By Rahul Lal
Serendipity can be everything, sometimes. To hear Run the Jewels tell it to Rap Radar podcast hosts Elliott Wilson and Brian “B.Dot” Miller, the duo’s members — El-P and Killer Mike — met at the exact right time.
“I say it often because I believe it,” said El-P. “I don’t think that if me and Mike had met a day earlier in our lives, that it would’ve happened, that we would’ve done this together, that I would’ve produced his record and the subsequently became friends and toured together. I produced two records that year, one of them was his record and one of them was my record. He’s on my record and I’m on his record rapping so that was where we first started doing jams together and rapping together. If we had met through a different time, it wouldn’t have happened. We both had to go through hell and actually be okay by the time for this s— to pop off.”
The two were brought together by an executive named Jason DeMarco who suggested that Mike’s music would be perfectly complemented by El-P’s style. Again, the timing was crucial: it came at a point when Mike considered leaving the industry. His wife encouraged him to pursue his dreams.
“I’ve got to give credit to my wife,” he said proudly. “My wife grew up in the housing projects in Savannah, Georgia, she made it out and is one of the most brilliant women and she was just like ‘I’ll let you talk the business talk but you know you ain’t got no business mind. I’m smarter than you.’ She wouldn’t let me quit and it came time where we were introduced by a mutual friend named Jason DeMarco, who is the vice president over at Adult Swim. As Jason garnered more power in the TV world, he gave more opportunities to the musicians that he liked and respected. He’s a real music guy and knows all of it and loves all of it and he rides for the stuff that he loves.”
DeMarco hoped that Killer Mike could follow a trajectory like Ice Cube’s; Cube had a successful solo career after leaving N.W.A., and Mike was leaving the extended OutKast family. “They revamped the record company, for whatever reason, and he said ‘Yo, I’ve always felt like you could create your Ice Cube moment, your Amerikkka’s Most Wanted moment,” referencing Cube’s 1990 solo debut. “I always wanted to do it, so he said ‘Yo, how would you like to make a record where I want you to say all the s— that you could never say on a major label.’ I told him I wanted my Ice Cube meets Bomb Squad moment” — referencing the fact that Cube used Public Enemy’s production team the Bomb Squad on his debut — “And he instantly knew that El and I would be perfect. He had the instinct that it was going to work.”
While El-P has been focused on music from the age of 16 when he was kicked out of school for the last time, he too had his moments of doubting his future in the industry. But his father inspired him to stay.
“I remember him very specifically bringing me down to Wall Street when I was about six and bringing me up around the lunch hour,” he remembered. “Me being there and seeing thousands of people in suits walking – no one looking at each other, everyone sweating and walking, he made me stand still and look at everyone and how no one was smiling and he said ‘Don’t ever do anything that requires you to dress or look like this.’”
The group may have fit in better with hip-hop’s culture during the “golden era” — the late ’80s and early ’90s. “We all grew up with a lot of pride about the grittiness and the truth of what we felt like rap was,” said El-P. “We felt like we did have people that we looked up to like Rakim and Kool G Rap and EPMD and all of the greats that came out and we learned to love the music through. So, when it became pop, it was weird to us because it was an uncomfortable phase where the stuff that seemed to be pop-rap was really not representing what we all thought was the craft and what was dope about rap. It was like yeah, we’re going to blow you up but you have to look different, you’re going to have to make a different type of music… it’s not like we’re going to take what you’re doing and blow it up, it’s like if you put something shiny on and dance a little bit. At the time, everybody was like f— that s— but, I will say it for the record, this many years later, thank God pop-rap is the dominant pop force but in a really genuine way. You have real records and real artists.”
Listen to the entire interview below.