Killer Mike and El-P make up the hip-hop duo Run The Jewels. They’re adored by fans and critics alike for their menacing beats and dexterous wordplay.
Since forming two years ago, they’ve played Madison Square Garden, the Coachella music festival, and they’ve released two acclaimed albums… neither of which could’ve prepared us for the one they dropped this week.
It’s called “Meow The Jewels,” which you can download for free on their website. It has the same rhymes as their last record, but the background beats and music are made entirely from cat noises.
Brendan Francis Newnam: [Laughs.] What the heck are you guys doing? Where does the “Meow The Jewels” come from?
El-P: The depths of hell.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Well that could have had a role… [Killer Mike laughs]. I read that you guys made a fake list of promotional items that your fans could get if they bought your last album, “Run The Jewels II,” in advance. And one of the fake promos was, you said you would remix your album with beats made entirely of cat sounds for $40,000.
And you were joking, but then a bunch of your fans were like, “No, we want this!” They started a Kickstarter to fund it, and, as I understand it, you spoke with them, and once they agreed to give the proceeds to charity, you were like, “All right, we’ll do this.”
El-P: Correct. We weren’t comfortable with it. We were like, “No, this is a joke. We don’t want anybody taking this seriously. We don’t want anyone spending money on this. And also, we don’t want to have to make this album [laughs].”
But, we figured out a way it could be cool. We realized that there was an opportunity to do something using the humor and the community of the people who are supporting us and are interested in it, to put some money towards a good cause. Once we all were on the same page with that, and that it was a charity project, then we got behind it.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Can you remind us what the cause is? Where the proceeds are going?
El-P: Yeah. Well, the $40,000 that we asked for the record was divided up, already has been, equally, between the families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown…
Brendan Francis Newnam: Both of whom were killed by policemen, in Staten Island and Ferguson, Missouri, respectively.
This juxtaposition of goofiness and seriousness is a defining trait of all of your music, and I’m curious: how did you guys think of these two forces coming together? On the one hand, you’re having fun here with a bunch of cat beats. And also, a serious message, like the song we heard earlier is about a police shooting.
Killer Mike: Sometimes, it’s just easiest that way. If you want hard news that hurts, you can watch the news in the morning or afternoon. [That’s] if you want something that’s just going to make you sad.
But, I think comedians have done a great job at telling some really hard truths in a way that people can laugh at, laugh with one another, and endure and push to the next day. I think that our music follows a calling, and follows a…
El-P: Bill Hicks.
Killer Mike: …a Bill Hicks. It’s as honest and raw as a [Richard] Pryor. And it has a level of depth to it, because all humans do. Humans are… emotionally, you know, it goes deep. And I think that we just are unafraid to acknowledge it, in the same spectrum of saying something incredibly machismo and stupid. It makes making music easier. You don’t have to marry yourself to a character you build.
El-P: Right. There’s a magic to being able to be everything that you are on a record.
Killer Mike: Yeah.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Another part of this is, I think people take heart in the way that you guys, from two different backgrounds, mesh. El, you are from Brooklyn. For our radio audience, you’re a white kid from Brooklyn. And Mike, you’re a black kid from Atlanta.
You guys mesh and, you know, there’s clearly such a creative energy and friendship between you to. It comes across in your music. I imagine that people look to you as role models, and I’m wondering how that feels.
Killer Mike: As long as you understand that role models are going to do stupid stuff and mess up, and really, what makes you a role model is being able to sit back down and be like, “You know, I messed up.”
That’s why I respect my grandparents. When they raised us, they said, “Ehh… I shot at your grandfather when we were younger, because he came home with his underwear on backwards. [Brendan laughs.] Maybe I wouldn’t shoot at him again…” But it’s just that you have to understand: role models are not superheroes. We’re not perfect.
El-P: But, we’re very aware that there is something symbolic and something real that can get passed on from that, and I think it’s not contrived. There’s nothing that we really have to say about it.There’s something inarguable and unstoppable about love and friendship.
And when that’s there, and people can see that it’s genuine, it knocks away and pacifies a lot of the complications and arguments that we all tend to throw about at each other, because we don’t understand each other.
Killer Mike: You was preaching there, boy.
El-P: Thank you.
Killer Mike: Mmm. Like, that’s as close as I’ve heard to a white person just catching the Holy Ghost.
El-P: I wasn’t that excited [laughs].
Killer Mike: It was good. You meant something. To me, you did. It means a lot to me, let me say.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Amen. Well, I need you to both preach a little more, because we have two standard questions we ask our guests. The first one is: what question are you tired of being asked?
Killer Mike:You cannot ask us what we think of other rappers or the current state of hip-hop.
El-P: Exactly. Don’t ask us about the state of hip-hop. Hip-hop isn’t your weird cousin that’s addicted to drug that you have to check up on every once in a while. I don’t know what the state of hip-hop is. I just make rap records. I’m not a sociologist.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Our second question is: tell us something we don’t know. And this is something that you guys haven’t shared in an interview before, or it can just be an interesting piece of trivia in the world.
El-P: You don’t know whether or not there is a God.
Killer Mike: That’s a really good one [laughs].
El-P: So, don’t try to tell me, either way.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Mike, am I wrong? You’re religious, no?
Killer Mike: Yeah, what you see me doing is… often times, in my music, I talk about morality and stuff like that. And I use the Bible and stuff like that as a reference, because I was raised in a Christian household and I studied religion in college. But, I’m probably the most un-religious guy [laughs] that you’ll know. I would be the guy who probably says there’s nothing after we die. It’s over.
El-P: Mike is pretty much the atheist of the group [Killer Mike laughs]. I’m pretty much the guy who actually might believe in God.
Killer Mike: But, my aunt is going to call me. You just got me cursed out! Thank you very much. My aunt’s going to call. “What do you mean? Your grandma be rollin’ over in her grave! You don’t believe in Jesus!”
El-P: “Grandma, you’re not going to listen to what that white man said about me!”
Killer Mike: Exactly what I’m going with. Like, “You let them white people confuse you?!?” I’m going straight to it.
El-P: “I love El, but he’s a devil.”
[Ed note: Just in case Killer Mike’s aunt thinks we edited his comments, our entire conversation with Run The Jewels can be heard below.]