meta-scriptHumans Of Hip Hop Atlanta Co-Creation Launch Recap: Killer Mike, Young Dro, David Banner, And Shanti Das Discuss Music & Mental Health | GRAMMY.com
Humans Of Hip Hop Atlanta Co-Creation Launch Recap: Killer Mike, Young Dro, David Banner, And Shanti Das Discuss Music & Mental Health
L-R: Kennard Garrett, David Banner, Young Dro, Phylicia Fant, Shanti Das, Killer Mike, Justin "Henny" Henderson, Tia Bennett

Photo: Carol Lee Rose/Getty Images

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Humans Of Hip Hop Atlanta Co-Creation Launch Recap: Killer Mike, Young Dro, David Banner, And Shanti Das Discuss Music & Mental Health

The first installment of MusiCares' new Humans of Hip Hop initiative, artists and music industry executives shared their own testimonies of why it's so important to be vocal and seek help — especially in an industry so fast-paced and competitive.

MusiCares/Nov 1, 2023 - 08:56 pm

On Oct. 23, MusiCares' Humans of Hip Hop co-creation launches kicked-off in Atlanta with "Healing a Culture," a dialogue on how hip hop can tackle the stigma around mental health and address cultural imbalances in the community.

Four panelists spanning across the music industry opened up about their mental health struggles while also navigating through their artistry and careers. Creating a space for vulnerability and unabashed candor, attendees not only were able to see a new side to these well-respected figures within the music industry, but were also able to realize they are not alone in their own battles.

Moderated by Amazon Music executive Phylicia Fant, the Humans of Hip Hop panel featured the likes of Killer Mike, Young Dro, David Banner, and Shanti Das. The panel began with words from city councilman, Michael Bond, reflecting on his time at Morehouse College and sharing the story of a former peer tragically taking his own life.

Once each esteemed panelist was introduced, an open dialogue surrounding community, trauma and seeking help began.

All photos by Carol Lee Rose/Getty Images.

"Mental health is not a bad word." — Shanti Das

Shanti Das at H3 Atlanta

A major theme throughout the full panel was unpacking the stigmatization of mental health within the Black community. The first step of many of each panelist's journey was realizing there was no shame in struggling with mental health or letting other people know.

As the founder of the non-profit Silence the Shame, Das wanted to give others access to resources to get help and allow space for admittance in one's own pain. By sharing her own battles with suicidal thoughts and depression — and how it eventually led to her departure from the music industry — Das hopes to fully breakdown the barriers keeping people from seeking out better for themselves.

"Just because we are able to do things at a high level doesn't make it healthy." — David Banner

David Banner at H3 Atlanta

The often fast-paced and cutthroat environment of the music industry can breed burnout for creatives across the board. With the rapidly ever-evolving landscape of the industry, the pressure to keep performing at a high-level grows out of fears of being left behind. Banner emphasized the need to pace himself before being spread thin.

As he pointed out, being able to allocate time for oneself beyond the prospects of career acceleration is essential in sustainably growing a career that will last. This statement allowed Banner to admit to himself that the chase for achievement and success came out of the need for distraction. He detailed the time he was asked the question, "What are you running from?," which led him to sit in his emotions and unpack his truth.

"MusiCares is the only resource supporting the rehabilitation of hip-hop artists dealing with substance abuse." — Young Dro

Young Dro at H3 Atlanta

Young Dro shared his testimony with MusiCares helping him through his battle with substance abuse. He discussed his rehabilitation process, detailing his new chapter of sobriety and the realization that he doesn't need substances to still keep creating art.

His testimony moved into a further dialogue of how often substance abuse is promoted within the music industry. Drugs and alcohol are not only always around in a lot of these spaces, but it is also encouraged by their peers and personas created within the music. This makes programs like the ones provided by MusiCares essential in an industry where substance abuse is such a common plight.

"Who are your friends, who are the people you know, what do they need, what do you need?" — Killer Mike

Killer Mike at H3 Atlanta

Killer Mike introduced the idea of being "hyper local," making a point of participating in local politics and community organization as well as also showing up for one's own personal community. He highlighted the importance of remaining grounded in a reliable support system and also being that same support system back.

