HipHopGods - Where Classic Hip Hop Lives

Run The Jewels: The HipHopGods Interview - Part One

Run The Jewels: The HipHopGods Interview - Part One

Talking to Run The Jewels — Killer Mike and El-P — is like talking to two long lost friends who just happen to be really smart, endlessly driven and undeniably talented. After being introduced by Adult Swim’s Jason DeMarco, the Outkast affiliate enlisted the Def Jux legend to producer his 2012 solo album, R.A.P. Music. That collaboration blossomed into Run The Jewels and a lifelong friendship. The rest is history. 

In support of 2016’s Run The Jewels 3, the politically outspoken duo playing shows around the world. We caught up with El and Mike at the MAHA Music Festival in Omaha, Nebraska, where we talked about Mike’s recent Confederacy merch line, their friendship and the possibility of change. 

HipHopGods (Kyle Eustice): You have such a cool success story. Mike, you gotta tell me about your Confederacy merch line. 

Mike: [Laughs] Honestly, I just be hanging out and think, ‘Man this would be some cool shit on a t-shirt.’ It usually ends up on one of our records. Like ‘Do Dope, Fuck Hope’ was some shit Sleepy said in the midst of hanging out. ‘Lie Cheat Steal Kill’ was my take on an old Nike shirt, the ‘Just Do It’ I was like, ‘What if sneaker companies were telling the truth?’ Lie, cheat, steal, kill, win —  that’s what you do. 

Nice [laughs]. 

So with this one, when people always argue, where I’m from, the confederacy from an emotional place, black people are pretty angry and we deserve to be because we were held in bondage under that and other flags. But directly under that flag. From the other side, our white friends whose great-grandparents were soldiers and poor boys get sent to fight war, so there’s a real emotional attachment that I can’t just deny. So, you do have some pride, but the facts of when it hangs over a school building, my tax dollars pay for that. To explain it to people to both sides, it was just easier if this was a fucking sports game. These guys took on the champs and the champs won. And that’s what it is. I don’t mind if my neighbor hangs his flag, if he invites me to his BBQ, I’ll still go, but the minute you try to put it over a tag office, I have a problem with it. That t-shirt was the easiest way to explain what civics in high school explained to me, a couple of guys tried to leave the union, it didn’t work, they got their ass kicked, now we can’t put statues up. 

El: It’s brilliant because you take the emotion out of it like these are the fucking rules buddy. There’s no Nazi flags hanging in Germany. That shit was fucking defeated and they lost. It’s a cold, cold world. Why do mother fuckers have to coddle your god damn fucking emotions? 

To me, you’re two of the most important voices in hip-hop right now. Seems like you friendship is based on similar senses of humor. 

Mike: Thank you.  

El: Same influences, music and intelligence, and me and Mike aren’t unique. We aren’t the first fucking …

Yeah … you had Ebony and Ivory [laughs].

Mike: [Laughs] 

El: Yes, we’re not the first black and white guy to make music together. I think there’s something … people need something genuine. What we have is legitimately genuine for us.

Mike: [Laughs]

There’s no way to fake that. I mean, I see El-P doing his spoken word thing and Mike, you’re by the decks just laughing. 

Mike: It is funny as fuck. 

El: It’s cool to me to think there are kids coming up now that are going to have us as influences … and it’s not even that you know about it, but there’s a kid that’s going to grow up simply is more likely to get to know somebody that doesn’t look like him because he grew up like I did on music and culture of multiple races. Growing up in New York for me, like I told Mike, me and Mike has different histories in the regions we come from, so for me, I always had black friends, hispanic friends …

New York is a melting pot, yeah. 

Yeah, because of the nature of my city, it was very normal for me. It was not for Mike as much. 

Or where I’m from. This [Omaha] is where I grew up. 

Mike: What’s crazy is the unique perspective growing up in somewhere like Atlanta gives you. Instead of being like white Anglo Saxon protestant in the majority of the country, we’re black protestant. So Atlanta, for me, I’m like a white kid from Nebraska essentially. This friendship and other friendships I’ve had have grown me. 

Ah because that’s all you knew essentially, just like me. 

Mike: Exactly. 

I’m struggling with this and I feel like it’s important to address, as a white person, what can I do to help?

Mike: You get a lot of people — when I look at very young men in this country, to whatever slant they skew — a lot of them just want to be a part of something fraternal. What you get by proxy is gang, race gangs, deviant behavior because what you have is young people seeking to be a part of something and the low hanging fruit is often times to point at someone else and abuse them. 

El: There’s always people that know that and they manipulate them. 

Mike: And abuse them. Absolutely. An old, old Vice Lord told me once, there are two types of people in gangs — people who use and people who get used. Another homie said, which one are you? Do I look like anybody that would use me? That’s old evil men run all of these things. My hope is just that what you can do in these times is be brave when the person who oppresses is not around. And embrace and encourage good shit out of other people. 

Political climate is awful, but maybe something good that’s coming out of it is a conversation?

Mike: I believe in change. I believe change is possible.


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