They've since been selling out venues across the country on their recent tour. The record is a no-holds-barred representation of the advanced levels they're working on, pummeling through El-P's production with some striking bars and harrowing subject matter. Gimme Noise talked with Killer Mike and El-P about their upcoming show, and the hardest song to finish on their new album.
Your collaborations span different cities and different eras, but seem to work so effortlessly together. Do you actively try to bridge your styles or does it just happen naturally?
El-P: It came naturally, yeah. Definitely. I think that it was actually really easy for us to find common ground. We're just friends. We're not trying to change each other, we're just sort of complementing each other I think. We wouldn't be doing all this if it wasn't our natural interest.
How do you come up with the sort of things you want to write about?
Killer Mike: Shrooms and whiskey.
El-P: Vibing out in a room, listening to beats. Sometimes me and Mike will talk about something ahead of time, what we're feeling, different types of vibes, but for the most part I think it's spontaneous. Somebody usually gets struck by lightning and writes something down or records something, and it kind of dictates where the track moves from there. You know, we go back and try to pick it apart a little bit, add to it, see if you can make it cohesive. It sort of depends on the song. I think it's really about the music and the way that we're feeling at the moment, but it also sort of depends on who beats who to the idea.
What song on the new record was the hardest to write?
El-P: That's a good question.
Killer Mike: For me, the hardest thing to get was that last line of "Crown." It took me fucking months to write that last line. I wrote the verse, the verse kinda popped real easy. I freestyled it at like 2 or 3 in the morning, and then just forever... I didn't have a last line, I didn't have a hook, and it literally just came on the last week of recording shit. For me it was definitely "Crown" was the most difficult one.
El-P: I think "Crown" for me as well, but in a different way. Mike's verse was so good, and it took me about a month to even write my shit after he dropped his shit. I was waiting until I was struck by lightning. I felt he was really inspired on that verse, and I didn't want to do it a disservice by just sort of trying to force something, so I really waited till really the last minute, literally one of the last days that it could possibly happen, and it just hit me in the morning. When it finally did come out, it came out in like 20 minutes, but it was like one month and 20 minutes. I just needed to wait. I just knew I needed to wait and it would hit me as to what my approach was going to be, and once it did hit me, it was like, boom, it just all poured out of me. But it took that long for me to feel like I had something that would justify balancing out Mike's very, very dope, heartfelt verse.
I was happy to see Zach de la Rocha and Gangsta Boo on the same record. I didn't think I'd see the day that would happen.
El-P: [laughs] No doubt. That's one of our crowning achievements.
Killer Mike: All our guests are our friends and associates. All those features you've heard on the record are genuine friendships. Zach and El go way back, I'm friends with [Travis Barker] through Yelawolf, and Boo I've known from being on the scene, being a huge Triple 6 fan, and when she moved to Atlanta, me and her got hella tight. All of them are natural.
El-P: Each one was just organic to the song. Zach came by the studio and listened to the music, and I asked him if he wanted to get on that particular song, because I just fucking envisioned him on it. We approached Boo because we knew we needed Boo for that song, that she was the one that was going to be able to out-filth both of us idiots. She did a good job, with flying colors. Really it's about the song for us. We don't run around trying to find guests and shit, it's more like we have friends and people that are in our lives, and it comes out organically on its own. I think that's been cool, pretty much the whole record happened that way.
The album's Akinyele reference strikes me that you probably geek out about rap music history with each other.
Killer Mike: We do. [laughs]
El-P: Yeah, we do, more because we know it, we know the music.
Are there artists from your respective cities you've introduced to each other?
El-P: I don't know, I think we're pretty much up on most shit. I think a lot of the general cross-references for us were pretty similar, which is one of the reasons why we get along musically. We already knew that we both liked Geto Boys, Ice Cube, UGK, Outkast... We had a lot of the big staples.
Killer Mike: We both were fans of the Juice Crew, early Def Jam, Rick Rubin stuff, EPMD... There's cross-sections. It's like any other friendship.
I feel like Run the Jewels might not have been able to happen even a decade prior in terms of bridging regional styles.
El-P: Yeah, I think it needed to happen when it happened. That's the way we look at it. We've talked about it like, damn, I wish this had happened 10 years ago, but I don't think we would've been in the right headspace for it. Everything happens for a fucking reason, and right now, a record like Run the Jewels can exist that two years ago, no one thought it could even be possible.
