(By VINCE PEARSON and MICHAEL MAY | Published on April 20, 2017 for NPR Music)
WARNING: This story contains some explicit language.
The connection between Killer Mike and George Clinton might not seem immediately obvious. One is a 42-year-old Atlanta rapper who, alongside El-P in Run the Jewels, sells out shows across the country without the boost of radio play. The other, now 75, founded the pioneering groups Parliament and Funkadelic in the '60s and presided over a funk empire whose onstage manifestations included dozens of musicians and a spaceship that descended from the rafters.
But Clinton's psychedelic funk has influenced generations of rappers, including Killer Mike. After Clinton moved to Atlanta in the early '90s, he became a mentor to the hip-hop production collective Organized Noize, which nurtured Outkast — which, in turn, discovered Killer Mike. And there's one more connection: They both have owned barbershops — and say that's given them the financial freedom to take musical risks.
Killer Mike's barbershop, The SWAG (Shave Wash And Groom) Shop, is currently up and running in Atlanta. "What I tried to build here was a place where people were free to talk as they wanna do — none of the social ills of the day," he says. "And you could just come look good. A lot of time when you're poor and you ain't got but 15, 20 bucks in your pocket — if you can't change your shoes, you can change your look with a haircut."
For his part, Clinton owned and operated the Silk Palace, a barbershop in Plainfield, N.J., for 10 years beginning in 1960 — before Parliament, before the Mothership. He was also the head of a struggling doo-wop group and staffed the shop with his bandmates.
We met up with the two musicians in The SWAG Shop, where Killer Mike interviewed Clinton about the transformation his career underwent, about mentoring younger musicians — and, of course, about barbering. Hear an edited version of their conversation at the audio link, watch the video above and visit NPR Music to read on for an extended transcript.