Run the Jewels
Collaborations can come correct, or half-baked. On Run the Jewels, Killer Mike and El-P occupy the former with a contender for rap album of the year, the genre veterans spitting hard bars over guttural beats in a compact package you could spin every day like the Earth on its axis.
The two prolific artists convened over the winter to follow up Mike’s Top 10 disc from last year, R.A.P. Music, and birthed Run the Jewels in a series of whirlwind recording sessions. Hot on the heels of the new album’s online release in June, the duo hits Austin tonight. We caught up with them in advance of their showdown outside at the Mohawk.
Austin Chronicle: Which do you prefer, recording alone or alongside a partner in the booth?
Killer Mike: It’s always more fun with a partner or group, because then you have somebody to laugh at immediately in the studio. A lot of the shit that me and El said, the other would just step off the microphone and look at the person, like – when he talks about Riverdance cleats on your face for the finisher.’ That was fucking hysterical.
El-P: It’s mad fun, and it’s dark humor. We’re just having a blast trying to rap our asses off, and play with technique and styles and patterns, see who can say the most fucked-up shit. That’s just some laugh shit. If you’re a rapper, that’s where you start. No rapper starts out any other way than coming up with fun ways to say that everybody else is trash and you’re the shit.
Mike would say shit, and I would literally need to walk away because I’m spitting water out of my nose. It was basically just a really fun rapper record. That’s the cooperation. It ain’t competition. There’s no competition. It’s just me and Mike. That’s how we made this; we literally wrote the record together, which is funny because it’s baffling to people. They don’t know how we got into the same room.
KM: You fall into a vibe or a zone and get up to the point where we shit-talk and, like, one will stop and chuckle and the other will say, ‘You were about to say this!’ I think you just fall into a good vibe or zone with someone. We talk shit. We talk shit to each other. We talk shit behind each other’s backs. It’s not easy to get there. It’s not easy to achieve that trust with somebody. When I write with El, I literally just stay empty. Because whatever I say is going to come off his last page. I’m depending on him to inspire me with his last two bars. 99.99 percent of the time, that’s what happens. That’s what it’s about. I enjoy rapping with my friend.
AC: Run the Jewels was born out of last year’s R.A.P. Music sessions. Was it obvious while you were making that album that you had another batch of material to get out?
EP: We knew we were going to do more records together way before we released R.A.P. Music. We went on tour and did a lot of touring together, basically a year of it. I forget when it was exactly that we started talking about it, but it wasn’t long. We started talking about doing another record on tour. It didn’t come together until after the tour, and then in the winter of last year, I started handling pre-production on the record. I didn’t 100 percent know what it was going to be, but Mike came in and we spent week-long stints in the woods in upstate New York working our asses off.
KM: We were on that Coachella Cruise, and we had those three goddam piña coladas in that bungalow where they had grass. [El] was like, ‘Fuck, let’s do it together.’ We were going to do an EP together. We got back, and I had a week in January before I had to do Europe. I went up to the cabin and we did that. Then, after 30 days in Europe, I went back down to New York in April.
AC: El-P, you said earlier that you two tried to not take things too seriously on this album.
EP: We hold ourselves in high regard. We take our music seriously. We take expressing what we want to express seriously, and we take ourselves as men seriously in the sense that we’re not the type of dudes who think there’s any reason why anybody else in the world should not be respectful of us. But we also have a sense of humor.
When I’m saying ‘Riverdance cleats on your face,’ of course I’m not going to do that. I’d never even pretend that I’m going to do that. I’m not the tough guy that I am on the record. What we’re doing is a totally different thing. We’re just creating a reality and having a helluva lot of fun with it. I’m not going to ask that anybody take my stance on dolphin rape seriously. We’re not clowns. We’re not asking anything from anyone other than to just listen to our shit.
There are songs on the record that are very serious and fall in line with us intellectually and how we think about the world. I don’t have to crack a newspaper to write a song that should be taken seriously. I’m an attentive human who’s aware of the world around him, and that seeps into my music all the time. It’s all in the context of my personality, which is that I have a humor to me that I always maintain. There’s comedy in tragedy. Sometimes stress is so over the top – tragedy and pain and concern – that it gets sucked out the other end and becomes the funniest thing in the world.
AC: Mike, in the past you’ve expressed a disdain for tribute records. We just saw a jury acquit George Zimmerman of murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. How should artists looking to memorialize the fallen move forward?
KM: Tribute records should come from a very real place. Self-destruction came from a groupthink of rappers that we’re either about it or stepped off whatever they were on to say, ‘I, too, am about it.’ That’s different than making a Trayvon Martin record just to have one. It’s disrespectful to bring those things up. El and I lead lives that explain what we rap about. We’ve made sacrifices to be who we are. There are some things we’ve given up, and for that sacrifice, I hold that pretty seriously. I’m not saying I’m right and you’re wrong. I’m just saying I don’t appreciate it. Unless that’s something you live for and speak of in some consistent basis, then I don’t have the capacity to believe.
EP: Nobody has to be right all the time. You don’t have to be right. Being wrong is totally acceptable for an artist. But I do think that it’s important for people to constantly keep in touch with multiple sides of who they are and what they’re about in their music. That’s why people like me and Mike have dodged the conscious rapper label. We don’t present ourselves as people who are better than anyone, or who really know. We just engage with ideas and do it in a context of real people who are just as weird and fucked up as anybody else. If Mike were to make a song that directly addressed something like Trayvon Martin as it’s interacted with him, there’s a real context.