The Run The Jewels rapper doesn't have all the answers, but he's asking some pretty damn good questions
If you’re a fan of Killer Mike’s music, you’re aware of his politics. It’s an integral part of who he is and one of the main reasons he soared to popularity alongside other Atlanta-based rappers Outkast. It’s also why Run the Jewels, his project with rapper El-P, has become such a huge success. They’ve managed to find the perfect balance between anthemic heavy bass-lines with lyrics that make you stop and pay attention.
Killer Mike is first and foremost an activist, though. In his quest for a better world, he works tirelessly on the behalf of people, especially African-Americans. He’s a big proponent of Bernie Sanders and is heavily involved when election time comes around in the United States. It’s this activism that’s seen Mike occupy spaces rappers usually don’t and it’s the subject of his latest mini documentary series Trigger Warning.
The six-episode show sees Killer Mike frustrated. He’s disheartened with the U.S and how divided it’s become. He wants to see a better world, one where unemployment doesn’t run so high, where religion isn’t so rigid, where gang culture is depicted in honesty and where the education system doesn’t separates people from an early age. It’s a series in which Mike tries to make sense of the world. Here’s what we learned…
It’s almost impossible to live solely within the black community
The very first episode tackles an issue that seems so easy to do: live locally. Within a hyper-capitalist world, everything we consume is usually traced back to a rich, white person. Mike tries to subvert this. In the lead up to a RTJ show, Mike lives purely within the black community. That means the meat he eats has to be from a farm that’s black-owned; the weed he smokes has to be grown on a black-owned farm. The phone he uses, the transportation he takes, the drinks he drinks…
This is genuinely hard to do. Watching him do it for 72 hours, you could see him struggling. Going your entire life doing that would be extremely difficult.
Killer Mike doesn’t have all the answers
Like something straight out of a comedy script, some of Killer Mike’s ideas are questionable. In one episode, he tries to bring people from various backgrounds together to create a song. Hoping to showcase how music can bridge division lines, a Trump supporter uses the phrase “white n****r” and calls for slavery to be re-instated.
He has some astonishingly good ideas
On the other hand, Mike has some incredibly powerful ideas. In a bid to teach two unemployed people some trade skills, he links them up to create a feminist porn movie. After watching the movie, the unemployed people he’s helping score 75% better than before on a quiz. Who says learning isn’t fun?
He does this again with religion. He literally creates a new religion – which, at times, feels like a cult – that does change people’s views. As a black man, Mike is tired of bowing to a white Jesus. He creates the ‘Church of Sleep’ which worships a black man and helps people rest and sleep better. It may not help everyone, but it does transform a few people’s lives who were feeling lost with traditional Christianity – and not getting enough sleep.
Mike’s taking tough, hard-to-broach topics and distilling them into 25-minute episodes and manages to actually make sense. It’s not easy to do but, time and again, you’re left at the end of an episode nodding your head along at his words of wisdom.
Killer Mike may have created a monster
First making his appearance at a focus test group, Mario may be the stand-out character on the series. Initially, he seems like a stranger Killer Mike has an altercation with in one of the episodes. But he keeps returning in different contexts. At one point, a tagline comes up underneath his name describing Mario as “unclassifiable.” He’s talkative, childish, makes no sense, is a racist and yet garners enough screen time that you’re hooked onto the next antic he’ll produce. He manages to squirm his way into three different episodes on the show and it seems grimly inevitable that he’ll have his own spin-off reality TV show.
Crips are redefining their image
‘Trigger Warning’ taught me that the Crips and Bloods aren’t the violent, gun toting, murderous organisations I was led to believe. They were founded out of a need to help the community, lost their way a bit and now are re-discovering their roots. They want to be better and change their image. And it all starts with how they’re perceived by people.
The episode focusing on them will go a long way on changing people’s minds. It already did in Atlanta, hopefully that effect reverberates throughout the world.
El-P is an ally
If you don’t know this already, Mike’s RTJ comrade El-P is the best kind of ally you could ask for. He cedes space, allows others to educate him and is always willing to listen and learn. No wonder Mike says he’s like a brother.
Racism is taught
The most disheartening part of the series is when a black kindergartener says he doesn’t like school because another child said his skin “looks like poo”. Do better, parents.
The world is divided and no-one has an answer, but everyone feels excluded
America’s problems are a microcosm of the world’s. And through Trigger Warning we see that despite the differences that hold us back in our own echo chamber of thought, everyone is struggling. It doesn’t matter how you identify; people from all walks of life feel excluded.
The aforementioned Trump supporter is a working class white man who fears he’s lost the America he knew. There are queer people of colour who know they’re marginalised. Even if you’re on the top of the pyramid of your community, you’re still at the bottom of another – evidenced by the episode on the Crips, who are viewed through a violent lens unlike the Hells Angels.
People who have the facade of having it together break down when asked about their sleep. There are children being vulnerable. The only people society helps to propel is the status quo and that could not be more evident throughout the series.
Killer Mike smokes a lot of weed
The three days he goes without smoking at the beginning of the show seem the most painful to Killer Mike. Apart from that, he seems to always have a joint in his hand, often sharing it with his wife, Shay. That’s true love.
Crip-A-Cola and Blood Pop sounds goddamn delicious
And a healthier alternative.
Killer Mike realises that the Hell’s Angels are a corporation who sell their own branded products. He starts to wonder why black gangs can’t do the same. He approaches the Crips to start marketing their own brand of soda and attire. Taking them through a focus group, a corporatization of their logo, this helps in aiding the Crips’ mission to re-define their image. Mike then does what most think is impossible: he brings the Bloods and Crips together. Thus, the two sodas are born.
The episode is tinged with hilarity and is probably the stand-out 30 minutes in the series. If someone can market Crip-A-Cola and Blood Pop worldwide and start exporting it, people would jump on that. It’s all about supporting the community, right?
New Africa is… what exactly?
In the last episode of the show, Killer Mike creates a new country, New Africa. It’s murky on how sustainable it can be, how it’ll function, and what exactly is the purpose of it. Again, it borders on a cult-like mentality.
In essence, New Africa encapsulates the entire show: Mike attempts to solve deep-rooted, societal problems with a band-aid solution but may not have the long-term answers necessary for adequate change.