Run the Jewels' Killer Mike brings the High & Holy Tour to Phoenix next week | Phoenix New Times
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Make sure to wear white when Killer Mike's High & Holy Tour stops in Phoenix

The Run the Jewels hip-hop artist is bringing a solo spectacle to The Van Buren.
Killer Mike brings his High & Holy Tour to Phoenix.
Killer Mike brings his High & Holy Tour to Phoenix. Jonathan Mannion
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Michael Santiago Render is best known as Killer Mike. He’s half of the dynamic rap duo Run the Jewels, and he has a hearty roster of solo releases to boot.

He is traveling with gospel choir the Midnight Revival for The High & Holy Tour, a tent-revival-style show packed with plenty of the new tracks and chestnuts from his deep musical closet. Mike and this potent vocal crew take the stage at downtown venue The Van Buren on Tuesday, Aug. 1.

The multifaceted performer is on tour supporting "Michael," his sixth solo record – the first in 11 years. Best three-word summary? Worth the wait. The lyrics that kick off the track “Down By Law” drive that point home: “I just think that timing is everything ..."

The record is the perfect storm of masterful production, urgency, soul and Mike’s relentless flow that is personal, intense and reflective. It also features a guest lineup of heavy hitters, including André 3000, CeeLo Green, Eryn Allen Kane, Young Thug, Mozzy and Lena-Byrd Miles.

On a recent Zoom call, Mike says he wants the show to uplift the human spirit. “You might go to church on Sunday, you might go to a Bible class on Wednesday, but a revival – it’s there to revive the spirit of the people. You can bring people that aren’t churchgoers; you can just celebrate and revive your spirit with the music and through encouragement and the preacher. I wanted to take that out in the world the same way it used to come to my neighborhood, and my grandmother would take me. We want to go past creating a vibe – our goal is to have a revival.”

Though "Michael" is his first solo record to drop in over a decade, Mike wasn’t working on it all those years. The project took about three years to develop, and a bout with COVID gave him some perspective.

“When I came outta that, I thought, had I died, I maybe hadn’t gotten a chance to introduce the world to me, you know, outside of the rap character that I created at 9 years old. No one had ever really met Michael.”

The record’s completeness feels like its creator has found a new sense of peace.

“A peace, yeah, and allowing a certain grace for yourself. Men harbor a lot of emotion that doesn’t always get to come out. I don’t know a single salt-of-the-earth man who hasn’t shed a tear in the bathroom by himself or said a prayer, just trying to get through a situation where people depend on him. Sometimes that burden is unacknowledged. This record was written in that spirit – a 9-year-old boy who wanted to be a rapper and grew up.”

Make no mistake; it’s not all about the male point of view.

“It’s also written in the spirit of all the women that have affected me and poured into me, be it my grandmother or the teenage lover you went through an abortion with. It’s all of it that you carry around, and you do want to make peace with it – not only with yourself but with the world,” he says. “When you realize you can’t control it all, that you can only control yourself, you can get perspectives that help you ultimately forgive yourself and encourage the better parts of yourself to come out. For me, I’ve moved spiritually closer to the belief that there’s purpose for me, even if I don’t know what that purpose is. I’m on a journey even though I don’t know where I’m going – the purpose of the journey is to learn and change and give joy.”

click to enlarge
Killer Mike of Run the Jewels.
Jonathan Mannion

With that peace that Killer Mike has embraced comes a powerful tornado of pride that sits on a foundation of joy versus the effortless swagger that can come with outputting a new piece of art. He makes no bones about how good he feels about "Michael."

“You couldn’t have told me that 20 years into my career and 11 years since my last solo record, I’d make my greatest piece of art. It’s not the greatest I’m going to do, but it’s the greatest I’ve done. It’s the generational statement; it’s the rap album of the year.”

He compares the record to works like "Fences" by playwright August Wilson and the writings of James Baldwin. “This is a 50-year-old medium that a 9-year-old boy fell in love with and took his influences from the Harlem Renaissance to the paintings of Henry Ossawa Tanner and poured it all into an album, mixing it with Curtis Mayfield and gospel. This is the black human experience in this country set to 53 minutes of music.”

Mike has been vocal about his political views for several years, from his support of Bernie Sanders to his take on gun rights and social issues. Despite that, he has no particular thoughts on the upcoming presidential election.

“No thoughts on that, but what I do think is that people should please be as interested [in politics] on a hyper-local level as you are in the national soap opera. Meaning, find out what your city council person is planning to do with their next 12 to 18 months in office. What is your mayor planning to do? There are so many things happening in areas at the local level that people need to know about,” he says.

He wants to see change happen and feels that movement on the local level offers the potential to bring about real change. “It’s much better to concern yourself with where the tax dollars from your local municipalities in the states are going.”

Mike shares information about Project Pinnacle, an organization in Atlanta founded by Judge Asha Jackson that teaches young people charged for the first time with crime about career development, critical thinking, and life skills. The program got legs through bipartisan support, and “It is now helping recidivism on the statewide level,” he says.

Talking about making an impact with local leaders once again brings Mike back to the subject of his grandmother. I mention that he let too many words out without finding a way to reference her.

“My grandmother, she could get to the mayor within six phone calls,” he laughs. “I love thinking about this little old lady whose funeral was packed like a rockstar, she could get to the mayor within six phone calls, and if she went to a city council meeting and wasn’t satisfied, she’d just sit in the mayor’s office. She was an amazing one.”

For fun, Mike speaks who got him the most excited about jumping into the rap game.

“Of course, Run-D.M.C. and the Fat Boys and stuff, but there was this 15-year-old girl named Roxanne Shanté who was busting harder than the boys and was dope and had fierceness and attitude. She sent me a record with a signed picture of her that I still have. She and I have talked about it, laughed about it, cried about it. I love her like a sister.”

Killer Mike says he’s thankful for Phoenix folks coming to the show and adds, “If you really want to vibe and have a good time, wear all white. We’ll make this thing look like a beautiful Pentecostal celebration, for real.”
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