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Rapper Killer Mike answers 'Burn' critics

By Gavin Godfrey, CNN Radio
Killer Mike's video for his song "Burn" has yet to be played on BET, which reversed an earlier decision to ban it.
Killer Mike's video for his song "Burn" has yet to be played on BET, which reversed an earlier decision to ban it.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rapper Killer Mike has produced a controversial video for his single "Burn"
  • BET announced it would not play the video, reversed the decision and still hasn't played
  • Rapper says he is worth listening to because he listens to those he raps about
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(CNN) -- For more than a month, Grammy-winning rapper Killer Mike and BET have been at stalemate over the video for his single "Burn."

The 36-year-old Atlanta artist born Michael Santiago Render recently released his SMC Entertainment/Grand Hustle Records album "PL3DGE," and while the 15-track disc is already being hailed as one of the more underrated hip-hop albums by the Rap Radar and Hip Hop DX sites of the music world, the single and video "Burn" in particular has music lovers and bloggers talking about the social commentary and apparent call to arms throughout the profanity laden track.

At the same time, Render will tell you he's no saint, and there's no ignoring the fact that some of the songs' lyrics and images may paint the wrong picture. "They gonna repo your car and foreclose your home/me, I suggest you get yourself a shotgun so when they come to evict you can make 'em run," Render raps on the song's third verse.

There also seems to be a verbal assault against the black church.

In the song's music video, Render raps, "They say love Jesus and listen to your pastor, but Jesus told the truth and the pastor's a lying bastard" and one of the images that appears on the screen is Bishop Eddie Long. Long, the pastor of an Atlanta megachurch, was accused of improper relationships with young men he had mentored in a case that was settled out of court in May.

While BET rejected CNN's request to speak about this video specifically, in an e-mail to SMC's chief creative officer and co-founder Will Bronson on July 15, the network wrote, "The following video is rejected from all BET and Centric Platforms: Killer Mike 'Burn': elements of this video's message appear positive. Unfortunately, the message also seems to advocate violence. Ultimately, the message of this video is convoluted and the rationale behind the violence shown in the video wasn't sufficiently clarified in the lyrics. Accordingly, the video is rejected."

After its refusal to put the Giovanni Hidalgo-directed music video in its rotation, BET became the target of an online campaign asking it to reconsider the decision, with some detractors -- Render included -- going as far as to say the ban was an example of the network not living up to history and its mission to celebrate and highlight all aspects of African-American life. In response, BET took to Twitter announcing that it would lift the ban on "Burn."

"Twitter fam ~~ You spoke -- We listened. Killer Mike's 'Burn' video no longer banned," read the message from BET's official account.

As it stands, Render says, "Burn" has yet to be played on BET, though it has gotten a few plays on MTV Jams, which is owned by the same parent company, Viacom.

Render lyrically and visually insinuates burning down houses of worship and average Joes arming themselves with big guns, so there's no denying he also has a few questions to answer.

Render, a father of four, spoke to CNN and defended his creative choices for the video. He also discussed his issues with the black church and why he sincerely believes "Burn" can save lives.

CNN: Let's jump into the beef, controversy, whatever you want to call it. ...

Render: I don't consider it beef! I'm not beefing with BET, somebody's beefing with me.

CNN: What's the last thing you heard from BET?

Render: I heard they were going to play the video and it's kind of like when you hear somebody's going to send you a check, so I'm waiting but I'm waiting proactively. I'm going to make sure that this video and this song is heard, because I think it's imperative for the times we're in now.

CNN: Where does the inspiration for the song "Burn" come from? What set you off?

Render: My political awareness comes from seeing social injustices. I'm political because socially I see things are unfair.

For me I'm straight to the people on the bottom, people who are just pushing through every day. That doesn't mean the people who are just the most desperate and destitute, that means a young brother who might've caught a felony at 19, 20 years old and now it's difficult for him to get a job.

I wanted to start from that place to just say on a very human level this is not a big, grand "Fight the Power"-esque call, just a call to say everyone is dealing with different issues that they're being affected by government and corporate institutions and they're not being handled fairly.

"Burn" was just my social commentary on what I feel like could be corrected relatively easy. That people can begin to be treated justly by institutions that they support.

CNN: Talk about your creative decisions going into the video.

Render: I knew that "Burn" was catchy enough to stay in peoples' heads. I knew that the tone I used and everything was catchy enough to stay in their heart, so I knew if I married it with the right visual (it would be good).

I wanted visually for it to be striking. The guy who put it together, which was Giovanni Hidalgo, he really got the vision for how to transfer this into today's hip-hop world so that it would be palatable and I think it is.

When you see Oscar Grant's family, that's a family who recognizes this is not a rapper trying to exploit him, this is not a rapper trying to do a song to take profit from his death. This is a rapper trying to say that this conversation must push on, so I was extremely honored that they're in it.

CNN: OK, you've got your visual on MTV, why pitch it to BET?

Render: There are a lot of dope artists that do this, that have a similar message, whether it's Brother Ali, whether it's Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, but then you have brothers like me, like Styles P, that have the same message and attempt to make it palatable even for just an everyday kid who is watching ("106 & Park") and watching MTV. So, I was really disappointed that BET was not and is still not supporting it.

CNN: Both MTV and BET are owned by Viacom, so why do you think one chose to play it and the other didn't?

Render: I don't know and that's scary to me. I know that what I'm saying will most help black boys. So, you think about that. Why is it the message that will most help blacks boys, who have the highest prison rates, who have the highest unemployment rates, who are the most in danger of homelessness due to the intolerable conditions they're growing in, I don't know why. I'd like to know why.

(CNN contacted Viacom which refered all calls to BET).

CNN: BET would not comment on your video and you've yet to see it play. How does that make you feel about the chances of it actually happening?

Render: Well since I screen-saved where they tweeted they would play it, I just hope I'm not being lied to.

Not that my ego is so big like, "How dare you lie to me?" but that I feel that the message in this song is important. I have to say that at this point if we're not playing the video, why? Because the message is important.

CNN: You talk about burning the church and a pastor being a "lying bastard," can't you see where that might draw some concern?

Render: I was always partial to radical activists because they balls out put the truth out there and I think that influenced me rap wise.

When you go to the doctor they don' tell you've got a cold if you've got cancer. What we have to admit right now is that in matters of the church and the black community, we have cancer.

CNN: "Burn" talks about how easy it is for black men to end up in jail. Is your friend and business partner, T.I., a victim of the system or his own bad behavior?

Render: Everything is a little bit of both.

The system says you can't hang around felons, but if all my friends have been where I'm from then the chances are greater that I'm going to be in the company of (felons). You can't just get new friends; you're 30 years old.

I think he's made up in his mind to go a particular place and do a certain thing in a different way and I applaud him for that, but I definitely think that to down him or malign him in any way doesn't make sense, because essentially what he went back for was an addiction.

CNN: You've said there are a slew of black voices and leaders with messages speaking on the issues in "Burn," so why should we even listen to you and bother watching the video?

Render: I'm probably more like the smart guy in the barbershop with some money sitting next to you than I am a preacher preaching at you. You should listen to me because I'm probably more like you than I am more like the pundits on CNN and FOX.

You should be listening to me because honestly I sit and listen to you so that I can tell stories like "Burn." I'm at a place in my life where "Burn" isn't as relevant for me. I don't really have to care about those things. I heard Fat Joe say years ago, "I'm rich, I don't have to vote Democrat, but I represent a bigger body of people," and when he said that it just grew my respect for him, because that's the truth. I certainly don't have to take some of the stances I take, but because I choose to do so I think that maybe you should pay attention.

 
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