Creative Control with Killer Mike

We gathered some of the biggest names in film, podcasting, art, activism, music, and media for Patreon Assembly, an afternoon of storytelling and performances. Through personal stories from their own creative journey, our guests shared how they leveraged entrepreneurial spirit, artistic control and their relationship with their audience to build successful, durable creative careers.

Killer Mike is a husband, father, activist, businessman and GRAMMY Award-winning artist. He joined us for assembly and shared how he leveraged entrepreneurial spirit, artistic control, and his relationship with his audience to build a successful, durable creative career. Music journalist Erica Campbell had the honor of talking with Mike — who counts being half of the dynamic duo, Run The Jewels with creative partner El-P as his “day job.”

On being an independent artist:Killer Mike shared how he transitioned from being on a major record label to being an independent, self-funded, entrepreneur with plenty of irons in the fire. “It was fortunate for me because, at the time I got a record deal, you were kind of a reflection of whoever signed you,” Killer Mike explains around the 2:45 mark.

On connecting via social media:Killer Mike learned how to use social media from fans, then used platforms like Myspace to engage with his audience. “They showed us how to connect with my audience, and I have never stopped those lessons,” he explains around 3:25 mark. “Whether it was Twitter or Instagram, I engage people. And I engage people from an honest place.”

On having an unexpected big break:After turning down a major record deal — that was the equivalent of what he makes for a single show, now — Mike discussed getting his big break, the ability to make an album he’d always dreamed of. The break came from TV executive, Jason DeMarco of Adult Swim, who gave Mike the financial freedom and complete creative control to create his record. “He is not from the record industry,” Mike notes around the 7:15 mark. “He cares about, artistically, me making the type of record I always wanted to make. You’ve got to watch where your blessings come from because a television executive gave me the opportunity to make the most badass record of my career.”

On creating Run The Jewels:From there, working with El-P on the album R.A.P Music in 2012, the two had such incredible musical chemistry they went on to form Run The Jewels and decided to release their first mixtape for free. They trusted the meaningful connection they had with their fans, and made money off touring and merchandise so they could maintain business autonomy when it came to the actual music. Now on the cusp of their fourth free album, and bigger than ever, their new model has worked flawlessly. “We understood that the music is something we’re passionate about and we care about, but we don’t always have to price tag it,” Mike said around the 12:40 mark, speaking to how the streaming economy has changed the whole framework of the music industry. Run The Jewels is still one of the most successful independent rap groups in the world, releasing all their mixtapes free, and advocating for other creators by being honest about how their model works.

Why independence is about interdependence:“That’s when I understood that this was bigger than money,” he explained around the 13:10 mark, following it up by talking about the connections with other creators, too. “Independence truly means interdependence with other independent people,” he concluded at the 15:55 mark. “Independence really means cooperating with other people who are at your level.”

On always being the student:Speaking to that same spirit of community and interdependence, Mike ended the chat by sharing his biggest piece of advice for other creators and entrepreneurs: keeping the student mentality. “I’m always walking into rooms like this accepting that I’m a student,” he noted at 20:10. “I’m always entering conversations looking to learn from people and looking to see how me and other people can do cool shit together.”