Diamondin the rough

After Fer­gu­son, rap­pers need to step upto the plate, Killer Mike, half ofRun the Jew­els, tells Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

Track of the week is On The Reg­u­lar by Shamir (above).What a beauty this is. While other artists are putting up their Christ­mas trees, Shamir is rais­ing the roof. On The Reg­u­lar an­nounces Shamir’s ar­rival on the dance­floor, and pushes the wannabes to the side. Think Prince mixed with a touch of Azealia Banks’s 212. And all in lass than three min­utes.

Hero of the week goes to (metaphor­i­cal) big sis­ter Demi Lo­vato, who’s been look­ing after Fifth Har­mony while they’re on tour with her. Camila Har­mony told Blinkbox: “Go­ing on tour with her was this re­ally surreal ex­pe­ri­ence. It was just a great thing to see she was just as gen­uine as she seems. She al­ways checks up on us, and made sure we were hav­ing a good time. She al­ways told us that our hap­pi­ness and our health comes be­fore ev­ery­thing else.” Awww.

Zero of the week is Ari­ana Grande’s ve­gan diet, which means she can’t eat her beloved Ital­ian food. Grande told the Mir­ror: “I was raised on meat and cheese, so I’ve had enough for any­one’s nor­mal life span.” How­ever, it’s not all bad news. Grande has de­nied that she’s at­tempt­ing a cover of The Boy Is Mine, telling Cap­i­tal FM: “It’s a clas­sic, it should re­main un­touched. I’m a hu­mon­gous fan of that song and Brandy is one of my favourite vo­cal­ists ever.”

Not con­tent with writ­ing her own tracks, Charli XCX is writ­ing for Gwen Ste­fani too. Ste­fani told Rolling Stone, “I don’t usu­ally want to work with other girl writ­ers – but she had my vibe.” Atta girl, Charli.

Now click here: To get into the fes­tive spirit, do a web search for The Satur­days’ cover of Christ­mas Wrap­ping. If you are look­ing for a hip-hop act to step up and take a good, hard look at Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, it looks in­creas­ingly as if Killer Mike is your man. Over the last few months the At­lanta rap­per has been front and cen­tre when it comes to com­ment­ing about such is­sues as the fall­out from the shoot­ing of black teenager Michael Brown in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, last Au­gust.

The rap­per born Michael Ren­der has de­cided it’s time to speak up. Of late there have been ap­pear­ances on CNN and Fox News, op-ed pieces in var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions (in­clud­ing one in USA To­day about the use of rap lyrics as ev­i­dence in crim­i­nal tri­als) and emo­tional speeches dur­ing shows about what is hap­pen­ing on the streets of Fer­gu­son and other Amer­i­can ci­ties.

“We’re just rap­pers, but I’m also a black man in Amer­ica and that comes with a cer­tain set of sit­u­a­tions,” he says.

“I’m also the son of a po­lice­man and that brings sit­u­a­tions which might cause some con­flict for me as a rap­per. What the cops do is a very dif­fi­cult job, but you have to chal­lenge what’s go­ing on out there and why it’s hap­pen­ing and you’ll hear us do it in a non-preachy way. I hope I do a good job of rep­re­sent­ing my­self and my com­mu­nity.”

Away from this ac­tivism, Ren­der has many cre­ative and com­mer­cial irons in the fire, from his own­solo workto hisSwag bar­ber­shop business in At­lanta.

Then there’s Run the Jew­els, a col­lab­o­ra­tionwith New York pro­ducer and MC El-P. The duo have just re­leased their sec­ond al­bum, Run the Jew­els 2, to another round of loud and sus­tained ap­plause. Talk­ing about this project is tak­ing up a lot of Ren­der’s time and ef­fort.

Killer Mike’s story be­gan when he ap­peared on OutKast’s Stanko­nia al­bum in 2000. His pe­for­mance on Snap­pin’ & Trap­pin’ won him a Grammy, earned more guest spots and led to a solo al­bum Mon­ster in 2003.