Living in a hyper individualistic society can create self-imposed isolation that deprives both the individual and those around them that might need support. Killer Mike brings the ever popular ideal of being "one call away" to the foreground and expects that mindset back from his loved ones.

Laying the groundwork for greater conversations that for too long have been shied away from, these four panelists brought complete transparency to the stage to show what lies behind an often glamorized business.

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10 Acceptance Speeches That Made Us Laugh, Cry, & Smile At The 2024 GRAMMYs
Killer Mike accepts the GRAMMY for Best Rap Song for "Scientists & Engineers" at the 2024 GRAMMYs,

Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images

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10 Acceptance Speeches That Made Us Laugh, Cry, & Smile At The 2024 GRAMMYs

From Taylor Swift's record-shattering Album Of The Year win, to Killer Mike and boygenius category sweeps, these are the emotional GRAMMY winning moments that made up Music's Biggest Night.

GRAMMYs/Feb 6, 2024 - 11:22 pm

Glitz, glamor, and great performances from legendary musicians are only part of what make the GRAMMYs Music’s Biggest Night. It’s also an occasion to honor the music industry’s best and brightest, highlight their greatest achievements from the past year, and watch them soak up the glory. 

Some of the night’s biggest moments came when artists accepted their GRAMMY trophies, from Taylor Swift announcing her next album to teary-eyed moments from SZA and Best New Artist Victoria Monét. Here are a few of our favorite acceptance speeches from the 2024 GRAMMYs. 

Killer Mike Sweeps With Three GRAMMYs In A Row

Atlanta rapper Killer Mike had already given a moving speech upon winning Best Rap Performance for “Scientists & Engineers,” saying “I want to thank everyone who dares to believe that art can change the world.” But his third and final win, Best Rap Album for Michael, sent him into another dimension: “It’s a sweep! Atlanta, it’s a sweep!” 

Tyla Was Shocked To Win Best African Performance

Although her hit song “Water” has dominated the charts, even Tyla was caught off guard by her Best African Music Performance win – the first ever awarded in this category – exclaiming “What the heck?!” The South African star continued "This is crazy, I never thought I’d say I won a GRAMMY at 22 years old."

Boygenius Sweep The Rock Categories

Boygenius already had something to celebrate when Phoebe Bridgers won a GRAMMY for her collab with SZA. They went on to win three categories during the Premiere Ceremony – Best Rock Song, Best Rock Performance, and Best Rock Album – enabling each member of the trio to give a separate speech. “We were all delusional enough as kids to think this might happen someday,” Lucy Dacus said. 

Miley Cyrus Was A Class Act

Accepting the prize for Best Pop Solo Performance for “Flowers,” Miley Cyrus took to the stage to strike a pose with presenter Mariah Carey – “This M.C. is gonna stand by this M.C.” — before launching into a story about a boy who tries desperately to catch a butterfly, before nabbing one when they least expect it. “This song ‘Flowers’ is my butterfly,” she concluded. 

SZA Runs From Backstage To Accept Award

Changing backstage after her GRAMMYs performance, SZA was caught off guard when “Snooze” won Best R&B Song. She embraced friend and presenter Lizzo before giving an emotional, funny speech. “I can’t believe this is happening, and it feels very fake,” she said. “I love you, I’m not an attractive cryer, have a good evening.” 

Taylor Swift Announces New Album

When the pop mega-star took to the stage to accept her lucky 13th overall GRAMMY for Best Pop Vocal Album (Midnights), she decided to use the moment to give her fans the ultimate gift, announcing her 11th studio album, The Tortured Poets Department, will release on April 19. “I want to say thank you by telling you a secret that I've been keeping from you for the past two years,” she said. 

Billie Eilish Didn’t Know What To Say

After delivering a lovely performance of her Barbie movie ballad “What Was I Made For?,” Billie Eilish wasn’t exactly at a loss for words when the track won Song of the Year. The words that came out of her mouth were a bit less than rehearsed, however: “Whoa, whoops, yikes, whoa my goodness! Damn, that’s stupid guys!” she said. “I don’t even know what to say, I’m shocked out of my balls.” 

