A rap performance in an assisted living facility, where your youngest audience member is 65 years old. A friendly competition between the Crips and the Bloods, two of Atlanta’s best-known gangs. The establishment of a new country called “New Africa.” The adoption of a new religion based on a Black Messiah and a Book of Sleep.
These are just a few of Killer Mike’s daring experiments in his new 6-episode Netflix show, Trigger Warning with Killer Mike. Michael Render, a.k.a. Killer Mike, a Grammy-award winning rapper and half of the famous group Run the Jewels, is playful yet determined in his approach to blow up conventional social structures. Reminiscent of the FX hit show Atlanta in its setting, creativity and pointed humor, Trigger Warning does just what its title suggests: triggers viewers by inviting rage, reevaluation, shock, and humor to cohabit within each of us for about 25 minutes at a time. As you watch the show, it may make sense to find out that Killer Mike’s fellow producer is Daniel Weidenfeld, an inveterate executive producer at Adult Swim.
Each episode starts with a poignant quote from an important African-American figure in history, including Nikki Giovanni, Malcolm X or Booker T. Washington. Each quote is then set against an ominous instrumental soundtrack, visually reminiscent of the intertitles in Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s 1915 notorious film that romanticizes the Ku Klux Klan and illustrates racism at the beginning of the 20th century. This allusion is not coincidental, since a running motif in the series is black rights in America. Each quote hints at what the episode may hold — the surprise lays in the fact that your guesses will most likely be wrong, as the ideas are, by all means, revolutionary.
Killer Mike frames his intentions early on, and each episode develops in an almost scientific-method-like way. Let’s take the pilot episode. Mike offers a systematic observation based on his own experiences and historical facts and statistics. He is triggered by the fact that money don’t stay long within the black financial ecosystem — only 6 hours as compared to 21 days within Jewish communities. He then posits the question: can I live for three days only using products coming from black-owned businesses? He thinks so, and he sets on to test his hypothesis — on foot, since most car producers are not African-American. His efforts are often thwarted as he discovers that black-owned restaurants serve chicken grown on white-owned farms, and that black-owned hotels are elusive. His post-experimental observations are always honest: “Living black, even for only three days, was way more difficult than it should’ve.”
Killer Mike sets lofty goals, like “I’m gonna fix education in America” or “Much like the Confederates, we’re gonna form our own damn country.” It’s situational irony at its finest, sprinkled with some shock humor and character comedy as Mike finds concrete ways to work toward his goals. Using pornography to teach vocational skills, he is able to get his co-opted students to test better on a vocational test. Buying a large plot of land and adopting a flag and a Declaration of Independence, he inches toward his utopian brand new nation. All along the way, he engages diverse people with conflicting socio-political viewpoints. For example, his experiments place a Jewish woman, a Native American, a conservative Trump supporter, and an albino black activist in the same room.
At the end of the day, that’s the beauty of the show’s multiple experiments — they succeed at bursting socio-political bubbles, bringing people together to discuss their differences, and assess their common humanity. It doesn’t hurt that you’re laughing along the way.
Trigger Warning with Killer Mike is currently available on Netflix.