Michael Render (massive verbal firebrand Killer Mike) and Jaime Meline (meddling miscreant wordsmith El-P), have been doing this for a while. Only a month separates their spring birthdays, both rappers turning 38 this year. Their first collaborative album under the moniker Run the Jewels is some of the most incendiary work they have made in their densely rich careers.
It’s a record that is truly all them, with very few cameos to grace the album besides the always terrific Big Boi and the legendary Prince Paul, who steals the show playing the overtly sexual and ridiculous Chest Rockwell, a character concocted in the wild mind of Meline. The album is ferocious, uncontainable, and humorous in a manner that is often unachievable in hip-hop. It manages to not take itself seriously but absolutely shake you at the same time. We caught up with the mischievous masterminds and talked about NYPD policy, fan boy moments, and an infamous sex tape.
What does Run the Jewels mean to you guys?
El-P: It’s a stick up man. It’s just an attitude, you know. Fuck all of you. Fuck your fancy shit. Run all that. Run the jewels is kind of just like, “We’re taking this shit.” It’s something that meant something to us when we were kids.
MIKE: It harkens back to childhood for real.
So if somebody said that, shit was going to go down?
MIKE: Hell yeah.
El-P: Run the jewels is not all you’ve heard or whatever, because I personally didn’t have jewels, but I definitely heard, “I like those sneakers.”
MIKE: Yeah, this is the worst shit. You’re sitting on the fucking train and somebody walks up to you and says, “What size them shoes?” Aw, man that’s the worst. That fucks up your whole day, when three dudes are standing over you like, “What size Jordans are those?’ You know you gonna run your shit or you gon fight like a motherfucker.
Were you bigger than a lot of kids?
MIKE: You’re goddamn right I was bigger. But I was short and fat. I was just willing to fight. I learned very early all you have to be is willing to fight. Like if you look in the jungle, most predators don’t go after something that’s willing to fight. They go after the old and weak or the young and un-smart. So for me, I just took the attitude, everybody was a victim and a criminal at that time. I might rob a kid for some Jordans today, I might get robbed for a Starter jacket tomorrow.
El-P: I ran a lot. I did a lot of running. I was the ultimate, all-time track star for ten blocks. I was the fastest runner in the school. There were periods of time when I would run home from school. Truthfully though, [Run the Jewels] is not really about robbing motherfuckers. For us, it’s about an attitude. It was just ultimately the funniest, toughest shit that we could think of that meant something to us. Now we’re in the position of saying Run the Jewels. It’s in the context of being creative artists. We’re not criminals. We’re weirdos. We make records.
When you write songs, do you have to be in the same space?
MIKE: Same place together. The whole album was made together. Jaime is the producer so of course he’s more intricate and had to do more away from us. But our writing process is together. If we’re separate, it means I’m in another part of the room. I like being in the same space. A part of being in a partnership or group is being able to turn to the other person and say, “Is this dope?” If you’re not writing in the same room, it would just feel kind of weird to me.
El-P: I don’t think we could have come up with the same atmosphere that came together on this record. I actually kind of won’t make records with people in a separated circumstance, unless it’s a remix or something like that. But for the most part, I believe in locking yourself away and creating something that emanates from your partnership.
And you guys have both done independent and group work before, so how did this record go down in terms of the creative process?
El-P: Now we’re just fully formed humans, fully formed individuals with our own careers, our own ideas, and we’re not worried about shit. We don’t have any issues anymore. When you’re a kid, you got issues. You don’t really know how to work shit out or how to work with people that well or deal with taking the music to the public. It’s totally natural, there’s nothing on the line for us except are we going to make something that makes each other smile? Is this the shit we want to make and are we going to be proud enough to rep this shit? That’s all I care about.
You have a song that’s about drones over Brooklyn. In terms of government surveillance, what would be the worst thing the NSA could find that you’ve searched on Google?
MIKE: I went back and looked at Kim Kardashian’s sex tape a week ago. I’d be ashamed for people to know that.
MIKE: Because she’s someone’s woman now, you’re not supposed to do that. That’s just not right. And Ray-J’s dick was the costar.Even though it’s big props to Ray-J, I didn’t like the co-star nearly as much as I liked the main act.
Both of you are very outspoken about politics. What do you think of the current New York political scene?
MIKE: You mean Bloomberg and stop and frisk and how you can’t buy Doritos and shit?
Right, New York seems like a weird place right now.
El-P: I think America’s a weird place right now. I think that New York has been test marketing new and brutal police tactics for a while. What do I think about it? I think that everybody who works for the government, for the most part, who have serious ambition, is nothing but a fucking power hungry little monkey who is desperate to please their masters who are behind closed doors. I think Bloomberg is a fucking piece of shit. I think that politicians are just people who are too ugly to get into Hollywood. I don’t respect them. I don’t appreciate the people who are running the show.
In less serious conversation, one of the funnier moments on the album is the Chest Rockwell character. [Everyone laughs] How did that come together?
El-P: I’m friends with Prince Paul. I’ve been friends with Prince Paul for years. I did the Handsome Boy Modeling School records with him and Automator. Paul has always been someone who has really supported me and I just had this idea and called Paul up and asked if he’d be into it. And he said he was 100 percent into it. He came to the studio and we just talked and told him what I was looking for. And he did what he did.
MIKE: I miss that shit.
El-P: Yeah, it was really special to me and obviously having a Prince Paul skit on your record is something that to me and Mike, really means something to us. We grew up on that dude and his humor. He brought humor to hip-hop in a way that hadn’t been there yet. He’s a genius. It just seemed like when we said who was going to be on this record, we knew Big Boi. I was like, “I want Big Boi on this shit.” He’s gotta be on this shit. I don’t want any other rapper.” Then one day, a light bulb went off in my head and I was like, “I’m calling Prince Paul, fuck this shit.”
MIKE: I did an interview with him. I had a show at Brooklyn Bowl and apparently it was sponsored by Scion or something. Paul did this mock talk show and he had me sit down as an interview and shit. I was just on some fanboy shit the whole day. I was like, “I’m fucking talking to Prince Paul.” I said, “I would love to work with you in the future.” You know how you usually say you want these things to happen and sometimes they don’t. Then I left and I was talking to Jaime about how crunk he was and he said, “Well I know him,” and then, “I got Paul on the record” and I was like “Oh my fucking God, the world is ending.”
Who else makes you have fan boy moments?
El-P: So many people. I mean we are truly, truly fans of music and hip-hop music. And that’s what, in a lot of ways, this record is about. In a lot of ways, this record is an homage record to all of the great record that gave us that feeling when we were kids. As you get older, you start to really define yourself and really make records that are incorporated into your story. You have a story to tell because you’re a man. This record in a lot of ways was our record about rap. Even though, it wasn’t directly about it, it was inspired by the feeling that we got. We are holding onto this shit. We’re holding onto being fans.