Victoria Monét Delivers Tearful, Eloquent Speech

Through tears of joy, Best New Artist winner Victoria Monét gave a speech worthy of an artist who spent years writing for others before striking out on her own. “This award was a 15-year pursuit,” she said, going on to compare herself to a plant growing in the soil of the music industry. “My roots have been growing underneath ground, unseen, for so long, and I feel like today I’m sprouting, finally above ground.” 

Miley Cyrus Makes An Even Wilder Record of the Year Speech

Cyrus returned to the stage twice after her first GRAMMY win, first to perform her award-winning song, and then once more to accept a second golden gramophone for Record of the Year. “This award is amazing, but I really hope it doesn’t change anything, because my life was beautiful yesterday,” she said. Then she ended the speech by saying “I don’t think I’ve forgotten anyone, but I might’ve forgotten underwear!”

Taylor Swift’s Record-Shattering Album of the Year

Lightning struck twice for Taylor Swift, as the evening ended with her taking home a record-breaking fourth GRAMMY for Album of the Year (Midnights), more than any other artist in GRAMMY history. Flanked by producer Jack Antonoff and friend and collaborator Lana Del Rey, she gave a speech that highlighted her passion for music-making, saying  “For me the award is the work. All I wanna do is keep being able to do this. I love it so much, it makes me so happy." As happy as Swift was, her fans probably left even happier. 

9 Ways Women Dominated The 2024 GRAMMYs

The Recording Academy's Atlanta Chapter Celebrates Its GRAMMY Nominees With Music To Our Ears & Food For The Soul
Killer Mike performs during the Atlanta Chapter member and nominee celebration

Photo: Derek White/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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The Recording Academy's Atlanta Chapter Celebrates Its GRAMMY Nominees With Music To Our Ears & Food For The Soul

The Recording Academy's Atlanta Chapter celebrated the wide range of talent from the region. Featuring performances by Killer Mike and Muni Long, its nominee celebration was "a prime example of what it means to be a part of a community."

GRAMMYs/Jan 29, 2024 - 04:46 pm

While Atlanta continues its reign as one of the hip-hop capitals of the world, its creative and music communities want the globe to understand that its music scene is more than just sections in the club with bottle service, beats and rhymes.

So for the Recording Academy's Atlanta Chapter Nominee Celebration at The Loft in midtown Atlanta on Jan. 25, the intimate live music venue showcased a range of talent. The soul-stirring performances stuck to attendees' ribs like the shrimp and chicken sausage etouffee that "New Soul Kitchen" host Jernard Wells was serving in the back.

It was on and poppin’ once Senior Executive Director Michele Caplinger and Atlanta Chapter President Henny Tha Bizness welcomed members and their guests. DJ Willy Wow!, whose Hip Hope For Kids! is nominated at the 2024 GRAMMYs for Best Children’s Album, was spinning tunes while Chapter Secretary Mara Davis warmed up the crowd as emcee. A wall featuring all of this year’s Atlanta-based nominees displayed ATL's diverse array of talent.

2024 GRAMMYs: Explore More & Meet The Nominees

Killer Mike hit the stage dressed in all-white denim with a wooden pulpit to spit a few scriptures from his three-time GRAMMY-nominated magnum opus, MICHAEL. Backed by the gospel harmonies of the five-member vocal ensemble Mighty Midnight Revival and Trackstar the DJ working the turntables, Mike encouraged the audience to put their phones away and just vibe to the music.

The majority of the audience complied. The rapper and businessman opened with "Motherless" while a headshot of his late mother, Denise, sat on an easel flanked with white flowers. He landed into "Shed Tears" and "NRich" before taking the crowd six miles west in his old school Chevy to his old stomping ground, Adamsville, for "Exit 9" and closing with his movement "Scientists and Engineers."

"Atlanta made the best hip-hop album of 2023," Mike told the crowd.

Muni Long appeared in a sheer gown that resembles a Ciroc bottle’s color schemes to deliver her tender R&B ballads "Made For Me" and "Hrs and Hrs" with a vocal delivery sweeter than the Sweet Cheats cookies shaped like a GRAMMY.

"This was amazing," said Long, who took home a golden gramophone for Best R&B Performance for "Hrs & Hrs" in 2023. "It’s always an honor to be recognized by your peers. I had no idea that that record was going to do what it did. I’m forever grateful and can hopefully do it again."

