Trigger Warning: Some may find the content in this review offensive.
DO YOU BANK BLACK!?
Michael Render, aka Killer Mike, has always been known as a black-banking enthusiast. The Grammy-award winning rapper has sparked up conversations about black economic equality throughout the years. There have been a number of events that have happened within the last few years that sparked the idea for a show like the Netflix Original docuseries, Trigger Warning With Killer Mike. One of his most memorable moments, which may have sparked the idea of a pilot episode of Trigger Warning, goes all the way back to June of 2017. That’s when late-night host and “comedian” Bill Maher tried to be edgy and fell flat on his face when he told a joke that did not go over too well. The Trigger Warning host took to Twitter to defend Maher:
After catching some flack from fans who did not agree with Mike’s stance on the Bill Maher situation the “But… Do YOU bank black?” meme was born. The Atlanta-based emcee continued to clap back at anyone who dared to enter his mentions by questioning their allegiance to supporting black enterprises:
Fast forward to March 2018 and the Run the Jewels emcee sparked headlines when the NRA “misused” his interview following the March for Our Lives demonstration after the Parkland school shooting. Now that Killer Mike has his own show, he uses his platform to get his message out, the way that he sees fit. With the Netflix docuseries Trigger Warning, each episode is a social experiment that challenges conventional thinking. There are only 6 episodes of the first season, clocking in at around 25 minutes each, and there’s a lot going on that makes it one of the most interesting series currently airing on Netflix.
The pilot episode, ‘Living Black,’ does a phenomenal job at having a concept that reels you into the show from the start. The show’s director Vikram Gandhi and Killer Mike, have come up with an idea where Killer Mike will live totally black for 3 days. Totally black means that every single thing that he uses, eats, and consumes will be from a black-owned company. There’s an infographic that points out the number of days that a dollar stays in the economic ecosystem for different races. The graphic states that a dollar can stay in the Asian community for 28 days, the White community for 23 days, the Jewish community for 21 days, and only 6 hours in the African-American community before it’s released out. The issue that plagues the show is that when there are infographics, more times than not, there’s not a source mentioned to go with it. After searching on Google for this particular study I found mention of it here. Killer Mike tells Vikram Gandhi that he thinks there’s something Black for everything. Gandhi tells him that if he stayed in Atlanta then it might be possible, but since the Run the Jewels show is in Athens then it’s going to be a challenge. Shareef Abdul Malik, the founder of We Buy Black, hooks Killer Mike up with various black made products. The Figgers phone is the one that I found the most interesting because its inventor Freddie Figgers has a biography that is perfect for a feature film that would make Elon Musk jealous.
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Killer Mike is so dedicated to the cause that he can’t even get a lapdance from an Asian stripper at Blue Flame. Since black people do not make cars, he has to rely on Harmon Brothers Charter Service to take him from Atlanta to Athens. He cannot even open his can of beans because he doesn’t have a black-made can opener. All of these things take place in Atlanta, but when he reaches Athens things get worse. There’s no black-owned hotel, so he has to sleep on a bench. The multi-platinum rapper is sleeping outside on a bench due to what he terms “White Economy Withdrawal,” which is what makes this particular episode interesting. When he finally meets up with fellow Run the Jewels emcee, El-P, they cannot Uber anywhere, smoke weed, and when they find a black-owned restaurant Killer Mike cannot eat there due to the meat not being raised by black farmers. There’s a scene where we get to learn the history of the Hot Corner in downtown Athens and Mack Wilson, the owner of Wilson’s Styling Shop. tells Killer Mike about the history of Hot Corner. There used to be 66 black businesses in Hot Corner and the money went around one time in the Black community and 2 or 3 times in the White community. There’s even a mention of the green book.
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The second episode is ambitious as Killer Mike tries to fix education in America. The title of the episode is ‘Fuck School’ and it’s a double entendre because the emcee tries to create educational-porn. Before the pornography angle begins, Killer Mike meets up with a group of 1st graders. There’s an eye-opening statement by a student who says that another student at the school once told him “you’re not like everybody else your skin looks like poop,” which Killer Mike does a good job at reassuring the kid that being Black is something to be proud of. Things pick up when Mike asks the students what their aspirations are when they grow up. The students have ambitions of being presidents, scientists, and Killer Mike tells them to put their hands down because that’s what the world is going to say to them as they get older. Mike’s approach is for the kids to learn trades instead of dreaming big because they, more than likely, will not become their dream jobs. He partners up with Toby the handyman and shows the students applicable trades like plumbing and how to change a lightbulb. Mike takes things a step further as he tries to explain to the Principal that her students should be learning trades. The thing about Killer Mike’s point is that he’s not completely wrong, America is in need of more people who are skilled in trade. He even makes a point that schools teach kids to obey like prisons, schools are built like prisons, but the Principal is not having it, and she tells Mike to try his academic ventures with adults.
