Moses Robinson, WireImage
But despite an intriguing career in which Mike has dropped such critically-acclaimed studio albums as his 2003 debut 'Monster' and his 'I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind' series (released in 2006 and 2008) and put out a string of street-praised mixtapes, he has remained an underground figure in mainstream music circles. That should all change with the May 17 release of 'PL3DGE,' the first official project off of T.I.'s Grand Hustle label. The effort features such rap heavyweights as Young Jeezy, Twista, Gucci Mane, and the aforementioned King of the South. The BoomBox caught up with the underrated spitter to talk about his new album, making peace with Big Boi and his thoughts on the current Atlanta rap scene.
Was there vastly more pressure signing with T.I.'s Grand Hustle label following your initial music industry stumbles?
I didn't feel any pressure. Why would I? I'm actually encouraged. I think I'm dope as s---. I think having those high expectations placed on me and working with someone like T.I. makes me better. I think this 'PL3DGE' album is going to tell the story.
You seem to be making a statement with 'PL3DGE,' given some of the high profile names attached to this project like Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, and T.I. What was your mindset going into this album?
I was thinking about my mom being on dialysis. My grandmother raised me and they both had hard times last year. Both of them gave me the inspiration to do what I do. I love those two dearly. I really want my mom and grandmother to see me how they first saw me six or seven years ago on MTV and on the radio. I got love from MTV Jams with 'Ready Set Go' [featuring T.I.]. And I have to thank satellite radio for their support. But going into this new single with me and Young Jeezy, I'm excited. God is good.
Talk about working with a versatile MC like a Jeezy who can exist with you, Jay-Z and then appear on a record with Kanye West. How easy was it to work with an MC that stylistically diverse?
I just think Jeezy's really what he raps. You look at the people that I've had the opportunity to record with, whether it was Jay-Z, OutKast, Bun B or young brothers like Pac Div, I think it goes with that saying "to thine own self be true" -- when you are true to yourself and to your sound it attracts others. I have a lot of respect for Jeezy. He's one of my favorite rappers. I love listening to him and he listens to my stuff, and we just used the opportunity to show the world how we get down.
Are you one of those MCs who goes into an album project thinking, "This is going to be my street record" and "This song is going to be my radio single?"
I don't go into albums like that. I went into 'PL3DGE' not with the thinking of, "This is going to be my commercial single." I went into it thinking, "This album is going to be jamming." I have 12 songs on this record and nine of them could be a single. I went into the studio consciously knowing that this record would have a greater jam factor. I think I did that perfectly.
One producer attached to the 'PL3DGE' album is No I.D., who has become a respected veteran in the music industry. What did he bring to the album that was different from the other producers you worked with?
Dion is like a big brother to me. Initially, I worked with lot of new Atlanta artists that people are liking now like B.o.B, CyHi Da Prynce and Travis Porter. But while I was taking some time off, Dion was the one in the studio with me helping me figure out the next stage of my career. He's just incredible. Every time I work with No I.D. it's like working with family. I'm not looking at him as this underrated super producer. I'm just working with my brother from Chicago who just wants to help me advance what I do. So it's really easy working with someone like No I.D.
You mentioned some of the new generation of hip-hop talents coming out of Atlanta today. Do you consider yourself the missing link between OutKast and the likes of B.o.B and CyHi Da Prynce?
I can't say, but I thank you for the credit. Because so much of my career has been forged out of fighting to stay relevant and to make known how dope that I am, I haven't had a chance to objectively look back at any part of my career. What I do know is beyond me being the missing link between OutKast and what's going on in Atlanta today, me, Tip, Ludacris and Jeezy really helped pushed Atlanta into being famous in other lights. On the bigger side, I am the bridge between the intellectual and the streets for Atlanta. I am probably what the world lost when Goodie Mob stopped recording. I'm that 100 percent.
It's well-known that you and Big Boi had a bitter falling out after your stint on his Purple Ribbon label. Yet, you were able to bury your feud as he appears on the remix for 'Ready Set Go' and in the video. What does that type of unity show to the new generation of hip-hop artists who are used to the idea of beef songs and making their personal battles public?
Well, I'll never forget my accountant Robert who is Jewish-American, man. He's a very good person. He took me to a Yom Kippur celebration. He talked to me a lot about the holiday. It's a holiday in which Jewish people have their opportunity to apologize for transgressions they might of done towards each other over the course of the year. Or people they have the opportunity to forgive others and go into the next year. That really resonated with me. I really believe if you've ever loved someone how could you act like you don't? That really helped me see that no grudge was worth holding on forever.
That seems like a pretty heavy moment.
It was. A lot of times we take issue with other people and not with ourselves. Me being removed from that Big Boi situation, it really was a matter of my own ambition outweighing my time. My ambition was bigger than what my mind was ready for at the moment. So it took me leaving [Purple Label] and experiencing the bumps and bruises for myself to fully understand how difficult it is to be an artist and to run a record company. I would have been a fool to hold a grudge. It was never about Big Boi or anybody else. It was really about me and dealing with my own situations.
You have been known as a relentless touring artist. Are you happier being onstage performing or in the studio working on music?
I'm happier onstage. I hate being in the booth [laughs]. I can't take that s---. Being in the booth at Tree Town where I recorded 'PLEDGE' and recording at Stankonia are probably my two happiest studio experiences. Tree Town just has a culture about it. It makes you love recording. And Stankonia is home for me. But those are the only two studios I love working in. I like the stage much better.
How do you want your new album to be received by your fans and the public-at-large?
I hope the album does 10 million. Realistically, I don't know what the album is going to do, but I know for the first time in five years I'm on a national tour with Young Dro, Dee-1 and Pac Div. I have two more tours coming up and that's just in anticipation of this album. I expect from this album for me to be at least touring 200 days a year. I'm trying to have a musical legacy, not just make a cash-out album.
Watch Killer Mike's 'Ready Set Go' feat. T.I.