Muni Long performs in 2024

Muni Long ┃Derek White/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Alt-pop artist Forrest Isn’t Dead came with melodic pop meshed with alternative rock that blurs between something out of CBGBs and The 40 Watt Club. The quartet turned up the amps and got the crowd on its feet with "Born or Made," "Here We Are," and "The Light."

"My happiness is to be able to get up on that stage, make the music, and try to help people through whatever they’re going through with the words that I share from my own life," Forrest Isn’t Dead frontman Forrest Kleindienst said.

Sibling foursome The BoykinZ threw some country twang, ‘50s girl group harmonies and 808 claps together to give hoedowns a trunk rattling makeover. The sisters threw on some pink, cowboy hats and studded denim costumes for a cool cover of TLC’s "Waterfalls" featuring "Mama" Jan Smith on guitar.

Rudy Currence posted up in black leather behind a Nord Stage 3 keyboard for some gospel-flavored soul: taking the audience back to his daddy’s Rock Hill, S.C. church as he covers Donny Hathaway’s "A Song For You" and Gnarls Barkley’s "Crazy."

Recording Academy Chair of the Board of Trustees Tammy Hurt considered the evening’s performances to be perfect precursor for the diverse musical acts that will hit the stages during GRAMMY Week.

"It’s great to be home and see these amazing artists from this city being celebrated," Hurt said. "Music brings us together, and events like tonight are a prime example of what it means to be a part of a community."

Several local and state representatives also pulled up to join in on the fun and recognize how important the music business is to Atlanta and the state of Georgia.

"We export music all around the world, so this is what we do," said State Senator Sonya Halpern. "Atlanta is a place where you can do music, be successful at it, and we want to help grow more people to be part of the industry and understand all of the opportunities."

"I’m a creative legislator, and you have to be in this day and age," said artist-turned-State Representative Inga Willis. "The pipelines are what are fueling the music industry as a whole. Atlanta music influences everything. We define sounds and genres while reshifting and recreating, and we’re the business."

The Atlanta Chapter’s executive team expressed confidence that each act and the vibe of the night left attendees pleased with an evening they will never forget.

"People don’t really understand how diverse the Atlanta community is," Tha Bizness said. "We have a strong hip-hop, R&B, country, bluegrass, rock and a great DJ scene all within an amazing community. When you bring all of that together, allow the drinks to flow, the food to be great, and the people should be energized, you’ll have an electrifying night."

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Nominees List

The Atlanta Chapter's celebration was sponsored by Sean O'Keefe Enterprises, The MLC and City National Bank.

Here Are The Nominees For Best Rap Song At The 2024 GRAMMYs

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Here Are The Nominees For Best Rap Song At The 2024 GRAMMYs

Get a deeper look into the five tracks from Doja Cat, Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice, Lil Uzi Vert, Drake and 21 Savage, and Killer Mike, André 3000, Future and Eryn Allen Kane that earned the Best Rap Song nod at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Nov 11, 2023 - 02:44 pm

Rap music has changed a lot since the Best Rap Song category was introduced at the 2004 GRAMMYs. Most of the first year's nominees, even if they're still making music, now spend the majority of their time on things like making hit TV shows or running iconic fashion brands.

But the category, then and now, has its finger on the pulse; it gives us a cross-section of what makes hip-hop so important to so many people. The Best Rap Song nominees for the 2024 GRAMMYs are no different. The Category includes a pop princess taking a big left turn; two New Yorkers paying tribute to the greatest of all dolls; a Philly rapper taking us to the club; a duo who can't stop flexing on us; and a Dungeon Family reunion that spans generations. 

Below, take a deep dive into the five tracks up for Best Rap Song at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

Attention" — Doja Cat

Rogét Chahayed, Amala Zandile Dlamini & Ari Starace, songwriters (Doja Cat)

"Attention" marked a new era for Doja Cat — one where she moved away from the pop sounds that made her famous, and into something harder and more aggressive.

In the weeks leading up to the track's release, Doja called her earlier rapping attempts "mid and corny" and referred to the music that broke her into the big time as "mediocre pop." So it only made sense that her big statement single would be exactly that — a statement. 