The ATLien finds a group of unemployed adults on the streets of Atlanta and creates his own small sample group to test out his educational ventures. After asking the adults what their dream jobs are and getting responses that include musicians, producers, actresses, and remodeling houses, Killer Mike is again the bearer of bad news. Just as he told the kids earlier, adults should focus on realistic jobs such as knowing trades. After taking a placement test, it’s clear that none of the unemployed adults possessed any knowledge or skills in the arts of trades. Toby, the handyman from earlier, stated that he learned all of his schools on YouTube during a time when he was unemployed but the other adults find that learning on YouTube is boring. The show interjects with a study that shows most adults spend their time on pornography sites, and this is the catalyst for Killer Mike to incorporate pornography into his educational videos. After finding adult actors that encompass the full spectrum of porn, he presents the group with a video that teaches them all various trades. Killer Mike has had success, as all of their scores tremendously improved when they retake the placement test. Mike decided to present his work to the founder of Omni Tech in hopes to “educate the masses with tits and asses.”
The third episode is one of my favorite episodes of the series. It is titled ‘White Gang Privilege’ and deals with all the advantages that gangs like Hells Angels have when it comes to trademarking themselves as a legit business even though they’re just as controversial as the Bloods and Crips. Killer Mike gathers a few members of the Crips street fraternity and uses their knowledge of entrepreneurship to start a business. The members include Yayo. Murdo, AC and Newny and the idea they come up with is a cola. Being that the show is based in Atlanta, a cola would be in direct competition with Coca-Cola and the group decided to name their cola, Crip-A-Cola.
Sure, the name of the soda sounds absurd, but this episode gets the humanity of the gang members across effortlessly. After failing to secure an 100K business loan, due to not having tax returns, the crew decides to do what any entrepreneur would do, and cook their cola n the kitchen. With help from a graphic designer they design a unique logo and have former Coca-Cola executive, Sean Martin, evaluate Crip-a-Cola and he praises the packaging on its uniqueness. According to Trigger Warning, soda is responsible for more deaths in the United States than gang violence, so for Crip-a-Cola to be healthier than Coca-Cola is a move in the right direction, but at the end of the day soda is unhealthy, which is a point Mike makes in the show.
The climax of the episode is when the Crips try to flood the market, or distribute to stores in Atlanta, and none of the stores wanting to carry their product due to it being labeled as from the Crips. It’s to a point where if the product was from the Hells Angels than they would be fine with it unlike the Crips. This ideology is also present in a focus group for Crip-a-Cola. Killer Mike and the Crips are watching a focus group, filled with mostly white people, who are given a blind taste test. Everyone in the group stated they liked cola, when the moderator lets them try Crip-a-Cola, they all liked the taste until the product was revealed. The temperature in the room changes and every one has outlandish takes that would make Colin Cowherd sound sane. One guy even says that if people drink Crip-a-Cola they’ll be shot down. Most of the members of the focus group have a negative connotation with the word crip and state that would never buy the product. During the focus group scene we are introduced to Mario Avani. Killer Mike calls Mario Avani, who is Puerto Rican, a racist because Mario has a way of defending things like Andrew Jackson having Native Americans scalp. Yayo and the other Crips explain to Mario that the Crips are similar to other fraternities but Mario finds a way to rebuttal that as well. More on Mario later. To circumvent the issues of Bloods killing people who are drinking Crip-a-Cola, Killer Mike reaches out to the Bloods and they create Blood Pop which I assume is the same ingredients as Crip-a-Cola.
Killer Mike tries to destroy the myth of White Jesus in the Black community in Trigger Warning‘s fourth episode titled ‘New Jesus’ and it’s filled with out-of-the-box thinking. Killer Mike wants to create his own religion and shift black people away from the constraints of Christianity. He tries to recruit Atlanta-based megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar, but Creflo does not agree with Mike that church is bad for black people.
Since the megachurch pastor isn’t any help, Killer Mike has enlisted the help of author Patrick Goines. Goines helps Mike with creating the Book of Sleep, which is the official text for Killer Mike’s Church of Sleep. Some religions have the teachings of Moses, Jesus, Thor, or Muhammad, but the Church of Sleep uses the teachings of Killer Mike’s homie, Sleepy. Sleepy gets his name from the fact that he always looks asleep (he does). Unfortunately, for a show that’s promoted countless numbers of black owned businesses, Killer Mike cannot find a publisher for his Book of Sleep. After having a meeting with Vikki Hankins, the founder of VMH Media and Publishing, she turns down the Book of Sleep, so Killer Mike, Patrick Goines, and Sleepy begin a grassroots campaign to get the people involved with the Church of Sleep.
As a social experiment, this episode is at its best when we get to hear from the people in the congregation. There’s an informative scene at Killer Mike’s SWAG barbershop where most of the patrons express that they do not sleep well at night for various reasons. “More slaves were whipped for oversleeping than any other fault,” is a quote by Frederick Douglass, and Trigger Warning delves into the issue through the spectrum of present day America. Sleepy’s motto is “fuck hope, do dope” and the Church of Sleep holds all their services at the Blue Flame strip club in Atlanta. When members of the congregation give their own testimonials on what the Church of Sleep means to them, pardon the pun, a true awakening.
