…, is it all newly recorded songs?
All brand new shit. Ain’t one of those songs over a month old.
So where does Ghetto Extraordinary stand—what’s going to happen to the songs you recorded for that?
What happened with that record is a question better asked to Purple Ribbon and Sony. All I can tell you about that is that the great songs off of that record that I think are still relevant will be on the new record 16 In The Kitchen. Off of that “Body Rock” line, “16 in the kitchen, momma taught me how to cook,” and you know what I’m talking about in regards to that. But its not going to be "Hey I was serving…" or anything, its just about drugs in America in a pure form. Most of us have been introduced to drugs by our parents in this country, whether they be social drinkers or weed tokers or full-fledged addicts. We have a drug culture in this country, which we do not acknowledge, and we wonder why our kids take refuge in it—you don’t want your kids to smoke pot but you give them Ritalin.
Are you putting 16 In The Kitchen out through Grind Time?
Grind Time is the official label. This will be the third album I put out on my own, the first one was That Crack, the next one was The Killer, which was awarded the best specialty mixtape of last year. Now I have The Grind, which is the pre-mixtape to the mixtape that comes out in a couple of weeks - and we only doing three thousand copies of The Grind too - and then we doing I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind. So that’s four albums I put out by myself.
Are you still obligated to deliver any albums to Sony?
So that set up is totally a wrap?
Yeah it’s a wrap. No bad feelings though. Everybody out there, go support my man Ray Cash.
What about as far as your situation with Purple Ribbon?
What about it?
Are you still an artist on Purple Ribbon?
Yeah! Of course. I mean if I was Purple Ribbon I wouldn’t get rid of me. Shit, I was the only person that made money over there. Purple Ribbon would be foolish to let me go.
So is the plan after these Grind Time releases to do a proper album through Purple Ribon/Virgin?
I don’t know what the plan is for Purple Ribbon and Virgin—the problem you talking about is already done, but I’m not going to watch them fucking, I’m not going to watch them squabble over this. Either they going to do it right or they not going to do it.
Are you still recording in the studio you had set up in the Purple Ribbon complex?
No, I been recording at Big P’s studio. The studio at Purple Ribbon became more exclusive than I had envisioned when it was my idea to put [my own] studio in there. It got to the point where me and my guys didn’t feel comfortable recording there, so we was like, We going to go and do like when we was kids and do our own stuff. While we was in the process of doing that my man Big P looked out for us and we recorded in his studio.
All the tracks that leaked off I Pledge Allegiance… came with producer credits, you seem to be working with an interesting batch of unknown producers.
That’s all I want to work with, to be honest. I got some producers that ain’t got their “hits.” I mean, I worked with DR Period, he’s a great producer, I’ve worked with Cool and Dre early in the game, they great producers. But I wanted my own producers, so Heatwave, Chaotic Beats and Drum Legend, that’s what they offer me, I wanted to find my own sound, I’m tired of chasing sounds, and I don’t want to chase producers.
How did you link up with these new guys?
I was the only one at Purple Ribbon willing to listen to demos.
What stood out on their beat tapes—was there a particular sound you wanted for yourself?
I needed a sound that was a hybrid between…you know what, I don’t know. They just did. They just did. All I know now is that I’m making music now that don’t sound like nobody else and it sounds like some of the best music of my life.
There’s definitely an epic quality to the new stuff which wasn’t on too many of your past songs.
It was there for me vocally and rhyming, but it just wasn’t catching production wise, and it was just hard for Outkast to step into that realm. But these kids were already there, so they had what I needed and I had what they needed and we a team.
Honestly, the sort of futuristic, uptempo club stuff you played for us last summer [off Ghetto Extraordinary] was pretty great, too. Like “My Chrome” and “Gonna Go To Ghana,” the Sa-Ra track.
The Sa-Ra stuff definitely. I never thought “My Chrome” should have been the first record [off Ghetto Extraordinary]. “Niggas Down South” should have been the first record. “My Chrome” should have been the second or thrd single—but that Sa-Ra song is like my child. I am not letting that song out until I have the weight on the street that’s going to make sure I get a half a million dollar video, I’m going to shoot that motherfucker somewhere foreign with no mosquitos and lots of beautiful girls. So my audience has to help me blow up so we can do this.
Sa-Ra are gonna be looking crazy in that video too.
That’s my boy, Taz! I love him, that’s the homie man.
Do you see them a lot?
No. I haven’t seen them in a while and you can print this too—it’s my fault and I’ma call you. In the past we would call each other just to see how we was doing, how our kids are doing. I genuinely love that brother.
