What Killer Mike Taught Us about Race and "Isms" at MIT

It’s 5PM. We are now on hour 5 of what is supposed to be a 4 hour bus ride to Boston from NYC. I check my Maps app and it’s telling me we are still an hour outside of Boston. Great, I’m going to be late and I hate being late. And then, all of a sudden, I hear yelling. I lowkey turn down my music and try to listen to what’s going on. It’s a passenger screaming at no one in particular. He’s loudly ranting on about how we haven’t stopped for a restroom or food break, how this is the longest bus ride to Boston ever, how he was going to choke the bus driver and so forth except with a lot more expletives.

Unlike a Kanye rant, I couldn’t really disagree with this man’s stream of consciousness. I mean, everyone on the bus was thinking it. He was just the one to say it. 30 minutes later, the bus driver gets on the mic and says, “To the person who cursed me out, I get it. We live in a free country and you are allowed to speak your mind. But think before you speak.” And that was it. No one spoke of this situation again. But this was interesting and I’ll come back to it later. (I got to the Killer Mike lecture on time, by the way. Shoutout to Caliph and the friendly MIT students for helping me out.)

I’m a fan of Killer Mike. A 4-hour-bus-ride fan of his. I listen to his music but it’s his intelligence and activism in fighting the good fight that I value above all else. I’ve followed his interviews on the radio, podcasts, and TV pretty closely and have always felt a little smarter, a little more educated after hearing him speak so I was expecting this to be the same. I was wrong. In a good way though and this is important. In fact, this ended up being a big takeaway for me. The 3 hours that Killer Mike spoke could only be described as an intellectual roller coaster full of contradicting dichotomies and self reflection.

Before he starts the lecture, he begins with a disclaimer. He tells us that we are all on an even playing field, that even though he is qualified to speak on race relations for specific reasons, he was going to leave all of his bias, preconceived notions and what he calls “ism’s” outside the classroom. He asked us all to do do the same. Okay, interesting.

And then at some point, he began to build us up. He told us we were smart. In a room full of MIT students and just your casual Race Relations enthusiasts attending a lecture on a Friday night, it goes without saying but he tells us anyway. In fact, he says he approaches all of his audiences with the assumption that they are smart. And that was actually really nice to hear. I’m feeling empowered at this point.

And then came the fall. He said something else later that stuck with me. He is concerned with intelligent people having become apathetic. It’s easy to just say it’s good enough to be smart but when no one is holding you accountable to do anything with your intelligence, you need to hold yourself accountable and that’s tricky but it’s also imperative.

Really, Killer Mike wants to hold everyone accountable though. He argues that if you want to hold the police and those we put in positions to protect us accountable, you must also advocate them. And at the same time, if the oppressed want to change an unhappy circumstance, they must be held accountable to band together and rally for the things that they believe in. When you care about something, you need to hold yourself accountable to act upon it. And that right there applies to everything. One of the students asked Killer Mike if cultural appropriation angered him and he recalls the time he was on tour in Australia during the Iggy Azalea/Azealia Banks feud. While Americans were over here busy being worried about a white Australian female rapper, not one single Australian had uttered Iggy’s name during his 2 weeks there. In fact, he was witnessing the livest sold out Australian crowd rocking out to Tkay Maidza, a black girl. He tells us that he isn’t so much worried about trying to fuel the cultural appropriation fire when he sees first hand how “fair and balanced” the world can be and so he spent more of his time talking about Tkay in his interviews and promoting her instead. I couldn’t help but think how this mirrored the mission of TapTape. Again, you need to hold yourself accountable. Much like focusing your time and energy on something you believe in, investing in an artist you want to succeed is how you escape the corporate constructs by which Killer Mike is deeply troubled.

As I reflect on the day and think about that series of events that led to this moment in time, I realize it’s funny how the world works and how interconnected things can be. Although Killer Mike asked us to erase all of our expectations, I admittedly expected to be inspired and that I was. I was not, however, expecting my thoughts to be challenged and I didn’t expect to feel smart and then be told that being smart was not enough. Killer Mike doesn’t claim to have all the answers but like the bus driver reminded us, while we do live in a free country where we can freely speak our minds, we are also intelligent beings. We can discern bullshit when it’s in our faces and not allow our intelligence to sit idle. And hey, Killer Mike has been saying it all along on his song That’s Life: “If you really bout intelligence, you really know I’m right”.

If you want to find out more about TapTape and why Killer Mike is a friend of TapTape, check out www.taptape.com or follow us on  Twitter (@taptapemusic) or SoundCloud.