The beat by Rogét Chahayed and Y2K has a drum loop that wouldn't sound out of place on Ultimate Breaks and Beats, and Doja lets the world see her inner hip-hop fan with some serious rapping — no mid or corny verses here. This is the Doja who can quote underground faves like Homeboy Sandman and Little Brother at the drop of a hat

"Attention" finds Doja addressing her often-contentious relationship with fans and social media, as well as the controversies she went through leading up to the song's release. But the whole thing is playful and ambiguous. Does she want the world's attention, now that she has it? What is she willing to do to keep it? In this song — and even more so in its video — Doja plays with these questions like a truly great superstar.  

"Barbie World" [From Barbie The Album] — Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice Featuring Aqua

Isis Naija Gaston, Ephrem Louis Lopez Jr. & Onika Maraj, songwriters (Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice Featuring Aqua)

Aqua's "Barbie Girl" was too sexy for Mattel when it was released in 1997 — the company sued the band, claiming that people would associate lyrics like "Kiss me here, touch me there" with their wholesome children's toy. So it's both ironic and, given the post-irony tone of the movie itself, somehow fitting that "Barbie Girl" is sampled in a major song from the new Barbie movie.

And who better to bring Barbie to life in rap form than the head of the Barbz? Soundtrack producer Mark Ronson said that there was no way to have a Barbie soundtrack without Nicki Minaj, and he was absolutely right. Nicki, with her career-long association with Mattel's most famous toy, was the perfect choice. Joining her on the track is the hottest rapper of the moment, Ice Spice. Ice's go-to producer RiotUSA did the music for the song, which accounts for both its aggressive drums and its sample drill-style use of the once-verboten Aqua hit. 

Nicki and Ice have great chemistry in the song. Nicki doesn't treat the song like a movie soundtrack throwaway — her rhyming is clear, sharp, layered, and funny. And she gets extra points for referring to a bob-style wig as her "Bob Dylan."

"Just Wanna Rock" — Lil Uzi Vert

Mohamad Camara, Javier Mercado & Symere Woods, songwriters

Lil Uzi Vert took "Just Wanna Rock" from TikTok all the way to the GRAMMYs.

The track began as a snippet on the social media app, where it went viral, garnering hundreds of millions of views; even celebrities like Kevin Hart got into the act. When the actual song came out, at just about two minutes long, it wasn't much longer than a TikTok video. But it didn't need to be — the full track kept all the joy and danceability of the memeable excerpt.

"Just Wanna Rock" features Uzi acting as an MC, but not in a traditional going-for-the-cleverest-rhyme way. Instead, his voice is used more for its rhythmic qualities, darting in and out of the four-on-the-floor pounding of the kick drum with short, punchy phrases. "I just wanna rock, body-ody-ya" may not look like much on the page, but it's placed perfectly, and it's the kernel that blossoms into the rest of Uzi's performance.

He takes the rhythm of that initial phrase and plays with it throughout in increasingly intricate ways, while never losing sight of the source material. The song is heavily influenced by the Jersey club sound that has been all over hip-hop this year. As the most popular rap/Jersey club crossover of 2023, it makes perfect sense that "Just Wanna Rock" is in the running for Best Rap Song — even if it is unfinished.

"Rich Flex" — Drake & 21 Savage

Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, Charles Bernstein, Isaac "Zac" De Boni, Brytavious Chambers, Aldrin Davis, Aubrey Graham, J. Gwin, Clifford Harris, Gladys Hayes, Anderson Hernandez, Michael "Finatik" Mule, Megan Pete, B.D. Session Jr & Anthony White, songwriters

Simon and Garfunkel. Sam and Dave. Hall and Oates. To that list of great duos, it might be time to add Drake and 21 Savage. Seven years after their first collaboration, Toronto and Atlanta's finest finally got together for a full-length project in 2023, and Her Loss standout (and opener) "Rich Flex" is now up for an award on Music's Biggest Night.

"Rich Flex," like much latter-day Drake, has multiple beats. But in this case, that adds to the song's playful mood. Drizzy and 21 sound like they're actually having fun — Drake even playfully lapses into a sing-songy, nursery rhyme-esque melody on occasion. Savage, for his part, seems to be having a blast interpolating Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage" — a move which earned the Houston rapper a writing credit on the track. 

