‘A participant in it, or a victim of it’: Killer Mike on capitalism, social equity, and ‘making an honest coin’

November 30, 2022, 4:40 PM UTC
Photo of Killer Mike.
Killer Mike, the Grammy Award–winning rapper, actor, and activist, during Fortune's Impact Initiative.
Erik Meadows/Fortune

Entrepreneur and Black business leader Michael Roberts once told Michael Render—the famous rapper who works under the stage name Killer Mike—that “you happen to have been born in a capitalistic society and you understand that either you’re going to be a participant in it or a victim of it.”

The rapper and activist shared the memory on stage at Fortune’s Impact Initiative in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday. He says it guides the way he operates in the world as both an activist and a businessman—working within the kind of society he was born into. 

“As I began to work in activism, I understood that the same people you were rallying against, you were going to their foundations asking for money, whether it was the Rockefellers or the Carnegies,” Render said. “So I understood that if I became a person that could generate money to provide jobs to help communities, through helping people help themselves, that that was more valuable to what I wanted to see overall.”

“If I can assist other people do that by providing the product or service, then I’ll happily take the name of capitalist,” he added. “And if I happen to become a billionaire, as I do, I promise I won’t f–k that up.”

Render launched his music career with a guest appearance on Outkast’s song “Snappin and Trappin.” He was a featured artist on several other Outkast soundtracks—one that even earned a Grammy in 2002 for the Best Rap Performance by a duo or group. And he’s also released several solo albums dating back to his first in 2003. 

Render’s lyrics often focus on social issues, and he has spoken publicly of systemic racism and police brutality, at one point campaigning for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016. He also cofounded Greenwood, a mobile banking platform, aimed at serving underrepresented communities. 

“I don’t run from capitalism, I run toward making an honest coin,” Render said. 

Render cited Atlanta in particular as an example of a business ecosystem that works closely with the community in a way that has been able to create a “certain amount of equity.”  

He described Atlanta as a place where people can move and see their quality of life change within two years. 

“I’ve been around the world, and I tell African Americans, in particular, in my community this—I’ve never seen the level of opportunity that this country and this city provides for Black people anywhere else in the world.”

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