Killer Mike and Stic joined panelists, poet Toni Blackman, Dr. David Wallace Rice of Morehouse College and moderator, Rohit Malhotra of The Center for Civic Innovation, for a lively discussion celebrating the two-year anniversary of Atlanta’s Center for Human and Civil Rights. The event was sponsored and partially curated by the A3C Festival and Conference.
The discussion started off charged, with a frank mention that for the third year straight, Atlanta leads the nation in income inequality, a stark contrast to the city’s healthy music scene and burgeoning arts and film scenes.
The conversation was spirited and often poignant, as Mike and Stic specifically discussed everything from the rapid gentrification in Atlanta (Mike was particularly upset with the changes on the city’s westside, where he was raised), the unnecessary polarization in hip-hop, as well as Black Lives Matter and the ridiculousness that the concept still must be declared in 2016. Black health, self-love, and the realities of American politics and civic engagement were also brought up during the two-hour panel discussion.
“Social change will happen when we detach ourselves from a political party,” Mike, who was a vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders, suggested at one point.
Stic agreed, saying that people are beyond tired of the political process and are looking for innovative ways to affect change in their communities, an idea that sparked a lively discussion about civic engagement and the relevancy of local level elections.
Of course, both Stic and Mike have made careers out of their keen political and social insights, producing some of the most profound, astute works hip-hop has witnessed on the subject with their groups, Dead Prez and Run the Jewels, respectively. Killer Mike, who credited Dead Prez as a huge influence, talked specifically about maintaining his vision throughout his career. He says his steadfastness finally paid off after over a decade in the game, with the success of his group with rapper/producer El-P, Run the Jewels.
“I succeeded because I never gave up my integrity,” Mike, who’s prepping to complete Run the Jewels 3 this July, said.
For his part, Stic offered that when Dead Prez’s 2000 debut, Let’s Get Free, first dropped, he and partner in rhyme, M-1, thought it would be their first and last album, convinced that they would be silenced for their revolutionary, militant stance. Stic had sound advice about self-love and self-care, advising an attentive audience that you can’t really serve others if you haven’t taken care of yourself, a concept he alludes to on what he calls Dead Prez’s “most revolutionary” song, “Be Healthy.”
Speaking specifically on gun control, Mike, a proponent of gun ownership, said that he has immense respect for civil rights icon, Rep. John Lewis, who conducted a sit-in on the House floor along with other Democrats in a move to press for gun legislation. However, Mike was clear that as a black man, he would stay strapped up “until the day I die.” Mike insisted that gun ownership was not only a right to be protected, but as a black man whose community had been historically preyed upon by state-sanctioned violence and oppression, it’s foolish to not own a weapon for protection.
Stic agreed with the sentiment.
“It’s important for people to make a distinction between violence and self-defense,” Stic emphasized, referencing Malcolm X.
In the end, attendees left energized after an engaging, necessary discussion, with audience calls for Mike to run for political office in the future. Perhaps Stic summed up the conversation best, with one of the most thought-provoking statements of the night: “I think the first human right is the right to awaken.”