It was fresh to me when I heard that track, because it worked on a real out-there production kind of level, but you were saying some shit!
And what’s dope is I feel like I have my own Sa-Ra pocket now. I feel like between Chaotic Beats and Heatwave and Drum Legend that I got the few people that are creative and willing to push the niggas and Sa-Ra, they on the same shit that I’m on, we don’t dress alike, we don’t walk alike, we don’t talk alike, but a lot of the same shit we had the same passions for. Working with them was a lot easier than working with a nigga I was just trying to get a beat from.
In the year since the last interview [FADER 32] it’s been crazy for music from Atlanta.
Franchise Boyz, D4L…
Exactly, the weekend we were down there was the first weekend we heard DJs playing “Laffy Taffy,” just some mixshow spins when we were driving late at night. Was that scene anything you were involved with in any way, or watched people work in?
We all the same age, shit. Well, we not all the same age, but we all in the same age group—a few people in their early thirties, but that’s on my side of town so I understand it and I love it. I’m a Pimp C, Bun B dog…you got a lot of different types of Southern rap but its all Southern rap. I look at the “Laffy Taffy”s the D4Ls and I know they gangsters for real. Shawty Lo is gangster for real. We know each other from high school up, we great dudes and we used to fuck around—the guys who wrote “Laffy Taffy” come from the hardest project in Atlanta, you know what I’m saying? All that “street credibility” shit means nothing, what matters to me is that some cats from my neighborhood can come out and make a track that changed their lives. Now in terms of my music, I’ma wild rapping-ass cat, I’m what Eightball and MJG is made out of, what UGK made out of, what Outkast and Goodie Mob is made out of, my music ain’t to make you snap, my music is to snap, I want a motherfucker to hear me and be, "How does this motherfucker rap so good?" And I can tell you.
It was crazy to see people who couldn’t accept the snap stuff as something that was in a different lane, but still good on its own.
Really man, it’s just a bunch of mad old motherfuckers that are full of shit. And the same niggas that be mad, they didn’t put Big Daddy Kane on they first record, they didn’t put Rakim on they first record, they didn’t do nothing to [preserve] New York—man, fuck you. I don’t mean you, you know what I’m saying though. In the south we love New York, we love Rakim, we love Run DMC. We used to listen to the Wu Tang down South, we love them. And it kind of feel like the people you love, they shitting on you, and you’re like, Why? All we did was buy your records for fifteen years, not say shit and stay on our grind.
The same people who would complain that someone from the South wasn’t lyrical would never say that to Greg Nice or whomever.
No. And let me say, I’m a Dipset fan, you cannot name a Dipset album I do not have, but when the homie Juelz Santana said that “down south cats don’t get lyrical,” I’m thinking, Juelz has a Southern style, Juelz is not the most lyrical out there. He got style. I’m lyrical, Pimp is lyrical, Bun B is lyrical. Like, what the fuck is he talking about? But that was just like the standard answer. Some of the other homies in new york would be like, “Well, you know that Down South thing is big right now, but when it comes to lyrics, New York…” What the fuck is he talking about?! We are rapping down here now, dog. We raw rapping and we been raw rapping. And we not making this shit so esoteric people don’t get it, we not only talking about Gotham, we live in the world and we talking about the world. But really I don’t give a fuck. If you not from the South I don’t give a fuck what you think of me, cause I’m not telling your story anyways. I want you to buy my story cause you’re curious about it, because you don’t know. But I’m telling the story of the people in the South, because I’m they voice.
Yeah. And it’s an obvious thing to say, but the biggest thing to happen to the South last year was Hurricane Katrina.
Yeah, have you heard my song “That’s Life”?
Yeah, that’s what I was leading into. Where were you when you first heard about the hurricane?
Shit, I was in Miami, the motherfucker hit us too. We didn’t get hit by the hurricanes but the storms. When I heard where it was going to strike and when it was going to strike I prayed. I never felt more helpless in my life, to know that this storm was going to be hitting people and they had no idea how bad it was going to be, I felt helpless. And when help didn’t come I got angry, and after I got angry I made a fucking song.
What was it like recording that song?
That’s a freestyle. Most of the shit on there was a freestyle, I don’t know, I know what I want to talk about when I go in the booth and I just kind of organize it when it comes out. What I decided to do was do the same organization as when I rap. Cause I had it on the first album, just nobody gave a fuck to listen to “Rap Is Dead.” Rappers don’t talk about shit, all they do is bite Biggie and Pac, and rock is dead, rock aint doing shit, everbody just biting Jimi and Kurt trying to be original. Nobody hears me. Nobody cares to hear me—they been good. They was doing OK. But now that gas is four dollars a fucking gallon everybodys like, "Oh sure, you’re saying something." I been saying something for three years. Nigga, fuck you, don’t tell me I’m articulate, and that’s a fucking comment. Fuck you. Don’t give me that shit. You think I bring it, then you can say “Wow, I never thought of that before.” But don’t tell me I can speak well. I’m just waiting for you to say, “…for a nigger” after that.