Drake, as in a lot of his recent work, seems consumed with the costs of fame: haters everywhere you look, hangers-on who make your house feel like a hotel; women who won't leave you alone; unwanted attention from law enforcement. But he almost never sounds this engaged, even joyful, when addressing these topics. Maybe what he needed all along was a duet partner. 

"Scientists & Engineers" — Killer Mike Featuring André 3000, Future And Eryn Allen Kane

Paul Beauregard, Andre Benjamin, James Blake, Tim Moore, Michael Render & Dion Wilson, songwriters

It was Andre 3000's first appearance on a song in two years that got all the attention at first. But there's a lot more to "Scientists & Engineers" than the fact that the reclusive half of OutKast shows up.

For one thing, it's what he shows up with. Andre's verse is smart, well-observed, poetic, and somehow manages to change focus completely in the middle and yet still hold together as an artistic statement.

But he's far from the only talent on the song. The track is a veritable all-star fest — not for nothing did Killer Mike call it a "hip-hop fantasy." On the music side, there are contributions from legendary producers No ID and Three 6 Mafia's DJ Paul, hip-hop's favorite singer/songwriter James Blake, and TWhy. Singer Eryn Allen Kane adds her gorgeous vocals. And Future, who lest we forget, began his career as a "second generation" member of the Dungeon Family collective that included OutKast and Mike, adds his patented boastful vulnerability.

Then there's Mike himself. He needed to bring a stellar performance in order not to be buried by all his very special guests, and he more than pulls it off. "I am Thelonius Monk in a donk," he rhymes, and the combination of the innovative jazz legend and the classic car with big rims perfectly describes not only him, but the entire mood he sets with this song.

The 2024 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 66th GRAMMY Awards, returns to Los Angeles' Crypto.com Arena on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024, and will broadcast live on the CBS Television Network and stream live and on-demand on Paramount+ at 8-11:30 p.m. ET/5-8:30 p.m. PT.

The Recording Academy and GRAMMY.com do not endorse any particular artist, submission or nominee over another. The results of the GRAMMY Awards, including winners and nominees, are solely dependent on the Recording Academy's Voting Membership.

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Winners & Nominees List

Killer Mike Says His New Album, 'Michael,' Is "Like A Prodigal Son Coming Home"
Killer Mike

Photo: Jonathan Mannion

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Killer Mike Says His New Album, 'Michael,' Is "Like A Prodigal Son Coming Home"

'Michael,' Killer Mike's first solo album in more than a decade drops June 16. He spoke to GRAMMY.com about creating a portrait of the Southern rap cyphers, Sunday church services, and barbershop discourse that shaped who he is today.

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2023 - 06:39 pm

After more than 20 years in hip-hop — as one-half of the supergroup Run The Jewels and also as a solo artist — the Atlanta rapper Killer Mike is ready to make what he calls "a generational statement."

Born Michael Render, the activist rapper's statement comes in the form of his personal "origin story": a 14-song solo album called Michael. The album, Killer Mike’s sixth solo effort, drops June 16 and follows 2012’s R.A.P. Music In support of the new record, he's touring 19 U.S. cities through Aug. 5.

"I’m one of the best rappers on the face of the earth, and that is authentic. Go to the records. My verses have proved it," Render, 48, told GRAMMY.com. "I’m tired of sitting and waiting for people to say it for me. I’m not waiting, I’m doing it now. My run matters. I’m not gonna die with a woulda been coulda been eulogy."

Michael stands in contrast to the big, bombastic (and less personal) vibe of Run The Jewels, who have released four albums since forming in 2013. While Render's solo outings have always been a mix of bravado and personal, his latest is particularly deep and insightful, dealing  with the death of his mother, and his life growing up in the predominantly Black neighborhood Collier Heights, Atlanta. 

"There is a character behind Killer Mike that is a whole human being that I’ve always wanted people to meet and introduce so they can understand the nuance of why I am," Render said during an event at SXSW 2023. "It is about helping other human beings understand that I share an experience with you, that you can meet me at, that transcends color, that transcends class, that transcends geographic location, and I meet you right at your humanity."

