In the Tent at X Games with Run the Jewels
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During this year’s X Games, I had the unique pleasure of sitting down for a chat with hip-hop super group Run the Jewels just before their opening performance for renowned rapper, Nas. The rap duo, comprised of Michael Render aka Killer Mike and Jamie Meline aka El-P, talked about politics, writing process and even advice for high school students. Run the Jewels has released two albums and are currently working on their third EP, Run the Jewels 3.
What do you think of Aspen so far?
Killer Mike: Beautiful
You (El-P) are from Brooklyn and you’re (Killer Mike) from westside Atlanta right?
EP: Born and bred
I want to start with hip-hop today. Many critics placed Killer Mike’s R.A.P Music and El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure as two of the best albums of 2012. You cemented your status as hip-hop greats with the release of Run the Jewels 1 in 2013. Kendrick Lamar gave you (Killer Mike) a shout-out on To Pimp a Butterfly on the song Hood Politics. In the second verse of Sea Legs off of Run The Jewels 1, you (Killer Mike) take subliminal shots at Watch the Throne by Jay-Z and Kanye West. You rap, “There will be no respect for the thrones/ no master mastered these bones/ your idols all are my rivals/ I rival all of your idols.” Given your status as underground kings of hip-hop today, how do you feel about the current state of hip-hop?
KM: That’s one question that we don’t answer. I mean I like cats like Earl Sweatshirt and others but we’re just here to make great rap music.
In 2003, Aesop Rock (not to be confused with ASAP Rocky) released the album Bazooka Tooth on your (El-P) record label, Definitive Jux. You produced and rapped on the song, We’re Famous. You said, “While half the critics claim it every year, ‘hip-hop’s over.’ Hip-hop just started.”
EP: Right. Those nostalgic guys don’t get the credit for the most part. I was talking about all of the underground rappers at the time. There’s always someone that claims that hip-hop is over or dead. Nas said it on Hip-Hop is Dead. That was in ‘05 or ‘06 I think. He was calling everyone out from the fans to the rappers themselves. There is always music that has the true elements of hip-hop. The quote real rap music usually doesn’t make it to the mainstream.
El-P, you’ve been producing since the early 90s. You produced Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein entirely. It is considered as one of the greatest underground hip-hop albums of all time. Do you like rapping or producing more?
EP: Both. I started rapping and producing at the same time. I produced in order to rap. It’s equal for me.
What advice do you have for high school students like me?
KM: Do your thang homie.
EP: I was kicked out of two high schools so I don’t know how good of advice I can give you. I hated school but I was good in English class. School wasn’t what I wanted to do. Instead of school I started rapping seriously. I started a group called Company Flow. That was when I was 17. I’d say find what you love and do exactly that.
Killer Mike, I know that you are an outspoken activist that cares a lot about your community and frankly the world in general. Can you comment on social justice and our country today?
KM: Humans have a short life and they deserve peace, happiness, and joy. There is too much apathy in the American people. It’s a lack of empathy and sympathy.
The night that the Grand Jury decision was made public with the Michael Brown case, you were in St. Louis. You said, “It’s not about race. It’s not about class. It’s not about color. It is about what they kill you for. It is about poverty. It is about greed. And it is about a war machine. A war machine that uses you.”
KM: That was an emotional night for me. I have two sons and I fear for their lives. The night the decision was made, my wife cried. I help her in my arms and cried like a baby. My father was a policeman. I grew up in Atlanta. I know the system. Policing today is becoming more militarized. It’s an invasion of our rights. Everyone’s rights. Kids may do some stupid things but there is no reason they should be shot multiple times while in a defensive position. Like I said, there is too much apathy in the American people.
Killer Mike, you are a proponent of Bernie Sanders. You recently did a six-part interview with him at a barber shop in Atlanta. El-P, I was wondering what your opinion of Bernie is. Do you feel the Bern?
EP: Yeah, I do feel the Bern. You don’t see me voting. The last time I voted was the first time I was able to. I’m voting this year for Bernie. That shows you something right there. I see him on TV and I agree with what he’s saying.
KM: I love the old dude. He’s from Brooklyn right?
EP: I think so. And if you look at the other candidates, I can’t vote for them. Bernie doesn’t accept millions like the others. It’s messed up that a corporation or someone can buy a seat in office.
The system’s broken.
EP: I’d agree. Bernie is doing things the way that it should be done. It’s sad that it’s not done more often.
One last question for y’all. Can you walk me through your writing process?
KM: I vibe out, catch the Holy Ghost, and then I just go. El-P throws a beat on and I just flow. I like to give a definitive statement on the track. We feel it out and rework anything that needs reworking. I usual freestyle it. Sometimes we’ll write things down like with Early. We were working on that and our two verses intertwined almost to give different perspectives. It’s one of my favorite tracks of the album (Run the Jewels 2).