Artists Of The Year CMU Approved

CMU Artists Of The Year 2014: Run The Jewels

By | Published on Tuesday 16 December 2014

Every weekday in the run up to the Christmas break, we’ll be revealing another of our ten favourite artists of the year. See the full list of artists announced so far here. Next up is Run The Jewels…

Run The Jewels

Killer Mike and El-P, two 39 year old married-with-kids rappers, ripped another big, noisy rent in the hip hop fabric earlier this year when they released ‘RTJ2’, their latest LP as Run The Jewels.

It’s a collaborative mine that’s proven richer than anyone, least of all the pair themselves, can ever have anticipated. At least, richer than you might have expected at this point in the two men’s respective careers, give that, at their age, many an MCs’ best years, and bars, are behind them. That’s certainly not so with ‘RTJ2’, a record alive and twitching with the vital signs of the pair’s respective personalities, strengths and skillsets, which have shone for so long solo, and shine all the stronger when linked together over one of El-P’s dense, serrated beats (which, aside from the pair’s ‘chemistry’, remain one of their most kingly assets).

Both consistently insistent forces in hop hop since the 1990s, NYC-based alternative chief Jamie ‘El-P’ Meline and Michael ‘Killer Mike’ Render – an Outkast associate and old pro of the Atlanta circuit – first banged heads circa Render’s 2012 LP ‘RAP Music’, which El-P produced. Both say they felt like doing something less “intense” than ‘RAP Music’ and its El-P-released parallel, tar-black dystopia ‘Cancer 4 Cure’, and so the two joined voices like it was the most natural thing in the world, releasing ‘Run The Jewels’, their first LP, last year as a free download (pushing sales of the physical release), and then following it with a similar free giveaway of ‘RTJ2’ back in October.

“We wanted to just jump in and do something”, El-P tells Rolling Stone of the project’s modest-sized origins. “Neither of us really felt like we wanted the next thing to be something really heavy. We didn’t want it to be our next big statement in terms of our solo careers. We just wanted to keep a vibe going that we had: having fun together and having a great time working together”.

“The most beautiful thing about making this record was we made [it] from the standpoint of ‘We don’t give a fuck, it’s dope’, and that was it”, adds Killer Mike.

“When we do something, it feels good” he goes on. “For the most part, man, it’s just a celebration of dope. It’s like two classy veterans that end up on the same team. Like [the way I see it], I’m at the championship. And I know I’m gonna get it with this little ginger motherfucker right here. There’s no question in my mind. There’s nothing like waking up knowing that. And that’s straight up – we’re unfuckwitable”.

And he’s dead on, the real beauty of Mike and El as Run The Jewels is exactly that: it isn’t contrived… it just ‘is’, and is dope, end of conversation. Tracks like muscular ‘RTJ’ intro ‘Jeopardy’, which kicks off with a pumped-up clip of Killer Mike shouting in the booth, and ends on a lethal El-P line (“‘Run The Jewels’ is the answer, your question is ‘WHAT’S POPPIN?'”), are the combined two-way noise of the duo having the time of their lives, matching A-game alpha male verses like hi-fives, and playing off the hard-earned lyrical athleticism of their 20 years apiece in the game.

But Run The Jewels are about a lot more than that hard-faced ‘unfuckwitable’ bravado and verbal agility, though no doubt those sit high in the RTJ armoury. But it’s also the comic book-style conviction you come away with; having heard any one of their songs or watched or read any interview, you feel both Mike and El are acting on the side of right, or at least trying to… that they’re two good men doing their best in a weary world.

Not that it’s an easy fight; on timely ‘RTJ2’ title ‘Early’, Mike, a family man and son of a police officer, a short-lived crack dealer and lifetime activist who “[respects] the badge and the gun”, lets fly on “pigs” who’d stop and frisk him for no good reason, in front of his wife and son.

Long and constantly vocal against “gang-like” police brutality and racial profiling in the US, this year Mike became an international spokesman for the protest over the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black eighteen year old, in Ferguson, Missouri. Having spoken about the situation both on CNN, and written about it in a painfully insightful op-ed for Billboard, he was also filmed giving a speech ahead of a Run The Jewels show, hours after a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Brown.

“You motherfuckers got me today”, said Mike, his voice cracking. “You kicked me on my ass today, because I have a 20 year old son and a twelve year old son, and I’m so afraid for them today”.

“But I can promise you, if I die when I walk off this stage tomorrow, I’ll let you know this: it is not about race, it is not a class, it’s not about colour, it’s about what they killed [Martin Luther King Jr] for. It’s about poverty, it’s about greed, and it’s about a war machine. It’s about a war machine that uses you. So as I go tomorrow, I might go the day after, the one thing I want you to know is that it’s us against the motherfucking machine!”

To close, for now, from ‘RTJ2’ this is ‘Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)’: