Building upon a rapport consolidated by their work on each other’s respective solo LPs from 2012, El-P and Killer Mike joined forces last year to form Run The Jewels, resulting in a self-titled album that has gone on to capture attention equal to, if not greater than either member’s previous work. Speaking from his Brooklyn studio, rapper-producer El-P attempts to rationalise Run The Jewels’ runaway success.
“We couldn’t be happier,” he beams. “Surprised? Yeah I’m always surprised when I get to wake up and do what I love to do, I don’t take this shit for granted. We loved the album, we thought it was a great album, and we’re happy people responded to it. You can’t hope for much more as a professional artist. If people like your shit, it’s a good day.”
El-P and Mike each possess a distinct legacy built over the course of a decade, and are both in career-best form with solo records R.A.P. Music (Killer Mike) and Cancer 4 Cure (El-P). It was quickly apparent that Run The Jewels were becoming a force in their own right when fans of the duo were not necessarily well-versed in the soloists’ back catalogues.
“It’s definitely a phenomenon, it illustrates that Run The Jewels is its own thing with its own trajectory,” says El-P. “When we started touring this record, we were setting the show up where it was going to be hour-long sets of each of our solo material, then come out and do Run The Jewels. Three or four shows in we started to realise we were opening for Run The Jewels. Like, ‘Oh shit, there’s a whole group of motherfuckers here just for Run The Jewels. Maybe an hour-long set from each of us isn’t necessary.’ We started trimming that shit down to half an hour. Which is not to say anything except the record is hot, people are responding. In a lot of ways, it just feels like a fuckin’ fresh start, creatively. It’s got bigger than we expected.”
Formidable rappers in their own right, El-P and Killer Mike seem to push each other to the next level with their Run The Jewels rhymes. “I’ll put it to you this way – we’re like sparring partners. When you throw someone into the fucking ring with a nasty-ass boxer, you need to fight your ass off. We’re on the same team, but we are making each other sharp. To be able to spar and bounce off someone as charismatic, as interesting and as dope as Mike is exciting. We both feel like we are pushing each other to make better shit. That’s what being in a group is all about – finding someone who pushes you, who inspires you, with a balance of power in terms of what you’re doing creatively. That’s what I’ve got with Mike. We go at it; when Mike sets something down I know I have to come up with something just as good, if not better.”
More than a few rapper-producers tend to move away from the production side of things as they progress. Not so with El-P, who retains a passionate commitment to the art of beatmaking. “This is what I do, this is my life. There’s a reason for it; I’m obsessed with it. I could never find myself in a position where I’m outsourcing what I do. Physically creating the record is just as important to me as writing the record. The process of making the music is just as important as the end product – it’s what I do every day, and I don’t want to be cheated out of a single moment of that.”