In all honesty, I had not planned to publish this interview today. It was scheduled for two days time upon the release date of Run The Jewels’ latest album RTJ4. Yet in surprise and welcomed news this morning, the hip hop duo made up of Killer Mike and El-P decided to drop the new set of tracks early. When it comes to music, there is often a stringent and strategic plan to releasing new projects and as many artist would agree, 2020 has thrown everything up in the air. When Run The Jewels released their namesake album RTJ3 in 2016, touring was still possible and press opportunities were far more easy to navigate, but despite this, the power of music has never been more obvious today.
In a press release this morning, the lauded rappers and producers announced, “Fuck it, why wait? The world is infested with bullshit so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all. We hope it brings you some joy. Stay safe and hopeful out there and thank you for giving 2 friends the chance to be heard and do what they love.
“With sincere love and gratitude,
Jaime and Mike.”
If you’ve long been a follower of Run The Jewels, then you would be familiar with their hard-hitting tracks and expert lyricism, subtly peppered with political stances and RTJ4 is no different. Amid protests across the globe, it is the apt soundtrack to navigate these uncertain times. Now available as a free download and across all digital platforms, the album features collaborations with and contributions from Pharrell Williams, Zack de la Rocha, Mavis Staples, 2 Chainz, Josh Homme, DJ Premier, and more. And rather than dwelling on the destruction and sadness that has gripped a global population, Run The Jewels are inviting us to simply listen.
Days before riots broke out across America, I sat down with Killer Mike as he spoke with me from his driveway in Atlanta, Georgia on politics and the journey two men took to bring us new music from Run The Jewels.
ICON: It’s been four years since your last album. Why the wait and what has this time allowed you?
Killer Mike: “We toured for a year and a half straight. We’re a touring act. As a rapper we go hard, we drop amazing albums. But in terms of touring, it’s more like something out of the rock world. We try to stay on the road as much as possible. So, I haven’t been home in years. We’ve been together for 8 years; we’ve been friends making music together. But we haven’t really come off the road so the last time we were home and you know when my mother passed away, I was on a plane trying to get home to her. So, I haven’t had an opportunity to be home with my wife, my children, to be in my community, to be in the businesses I own (The Swag Shop). So, I hadn’t been able to give them the length of time they deserve and being home has helped me do that.”
There are so many huge collaborations in this new album. Which one are you most excited about?
KM: “I’m excited about them all for fantastically different reasons. Take for instances, I’m from Atlanta, I’ve been a contemporary of 2 Chainz, he was with DCP and Ludacris at one point and struck out on his own on the underground circuit and redefined himself as an artist properly to the world. I had a similar situation with Outkast… He’s a homie and he’s a friend and someone I consider dope and a genius and extravagant. So that is good for the city of Atalanta and the cities that are hip-hop.”
Would you say this is your strongest work to-date?
KM: “Absolutely. This is Run The Jewels’ best album and I say unequivocally this is going to be one of the best albums of this year.
“I am supremely confident in Run The Jewels because we go to the studio to leave it all on the line for you all.”
We consider it an obligation to out-work ourselves every time because we want to bring the audience a dope as possible version of us every time. So absolutely, I think this is the strongest.”
The third Run The Jewels record came out at the beginning of the Trump administration. Seeing everything that has happened in the last four years, does this next album take inspiration from this?
KM: These albums are made, but these same issues have been going on for 500 years. I think rap being political what we made are social observations, rally and call, analysis. These societal things are happening all the time around us. It’s just artists a lot of times, are given a voice to be a voice for the people whose voice if not amplified because they don’t have the place we do.I think with El-P and I, there are people out in the world doing real work in organising against upheaval and I think that us talking about justice and equality right alongside talking shit about how badass we are and other stupidity that we rap about in bars I think it adds to their fight and it adds to get people to pay attention. So, I’m glad to be a part of helping to mobilise and be a soundtrack for that.”
What do you want to see progress in American politics in the next four years?
KM: “What I would like to see in the next four years is more cities and states coming up with more progressive policies to show as an example to the rest of the country that progress is possible without the same brutal capitalistic ways that we have followed the last 50 and 60 years.
“I would like to see more progression from the ground up.”
I’d like to see more prosecutors who had prosecuted wrongly or badly in the last few years be exited out for a more progressive minded prosecutors who have the ability to say well these people who would normally be on a path to legalised slavery. That’s what prison is in the United States, legalised slavery. Instead of putting them in prison, how could we put them in a program.”
Biggest career highlight?
KM: “One London trip, we performed for around 100,000 [people]. Jeremy Corbyn introduced us and Richard and Robert played all in the same room and that was pretty amazing. Getting the change to meet all your idols and rocking 100,000 people next to one of your best friends… Being on that stage with El, has been a highlight.”
How has your friendship with each other evolved since the beginning?
KM: “We have built more trust, we have fought like 12-year-old twin brothers sharing a bunk bed in a bedroom, we have made incredibly dope music, we have really learnt to be a rap group on the job, and it has been amazing. I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world as it’s not often you find your best friend and rap at 35 years old.”
You’ve been in music for several decades. What have streaming services such as Apple and Spotify done for the underground rap scene?
KM: “What I know is that the people who seem to be able to get my music now are much more diverse because it isn’t limited to physical CDs here and there. It’s easier for people to drop something or to even say check this out. I like the social environment online.”
How will you measure success on your new album?
KM: “We haven’t really measured ourselves; we were happy doing a 300-people room, eight years ago. We were just like we get a chance to drop an album every year or two and we get a change to tour successfully and live like middle class folks, we’re really happy with that. So, I measure success by I’m happy, I’m happy making music with Jaime (El-P). I’m happy that we get a chance to go in front of thousands of people and perform. I feed myself off something I love doing.
“Money is a beautiful tool, but you should arrive to it already happy. So, I’m happy to simply be making dope music with my friends.”