Magazine article Newsweek

Taking a Victory Lap with Run the Jewels; of Hip-Hop, Stephen Hawking and Strip Clubs

Magazine article Newsweek

Taking a Victory Lap with Run the Jewels; of Hip-Hop, Stephen Hawking and Strip Clubs

Article excerpt

Byline: Paula Mejia

When I call Jaime Meline and Mike Render--better known by their monikers El-P and Killer Mike, the brains behind hip-hop dream team Run the Jewels--I am a bit early, and they're wrapping up another interview. Before I mute our conference line, I hear the pair chortle as Mike drawls: "Run the Jewels is really a comedy group."

Don't tell the masses. Upon the release of their free album Run the Jewels II--the second the duo have made--the Internet exploded with praise. The album topped dozens of year-end lists, with critics and listeners digging its irreverence and El-P's imaginative production work. It was equal parts poignant (Mike raps that he respects "the badge and the gun," while fearing the death of his children from police brutality) and punchy (this is the same guy who rapped: "Top of the morning / My fist to your face is fucking Folgers").

They didn't have time to relish in the album's success, though--immediately, they went on an extensive international and national tour circuit, from clubs to major festivals to opening for Jack White at a sold-out Madison Square Garden performance (all that touring explains why their Newsweek interview has been scheduled and rescheduled many times since November). During their coveted downtime, they offered life advice to late-night stoners on Adult Swim, and heart-wrenching tales of love and loss to teenage girls on Rookie's Ask a Grown Man video series online. In the process, Mike became a favorite media pundit, offering salient perspectives around the tensions surrounding race and politics following the Ferguson conflict. Then they'll turn back around with a smile and bring the house down. And even making music for 20-plus years, they insist they're just ambling through it all like the rest of us, as El-P puts it, just relishing in "eloquently stating confusion."

Today, the fellas have released the video for the single "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)" featuring Zack de la Rocha, of Rage Against the Machine fame, through their website. Featuring two people locked in an endless stalemate, the gripping video is intended to "highlight the futility of the violence, not celebrate it," according to a statement from director AG Rojas. Run the Jewels, though, are something to celebrate.

Where in the world are you guys calling from?

El-P: I'm in Brooklyn.

Killer Mike: And I'm in Atlanta.

El-P: A very rare week at home.

Are you kicking it or preparing for the next big thing?

El-P: He's hunting for barbershops, I'm hunting for peace of mind. We tour all the time, and when we get home, while it's technically your down time, there's so much shit that you have to do to maintain your personal life and real life [laughs]. It's hardly ever downtime.

I saw that you were recently in the studio with Massive Attack?

El-P: It was amazing. Those guys are legends and are super smart and down to Earth and funny and great people. They reached out to us and we were like fuck yeah, man. Let's get together!

Is your collaboration with them something we might see on Run the Jewels III?

El-P: I don't know if it's going to be on their record or we're going to something for our record or both. We had a great time in the studio, and we're going to get together and do more.

How have the songs from RTJ II been resonating with you now that you've taken them on tour and played them in different size rooms?

Killer Mike: I thought that when we went into bigger rooms, we gonna lose some of the energy. On our first few runs out [Run the Jewels I], those shows had a real punk rock energy to them. The audience was in our face, we were in their faces. We were literally together. And I worried--is that connection going to be lost? 'Cause a lot of times, there's a gap or area or space [between us and the audience]; and what I've seen happening is that the crowds have grown, but the intensity is still there. …

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