And now you have two guys, two different regions, two different backgrounds with similar interests, similar senses of humor, similar hearts, people who care about similar things, making something that now can exist. I think that's a wonderful thing, personally, I really like that. We're not doing anything to break down barriers, we're just friends doing music. But our existence alone could potentially inspire some other kids do some shit, you know? I think that that's cool.
Have you adapted your production style for Run the Jewels, or is it more just a natural progression from how you've been making beats?
El-P: It's a progression. I made this record for Run the Jewels with the idea of what me and Mike can bounce off of and play with that'll fit both of our styles, a good hybrid, something that'll complement us. But if you listen to my music, obviously there's a direction and a progression with it. I'm always just kind of refining what I do, and I try and tailor it to the project. That being said, I am who I am. I make the kind of music I make, and it's my instincts that win at the end of the day, over any type of conversation or any type of preconceived direction. I just kind of do what I feel is dope, and that's it.
Mike, what is working with El-P the producer versus the rapper like?
Killer Mike: It's easy as pie for me. I just feel like I was born to rap over El's beats. It ain't even no question.
Are you working on solo material currently?
Killer Mike: Right now we're just working on touring the world as Run the Jewels, you know, just making sure for the next year, year and a half, touring this record. We'll probably start working on more records in January, maybe do Run the Jewels 3, we don't know, but Run the Jewels 3 is definitely something we promise though. My thing is just, I just travel the easy channel, and this is working, I'm mashing on it. I'm thinking about R.A.P. Music, I'm thinking about all that solo stuff, but with that said, there's an appetite to fill, and we got to do it. Now is all Run the Jewels for me.
El-P: We're gonna be working together for years.
Killer MIke: You guys are definitely gonna get R.A.P Music 2, I just can't promise you when.
El-P: We got a lotta records to do.
What is your favorite song to do live?
Killer Mike: Right now, for me, "Love Again" has been a crazy one every night. I did not expect that to be that big.
El-P: I'm feeling "Oh My Darling Don't Cry" and "Angel Duster." Those are powerful ones. "Oh My Darling Don't Cry" gets the crowd just explosive, and "Angel Duster" just feels like an amazing anthem to do onstage. When it's clicking, it's crazy. It really depends on the night and how it goes over.
I know you guys don't like "state of hip-hop" questions, but I have noticed a decline in many rappers' stage shows at every level, which more often than not include vocal tracks. Your live show is one of the strongest I've seen because you're up there really rapping, really doing what you do on record in front of an audience. How important is the live show for you?
El-P: It's really important.
Killer Mike: I've always imagined rap, part of it is a dope live show, and I take pride in me and El knocking shows down. I'm very proud of our live show. I don't care if we go in front of or behind another rapper.
El-P: We got something special going on with these shows for sure, I'm not even gonna front. I've done a lot of shows in my life, but there's something explosive happening. I think people appreciate the fact that we really, really go for it onstage. It's been such a huge part of our careers. It's incredibly important. If you're telling somebody, hey, here's a record for free, would you like to come to a show, you better have a good fucking show.
I feel like that's an ethic of the era you each came up in.
El-P: I think that might be right, but I also think that there's always going to be people who do get it, who do take the show seriously, and because of that, their careers benefit from it. They get bigger, they do bigger shows, and that's just something that we learned very early. You make it a spectacle, you make it an experience. People are wilding the fuck out at Run the Jewels shows, and it's because of that. There's this energy exchange. And yeah, you're right, a lot of people don't seem to get it, a lot of people don't take it that seriously, but me and Mike have been around long enough to know that we can't fuck around with that. We have to have the best fucking rap show right now, and I would say me and Killer Mike have the best rap show right now.
Killer Mike: Yeah. We're here to kick ass and take names, bruh. Straight up.
Other than Outkast, of course, your performance at Lollapalooza was definitely the highlight for rap performances.
El-P: Well, yeah, you can't fuck with 'Kast. They're like the goddamn Rolling Stones at this point. But in terms of dudes even kinda somewhat on our level, on the same playing field...
Killer Mike: I think if you're mentioning rap shows and you're mentioning Outkast, you're definitely going to be mentioning Run the Jewels right behind them. I don't see nobody else kicking ass like that. I honestly think, if they had had a 30-day run or whatever, we should've been the opening act. We keep the era of rap groups alive. I think in three to five years you're going to hear people talk about Run the Jewels like you hear about Outkast.
Run the Jewels. Thursday, November 20 at Fine Line Music Cafe. SOLD OUT.
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