Run the Jewels have no plans to go quiet and introspective

El-P and Killer Mike aren't holding back – on their new record or anywhere else


RUN THE JEWELS as part of TIME FESTIVAL at Fort York Garrison Common (250 Fort York), Saturday (August 6), doors at noon, all ages. $30-$50. ticketweb.ca. See listing.


Rap duo Killer Mike and El-P, aka Run the Jewels, became critical and festival favourites two years after the release of their blunt and explosive second LP, Run The Jewels 2, in 2014. Their success came late by hip-hop standards. Both are now 41 and have spent two decades toiling away in various groups and on solo projects.

They’ve spent this year working on their highly anticipated Run The Jewels 3 album, while Mike has increased his profile as a political activist through his support for U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Ahead of TIME Festival, we spoke with El-P about new music, keeping the group strong and supporting Bernie.

What’s the status of the next record?

The album’s going well. We’re busting our asses to try and make it great. All I can say is we’re going in as hard as we can. It’s pretty much all I’m doing. Our goal was to put it out this year, and it could still happen. That’s what we’re shooting for.

It’s some burn-the-city-down shit. I’ll put it to you this way: we’re not relaxing. This is not going to be our quiet, introspective record. We’re busting through the wall on this one. It’s going to be bigger and meaner and rawer and blunter than anything we’ve done.

Mike is now known for his political activism. You’ve also been tweeting about the election. Are you channelling that energy into music?

It’s part of us. We’re not making Fear Of A Black Planet Part 2. The beautiful thing about Run the Jewels is we don’t hold back, and if we want to say something, we do say it, and if we want to have fun and make jokes, we’ll do that, too. I love the fact that we’ve established that we’ll just as easily make a stupid joke about our dicks as we will say something [political]. You can’t really put us in the political rapper category, and you can’t put us in the lighter side of things either.

What keeps you guys going? 

We are the same age. I’m 41. We grew up at the same time. Fell in love with hip-hop music at the same time. We had 20 years of doing what we were doing, trying it from different angles, and neither of us expected to find each other. I wasn’t trying to find a best friend at age 35. It just happened. That’s been the secret: we both let go of the old ideas of what we thought we needed to do because we saw that the group was not only fun, but powerful.

In an interview with Billboard, Chuck D lamented the shift in focus from groups to solo rappers. Do you feel the same way?

I think he’s right. The focus has been more on individual rappers and it is what it is. The first Run the Jewels record was an homage to all the amazing rap groups we grew up on – in a spiritual sense. In the sense of people getting together in a room and writing together. When you listen to Run the Jewels records you know me and Mike are friends. You know that we’re in the room together. You know we’re making these songs together. This is not some cynical industry thing where we’re sending things back and forth. The collective result of our friendship is what these jams are. You can’t fake that.

You recently tweeted your frustration about the pressure for Bernie Sanders supporters to fall in line with the establishment and abandon their ideals. How do you feel about the way his supporters are being represented in the media now?

It’s bullshit. People have made it damn near impossible for anybody to try and participate with a conscience in the democratic election process. Listen, man: it’s not the followers of someone else that fuck up someone else’s campaign. It’s because you’re not saying the shit that motherfuckers want to hear – that’s all there is to it.

Me deciding to back Bernie was based on what Bernie said, based on what I perceived his character to be and based on the differences between what he was saying and what the rest of the candidates were saying. So yeah, I hear you: Trump is scary. We might all be doomed. At the same time, is that really the fault of the people who were inspired by [Bernie], or is it the fault of the system that allowed that kind of sentiment to rise in its ranks? Everyone is pretty much full of shit. That’s the way I look at it. 

Whoever I vote for, it won’t be Donald Trump, that’s all I’ll say. And I’ll vote because I made a commitment to vote, but it was based on the fact that I liked someone, not because I was scared of someone. I don’t operate out of fear. If you want to inspire me, I’ll get behind you.

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kevinr@nowtoronto.com | @kevinritchie

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