R u n
J e w e l s
Murder Mayhem Melodic Music
“A gun and a metal pizzipe, a knizzife” to his “rizzight”, Killer Mike leads the way on the glorious return of Run The Jewels, album #2 recorded by the hard-hittin’ duo comprised of the ATL master and Brooklyn’s own El-P, and by the mere amount of “yellin’, screamin’ and cursin’” one can tell “the villains is here” once again. Make no mistake: the sophomore offering by this “top tag team for two summers” goes even deeper into the “psyche of Jaime and Mikey”, it’s even more aggressive, more to the point – pure sonic anger management.
“I’ve never been much of shit, by most measurements don’t exist/on the radar a little blip in the shadows of motherships,” rhymes El Producto, and one feels like he needs a drink when clearly he doesn’t: “So we grin in the face of frauds and tell monsters to suck our dicks/I live to spit on your grave, my existence is to disgrace you.” Apart from delivering more raw shit and inviting guests such as Zack de la Rocha, Boots, Diane Coffee, and Ikey Owens (rip), here’s a quick run-down of what they do on number two: fuck the law (“They can eat my dick”), fuck the world (“I dreamt we owned the world, but I’ve woken up and it don’t exist”), fuck language skills (“C’est la vie girl, when in Rome”), “Fuck and rap” (El) and “Fuck and rap” (Mike, who also smokes the kush), in short: they do what they did before, only more brutal: “Last album voodoo, proved that we was fuckin’ brutal”…
Thanks for the synopsis, Killer Mike, and we’ll certainly check out your Graffitis SWAG barbershop (SWAG meaning Shave, Wash & Groom) on our next trip to ATL – if only for some of those free Hot Wheels…
When you guys first started collaborating a while ago, when exactly did it hit you that this was going to be more than just a one-off?
El-P: I think pretty much when Mike’s album was about halfway through we knew. It was just feeling magical, and Mike made it clear he wanted me to make his music go forward. So I guess this whole thing started as musical chemistry when we did Mike’s album and quickly turned it into something bigger as we became friends. Mike and I, we just really get each other and we care about a lot of the same things.
And that’s why it was just natural to do album #2?
Killer Mike: Yeah, you know, by the time we started performing material together, we went out opening for ourselves – it was me 30 minutes, El 30 minutes, and then Run The Jewels 30 minutes – and then the reactions from the kids just showed us that we had to do this again because they started saying, “When is Run The Jewels 2” coming out?
I remember a time when I was sometimes a little underwhelmed by how randomly some collaborations seemed to happen – like Madlib sending someone 200 beats and that’s it – and yet, in your case it seems – and sounds – different. You really vibe off each other in the same room, right?
El-P: Absolutely. We never do music separate. It’s a simple and very important rule for us. I mean I’ll prep music first, but we write and record in the same room.
What else can you tell me about the process this time around? Was it different compared to Run The Jewels 1? Or was it still you, Mike, doing a lot of freestyles, whereas you, Jamie, tend to write things down first?
KM: Yeah, I mean the process and the writing was still the same. We just write how we write, Jaime is usually at a desk or something, on his iPad or his computer, and I just generally have a joint in my hand and wander around mumbling to myself until a line strikes me as rap-worthy. So yeah, that was the same, but the thing we didn’t do this time, we didn’t record for a month straight. We just went in two-week intervals in between doing shows over the year, so it took longer to record this album, but we also got a chance to record in different places: L.A., Santa Monica, Atlanta, New York City – so I enjoyed the process even more this time because we got to see some different scenery.
Mike, I heard you loved recording in L.A. because there was so much weed floating around? How important were weed and psychedelic drugs this time around anyway?
KM: Yeah, I love recording in L.A. because there is good weed there. Actually great weed, yeah, although the best weed in the world is probably in Northern California, up in Frisco, Oakland, the Bay. But yeah, I love L.A. for that reason, and it’s not that we need weed or shrooms or any of that to record, but it does relax and it does have a vibe; it does help the vibe. That’s because I have a lot of shit going on, I have a life, I have children, I have businesses, so for me, you know, smoking just centers me. It puts me in the moment right there, so I enjoy smoking while I record because you can’t really smoke in a PTA meeting.
Since the album is so in your face and aggressive, are there days when you’d like to record – but the mood’s just not right to deliver that?
El-P: Yeah, sometimes the mood or music calls for something else. I mean writing a song like “Crown” is clearly different than writing a song like “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” but I think it’s usually dictated by the energy of the beat.
KM: Yeah, and I mean there are days when the aggressive records just come out, and there are days where other types of records come out. I mean aggressive music is what we kind of do, so that’s kind of second nature. Aggression is just a part of what we do, so it comes pretty easily.
Jaime, you once said that a musician’s “stumbling around in the dark all of a sudden becomes a trademark”. Would you agree with that, Mike?
KM: When I write I walk around stumbling anyway. I think that our process in the studio is… kinda stumbling. You just stand there, trying to figure out what you’re doing, and you catch a vibe and then you write that vibe out, and that vibe becomes a record, that record leads to another record and it eventually becomes an album. I actually think all artists are just stumbling. You have an idea of what you want, but often that idea takes you on a journey you hadn’t even expected, so yeah, look forward to more stumbles.
Speaking of things to come: What can you tell me about “Meow the Jewels”? Why combine something so hardcore with something so hilarious?
El-P: That’s sort of what Run The Jewels is anyway – and that combination of elements can be amazing. With “Meow The Jewels” we get to fight injustice with stupidity. I’m proud of that.
KM: It was Jamie who came up with the concept, stoned, just being playful and joking. And shouts out to the “Meow the Jewels” campaign, because they took something kind of stupid and funny and hokey and married something really special with it. That’s the fact that the money we’re collecting from “Meow the Jewels” is going to go to the victims of police brutality, in particular the families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, so stupid shit can lead to very good shit in the world, too. Don’t look down on stupid shit.
But how did people react to the concept when you first reached out? I can see Prince Paul being down right away, but Geoff Barrow?
El-P: Yeah, Geoff needed a little more explaining, haha. Once he understood that it was a charitable thing he was right onboard. Of course the issue itself is specifically American, but he was completely down.
Sounds great. One other thing to wrap this up: Mike, the idea behind Graffiti’s Swag, your barbershop, was also about doing good for the community, right?
KM: Yeah, well it’s about not just doing good in a philanthropic way, in terms of me giving something to the community; what I’m giving is an opportunity. I’m giving an opportunity for barbers to be employed, I’m giving an opportunity to the community to have a better experience and customer service. It’s a beautiful shop, kids get free Hot Wheels with haircuts… I just thought it would be a better business model compared to what barbershops currently have. And it’s prospering, we’re about to open a second shop, we have products being developed – so yeah, it worked. So, is it about providing jobs for the community? Yeah, absolutely, and it’s also about doing good business and making sure that my income stays at a place that I’m satisfied with. I am a businessman, and I want to do good business in the community. I want to provide a superior product, and I want to be paid well for it, and along with that I want to be able to be a job provider to people who look like me and people who don’t, but in particular black males in America, they definitely need an avenue to be employed – and my barbershop provides that.
Cool. So what’s poppin’ apart from RTJ?
KM: Not fucking much.
Words: Renko Heuer
Run The Jewels