Before delivering an expansive two-hour-plus lecture on race relations at MIT last Friday night, Killer Mike broke down the reason for his presence with a simple appeal.
“I believe in smart people,” said the veteran 40-year-old Atlanta rapper, best known as one-half of Run the Jewels, sitting in front of about a dozen invitees to his pre-lecture media session in an MIT classroom. “The only reason why I’m running around speaking at colleges now and not after a book to hawk is that I believe that you all are intelligent. I believe that intelligent people are too quiet. I believe we aren’t brave enough, I believe we aren’t screaming at the top of our lungs, I believe we don’t have the courage to say ‘That’s stupid.’”
Luckily for everyone in attendance, Mike doesn’t suffer from such hangups. He opened his talk by dismissing an unnamed blogger who protested his invitation (“No one gives a fuck about your blog,” he surmised, adding “I’m here because I’m qualified to be here”), setting the tone for a discussion in which he laid out, with both amusement and anger, the contemporary challenges he hopes the aforementioned “smart people” can overcome.
“The only thing that’s going to solve the problems in this country and in this world is if we admit the problems don’t exist outside of us. They exist within us,” he said in an opening statement, and then he proceeded to explore those problems in balanced detail. He decried the use of foreign-occupation tactics by domestic police departments, but, the son of a cop himself, refused to target cops as inherently antagonistic or racist. While praising their desire to be involved, he distanced his own work from Kanye West’s and Azalea Banks’ respective dabblings in politics: “As an activist and an organizer, they get shit wrong sometimes.” Even a question about the impact of the Olympics in Atlanta brought a measured response, with Mike praising youth-oriented initiatives based around the games while warning, “You’re going to see poor people pushed out” of the city.
For Mike however, this was more than just an intellectual ego massage; it was a call to action. “However you need to do it,” he said in closing, “find a way to connect with people who culturally you didn’t come up with, because all that’s going to do is help you grow as a human being, and ultimately that’s good for all of humanity.”