On Michael, Render puts his guard down. He allows himself to grieve the death of his mother and apologize for selling drugs as a teenager. Throughout the autobiographical album, Render paints a portrait of the southern rap cyphers, Sunday church services, and barbershop discourse that shaped who he is today. 

"That Killer Mike character was invented when I was 9. I just wanted to be an MC, and Killer Mike was like me being a superhero," Render tells GRAMMY.com. "But when you hear me talking about my mother, I’m empty now. It’s not sad, but it’s about missing and wanting."

Render’s parents were teenagers when he was born, so he was raised in part by his grandparents in Collier Heights, Atlanta. Render credits the culture of his community with shaping who is today. 

"I didn’t grow up with insecurities about race, I grew up in a Black majority," he tells GRAMMY.com. "The closest I got to white people growing up was watching Bob Ross or 'The Wonder Years' on TV. But all my real heroes looked like me."

Render says he never felt inhibited by his Blackness, because Blackness was celebrated in Collier Heights. His community introduced him to Black intellectuals like James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, who also celebrated Blackness. It never occurred to Render to not pursue hip-hop or politics or activism — and he never doubted that he could be an artist or MC.

He first rapped on Atlanta-based hip-hop group Outkast’s 2000 album Stankonia, and launched a solo career soon after. In the 2000s, his songs landed on Billboard charts and the EA Sports "Madden NFL 2004" football video game. Render also did voice over work during the 2000s for Adult Swim and appeared in films like Idlewild and ATL. He guest-rapped on Outkast’s 2003 double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, which was nominated for six golden gramophones at the 2004 GRAMMYs and won three, including Album Of The Year.

Two very important relationships forged in the 2010s have done much to shape Render’s trajectory since: one with producer and rapper El-P (the other half of Run The Jewels), the other with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

El-P is essentially the yin to Killer Mike’s yang. El-P produced Render's previous solo records, and the two have been collaborating ever since; Killer Mike has called their relationship a "marriage made in heaven." Run The Jewels has toured with Rage Against The Machine and Lorde, opened for Jack White at Madison Square Garden, been nominated for a GRAMMY Award, and won NME’s Best International Band award in 2018. Rolling Stone called Run The Jewels "brash" and added, "If there were a GRAMMY for Most Creative Ways to Say 'We’re the Best,' these guys would win it, or take it by gunpoint."

Render’s political activism kicked into high gear in 2015, first with lectures at NYU and MIT on police brutality, for-profit jails, and racism in America. He made a last-minute — and ultimately unsuccessful — run for a Georgia state representative seat, and he forged an unlikely public friendship with then-presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. Render told reporters that he and Sanders were "two angry radical guys, one 74 and white, one 40 and Black, finding common ground."  

Render took his politics and activism much further. He co-founded an online banking system for Black and Latinx communities alongside former Atlanta mayor and civil rights leader Andrew Young, and has written op-eds in response to the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the Baltimore uprisings in response to Freddie Gray’s death. On the 2019 Netflix show, "Trigger Warning," Render explored notions of land ownership, gangs, education, and consumerism. 

All of his experiences — as a child of the South, as a rapper, and as a political thinker — inform the new album.

"Remember when Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote 'Letter to My Son'? People got a glimpse into Blackhood that wasn’t about absentee fatherhood and other cliches," Render tells GRAMMY.com. "Similarly, my album, even if you haven’t lived my life, it gives you a chance to be a voyeur, and that’s important."

Michael takes its time to unfold; personal subject matter unfolds verse after verse, over laid-back tempos executive produced by No I.D. Somber music provides a bed for Render and guests — among them, Andre 3000, Young Thug, Future, Ty Dolla $ign, Blxst, Curren$y, and Mozzy —  to stretch out on. Slightly more aggressive, urgent-sounding songs like opening track "Down By Law" and "Talkin Dat SHIT!," which appears later in the album, are buffered by tunes that could uplift a church congregation. 

"It’s imperative that I get that out and introduce people to this buck-toothed kid who grew up with hip-hop, out of wedlock fatherhood," Render says. "This record is like a prodigal son coming home. It’s my generational statement. If August Wilson was writing a rap album, this would be his 'Fences.'"

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