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Trigger Warning With Killer Mike goes full Making the Band with its penultimate episode. The episode is titled “Outside of the Box” and Killer Mike performs at a senior living facility. Most of the seniors are white and they’re not fans of Rap/Hip-Hop. These seniors have some of the most ignorant and racist takes. There’s a clip from the show’s trailer of Killer Mike explaining why this lady’s “fact” that most robbers are black is completely false.
After rapping over the sounds of a barbershop quartet at the nursing home, and watching seniors, literally, roll their way towards the exit during his performance, Killer Mike switches up his approach. The big takeaway from his time at the nursing home is that seniors do not like rap music because they feel excluded from it. The Run The Jewels emcee uses this experience, like the educational-pornography from episode 2, and attempts to create something that will appeal to everyone. The episodes tone changes into an episode of an old MTV hit-show, Making the Band, as Killer Mike tries to form The Bubble Bursters, a supergroup filled with musicians from various backgrounds. T-Pain even serves as a celebrity judge and the recording process is handled at the legendary Stankonia Studios in Atlanta, Georgia.
Salute to Killer Mike for finding such a diverse group of artists to make up the Bubble Bursters supergroup. There’s even the return of Mario Avani from the third episode of Trigger Warning. Mario goes by the stage name M Je T’aime and they rework his song “Box Me In,” rename it “Don’t Box Us In,” and the drama ensues. The Bubble Bursters include a Juggalo, a black cowboy that thinks Jesus is clear, a MAGA-loving racist, an albino Black Lives Matters supporter, Mario and others, and to say the group had their differences is an understatement. The group had a chance to open up for Run The Jewels and RTJ fans had looks of bewilderment about what they had just witnessed when their set was over. The awkwardness and the drama behind the scenes during the group’s formation made this episode one of the funniest ones in the series. I couldn’t find a video of their actual performance or their song but here’s a link to the original version of “Box Me In” from M Je T’aime’s SoundCloud:
The season finale, ‘Kill Your Masters’ serves as an accumulation of events that have taken place in episodes 1-5. Kill Your Masters is a motto that Killer Mike lives by, and it means to liberate yourself and not let anyone control you. In this episode of Trigger Warning, Killer Mike wants to follow in the footsteps of Fela Kuti and create his own country, New Africa. Fela Kuti created the Kalakuta Republic during the 1970s, which was his compound that housed his family, band members and recording studios in Nigeria, and it had a free health clinic. Kuti declared the compound to be independent from the Nigerian government and in 1977, thousands of armed soldiers — not only— burned the compound to the ground, but threw Kuti’s mother out of a second floor window, where she would later die from complications.
Knowing all of this, the Atlanta-based rapper puts his idea in motion and buys some land to create New Africa. Citizens of New Africa include people who have previously appeared in episodes of Trigger Warning. We got to see familiar faces that included the Crips, the Bloods, Toby the Handyman, Mario Avani, other members of the Bubble Bursters supergroup, adults from the educational-pornography class, Patrick Goins and more. Everyone’s skill that was mentioned in their previous episode is used to help get New Africa off the ground. Unlike America, New Africa proudly celebrates women on their money. Patrick Goins helps by drafting up the Declaration of Independence for the new country. The Book of Sleep is used to swear the citizens in as they give their Pledge of Allegiance. The only person to take issue with this is Mario, who says he doesn’t believe in pledges. Just like all of Mario’s previous appearances on the show, he’s pompous and he annoyed everyone at the compound. He upsets everyone in New Africa when he performs an anthem that he wrote for the new country.
The New Africans were upset with Killer Mike’s rule, they had a free election and they decided who among them should run against him for the title of leader. Cita, Suave and Mike are the candidates and decide to hold an election to see who should be the new leader of New Africa. Luckily, we get to see what the New Africans think of every candidate after they cast their ballots. Again, the show does a great job at presenting these people as people instead of just personalities, if that makes sense. The ballots are tallied and Cita is the winner and she’s ecstatic. Secretly, it turns out that Mike rigged the election, so that Cita won, because he did not feel like running a country. Killer Mike is really for the people.
Trigger Warning With Killer Mike is a show that I think more people should watch because it’s quality infotainment. Salute to Netflix for picking this show up and giving Mike the freedom to bring his ideas to fruition. If there is a season two, I hope Killer Mike can continue creating innovative content without sacrificing social commentary. Again, my biggest criticism of the show is that it needs to provide a source for every statement it provides as fact. The show fluidly blends entertainment and education, and it’s from the perspective of a black man, which is something that we do not get to see much of in traditional media. Just like Killer Mike’s tweets above, from the start, the show is in your face and makes it known that African-American culture IS American culture which is something that one of the Two Americas seems to forget. Anyone that’s listened to Run the Jewels should give the show a chance, and those that have not listened to Killer Mike or RTJ, but own Netflix, should stream Trigger Warning as soon as possible.
[All Mames Wey]
Trigger Warning With Killer Mike is currently streaming on Netflix.