And that’s the same thing you were talking about last summer! It’s patronizing.
Exactly. Exactly! You just said it, the same thing I was talking about last summer. I been saying this shit man, I’m just glad people are finally broken up and have to stay home and listen.
What are your other favorites on I Pledge Allegiance…?
My favorites would be “Fuck You Pay Me,” “Grind Time Rap Gang,” definitely “That’s Life,” “Juggernaut,” and my fifth favorite its not even my song, its called “Wave The Flag” it’s a SL Jones song. SL Jones is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and his album is going to be called Bangin In Little Rock. We’re hopefully going to make him the first Little Rock artist out. There’s a gang of Little Rock artists, I want to give him an opportunity by jumping on his record, he’s about to tell a story of the South that people haven’t heard before. Part of my haste and rush to hurry up and make sure I solidify my position is to be able to give these other guys in Grind Time an open lane opportunity to tell the stories that you never heard before. I don’t have a lyricist in my camp that is below par. When I say below par, I don’t mean average for a Southern rapper, I mean if you looking for the new Wu-Tang, here you go. If you’re wondering where the fuck NWA disappeared to, here you go. If you’re wondering what the Dungeon Family could have been, what Cash Money should have been, here we go.
What kind of steps are you taking to make sure what happened within those crews doesn’t happen to Grind Time?
First of all we going to keep it small. Five MCs: Killer Mike aka Maserati, SL Jones, Young Pill, Nickel Plated Nario, and Big Slim. They the ones that’s ready. They the ones that’s killing everything when they touch it. And I’m going to try and keep my role as small as possible dog. I’m not trying to steal the spotlight cause I’m trying to build an audience. I’m trying to build a rap fan base where our fans know, “Our favorite people are coming to town.” We want to do a Warped Tour for rap man, we want to do an Anger Management tour where we’re all rappers. We want to corner the market dog. There ain’t no other way to put it. I didn’t go out and get the best fucking rappers I could find for nothing.
As far as live rap shows, what was the last good show you got to check out?
The last couple of performances I went to and was really feeling was when I was at the Ozone Awards in Orlando Florida. My man Trae peformed, UGK peformed, T-Pain, that shit was out of fucking control. All three artists that I love, and boy, T-Pain smashed it, he is an amazing artist and songwriter. UGK are legendary, and Trae, to me man, when I hear him speak it’s like hearing…like, I call Trae truth serum, he lacks the ability to bullshit.
How good is his new album?!
Trae’s new album is great. The first one, “Real Talk,” he kills it. And of course number 9, number 12, I don’t have the tray in front of me right now.
One thing that’s cool to me about the Ozone Awards is that TJ [from TJs DJs] gets involved and its really about DJs and about breaking and supporting new music.
That’s amazing to me that you even say that cause most people just act like they don’t know. Rappers shows up looking for groupies and drugs and stuff, there was enough of that but there wasn’t so much that it distracts from the real focus—what this award show allows people to do is focus on young artists, and lets people come in and learn from some of the most elite people in the South for little or nothing. Like, whatever they charged was well below [what it was worth for] the advice. See, its easy to walk into a conference and be talked to by Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles and these people. Some people it don’t matter what they tell you, you’re missing such a greater development in what it took to get them there—if you don’t have the other pieces to the puzzle you can’t put it together, you can never really be competition to them. Swisha House was there at Ozone, they’re just a year or two out of the underground, you can use some of those Swisha House secrets. Man, that’s some shit you can’t pay for man! That conference was possibly one of the best music conferences I’ve been to. To have talent like Wendy Day of the Rap Coalition, Mike Watts, I think the Aphilliates were down there, David Banner. They had Warner, they had iPod down there, a lot of people that really could help you.
Artists got to realize, the only way you’re going to be OK is if you make sure you’re OK. And the only way you make sure you’re OK is if you on top of your shit. As an artist if you’re not tending to your market you’re not working. Like, you know what I have to do all day, I have to go to retailers putting CDs in stores, putting shirts in stores—I mean, I could sit back and wait on a check from Virgin and wait and pray that everything’s going to be OK. Nigga, fuck that. My knees too tired to keep praying. Fuck that, I gotta work. And if you a young artist and you’re not doing that, you’re not trying to be successful. You’re just trying to be a sucker.