I must say, I’m generally more into house music than I am into rap, but when I saw a poster for Killer Mike, an Atlanta-based 37 year old who’s been in the game as long as I’ve been alive, I realized that Thursday at Terrace was going to be some real shit. The poster was simple. A picture of the Killer himself, eyes blocked by a black flat rim with an “A” on it. But in that moment, the violence and carnage that the evening promised to bring caught me straight in the jaw. Though Killer Mike’s rhymes had yet to reach my dainty ears, I knew he was a must-see.
I arrived early to Terrace to start helping myself to the tap, as my room had sadly just gone dry. I’d never gone out to the street without having had at least a few shots or beers, so I was afraid that the night was going to be solely dependent on the quality of the music and the crowd. Turned out the music and the crowd were both great. Shit was cray.
As I was one of the first in Terrace, I got to see Michael’s entourage setting up – the first thing I noticed as I crossed the dance floor to get another beer was a black T-shirt with the following words provocatively displayed: “I’m glad Ronald Reagan’s dead.” I smiled and sipped and avoided eye contact and went back to the poolroom to play complicated drinking games that I still don’t understand.
The headliner, Tez McClain opened, frequently rapping a capella. The crowd was not very large and things were getting a little hood for a Thursday, but this guy spit fire regardless of response. Respect. By this time, I was getting pretty drunk and was chilling at the front, tippin’ my drank and biding my time until the Killer arrived. McClain finished abruptly and before I had time to register, Killer Mike pushed his way through the crowd and started speaking truth. Say what you want about his rapping ability (but if it’s “He sucks!” then… fuck you), but the Killer is a showman.
His raps are all angst, sometimes political, occasionally traditional rap. He uttered prescient, conspiratorial poetry in his song Ronald Reagan (which ends, “I’m glad Reagan Dead”), saying, “They only love the rich, and how they loathe the poor. If I say anymore then they might be at my door.” He’s anti-authoritarian and pro-activism: his criticism of Reagan goes beyond the man himself. Towards the end of the song, after offering a strong critique of a police force terrorizing young black youth and a drug/prison policy mirroring slavery, Mike preaches that Reagan is “just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama—just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters.” Above all of this borderline anarchy, he encouraged activism: at one point in between songs, he spent time explaining how important voting is regardless of political affiliation.
The Killer frequently engaged with the crowd. At one point, he stopped the show to stomp someone’s cigarette, shouting out, “Smoke weed instead!” and criticizing “Mr. Marlboro.” Later, one member of the crowd shouted, “He looks like Rick Ross,” and the Killer went off, calling the heckler “q-tip” and proceeding with a number of statements I don’t really remember which bashed the boy’s prowess with the opposite sex.
Mike is all heart. Perhaps his flow is at times contrived, but his showmanship is unparalleled. I don’t remember how it ended (the beer was working) but no matter – Killer Mike is a good man who makes sound points with rough lyrics.
And Mike is more than just a conspiratorial gangster rapper. He also gives back to his community in a meaningful way. He recently opened a barbershop in his hometown Atlanta, which displays the photographs and paintings of prominent black leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. on its walls. He aims to open 150 shops around the country in predominantly black communities to “lift up men in the community who are out of work and help move them toward sustainable, lifelong careers.” He is hoping to pursue his own barber’s license this winter. This man, this Killer, this gangster – I like him.