But it’s his al­liance with Jaime “El-P” Me­line that has re­ally ratch­eted things up a cou­ple of notches.

Me­line made merry as an un­der­ground hip-hop lu­mi­nary with the fa­bled Company Flow and Def Jux la­bel in the late Stanko­nia Talk­a­bout­catch­ing abreak. OutKast tapKillerMike forS­nap­pin’& Trap­pin’on their2000al­bu­mandthe dude­grab­saGram­myasare­sult. Mon­ster The2003debu­tal­bum­givesRen­der as­mash­hit inthe shape­ofthe boun­cyA. D.I.D.A.S. Don’tcal­lita come­back.After year­sof­stron­gal­bums­but­lit­tle com­mer­ciallove,Ren­der­hook­sup withEl-Pfor­this2012al­bum an­de­v­ery­thing clicks.Check­out 1990s. He worked with Ren­der on the lat­ter’s R.A.P. Mu­sic solo al­bum in 2012 and the pair re­con­vened for El-P’s Can­cer 4 Cure al­bum. After tour­ing to­gether, the pair formed Run the Jew­els and the combo hit the ground fully formed.

“It was a vibe more than a sound,” says Ren­der. “In­di­vid­u­ally we’re good but to­gether, man, we have some­thing else and we push each other in ways we’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. We’re friend­sand we­bal­ance one another.”

R.A.P. changes ev­ery­thing

Un­til lately, Ren­der’s ca­reer fea­tured many re­leases that failed to make a con­nec­tion with a wider au­di­ence.

“R.A.P. Mu­sic changed ev­ery­thing for me. I re­alised I didn’t want to be just an un­der­ground rap­per. I wanted to be recog­nised as one of the best rap­pers out there. But it hadn’t worked like that and I was ready to quit be­cause I was tired of hit­ting my Rea­gan­fo­ratas­te­ofthis­mighty, angry,fierce and­huge­lyrel­e­vant set. El-PandKillerMikeswing in­toac­tion and­showthat twohead­sare bet­ter thanone.Their2013 debu­tal­bu­mis fullofrich, en­thused, en­er­gised, high-wa­ter­mark­mo­ments. Se­cond­timearound­with­more pun­chandzip.Next up: Me­owthe Jew­els, aKick­starter-funded remix ofthe al­bum­fea­tur­ing­cat­sounds. Wekidy­ounot. head against the wall and get­ting nowhere,” he says.

That re­cent run of al­bums has put Ren­der up where he rightly be­longs and he’s savour­ing what this brings. It means, for a start, that there’s a much big­ger au­di­ence to lis­ten to his thoughts and ru­mi­na­tions on Amer­i­can so­ci­ety to­day, he says.

“I’veal­ways seen rap­per­sas lib­er­a­tors who push the lim­its be­cause rap of­ten rep­re­sents the most down­trod­den peo­ple in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety. Rap pro­vides an econ­omy for many blacks who would be un­em­ployed oth­er­wise.”

Why does he reckon only a small­ish num­ber of rap­pers are will­ing to get in­volved in ac­tivism and protests?

“Be­cause they just want to es­cape. Mu­si­cians who’ve es­caped poverty want to buy their mother a house or a Bent­ley and di­a­monds rather than rap about so­cial is­sues. They’re try­ing to get the hell out of the ghetto them­selves. They don’t want to hear about it any more. They want the fan­tasy.

“Me, I’m an or­gan­iser through and through. Peo­ple have seen so much of me at this point, they know it’s not bull­shit. They see that this is my life­style. It’s who I am but I can name 99 rap­pers who are not. They’re try­ing to make it out of their own per­sonal hell.

“But, that said, I ex­pect more out of them. I don’t do this be­cause they’re rap­pers: I do this be­cause they’re black men and they owe some­thing to the com­mu­nity that they came from. Shit’s got to change.”

Run the Jew­els 2 is out now. Run the Jew­els play the Opium Rooms in Dublin on Dec 21st

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