It’s no secret how incredibly easy it is to talk shit about rap and hip hop these days; just look at youtube. And I know that rap fans have been disillusioned with a lot of the material that’s been generated throughout the majority of the last two decades, so it’s nothing new, but I challenge anyone with no prior history to take the Pepsi challenge between Chief Keef and 50 Tyson, and then tell me which one of them is rapping with autism. Even my favorite recent artists, who I’m really excited about right now–Freddie Gibbs (gangster rap), Joey Badass (golden age lyricism), and 100s (space-age pimp raps)–are resurrecting and putting new spins on genres which had previously been all but abandoned, or had the life sucked out of them through repeatedly poor execution. While the golden age of hip hop is widely considered to have ended 20 years ago, and the claims that “hip hop is dead” have continued to increase exponentially since then, you’d have to be blind to believe that there haven’t been any genuine classics released throughout that time period, keeping this artform breathing. Sure, sometimes you have to wait quite a while for that jaw dropping LP to finally surface, but when it does, you know it. Today a brand new project that we’ve been highly anticipating is finally hitting the web and the team behind it is about as promising as they come. Best of all, it’s being released absolutely free.
Run The Jewels is the self-titled debut from the duo of Brooklyn super producer/emcee, Jaime “EL-Producto” Meline and Atlanta rap staple, Killer Mike. Taking their name from a term that refers to robbing someone, while demanding that they strip themselves clean of their valuables, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between the title of another higher profile rap collab and wonder if it’s not, at least partially, a statement directed toward them, highlighting the contrast between what they each represent.
Run the Jewels was recorded in the wake of both EL and Mike releasing truly powerful and critically acclaimed solo releases last year, each of which found themselves on multiple best of 2012 album lists. Their collaborating and friendship began while Producto was still in the middle of trying to finish up his own LP, Cancer 4 Cure[Fat Possum]. I believe that he produced only a single track for Mike, at first, when the Atlanta rapper tried to recruit him to produce the entire release for him. Hesitant at first, due to his own responsibilities, Meline eventually agreed and it ultimately benefited both of their projects in ways that they couldn’t have foreseen. The New Yorker and the Southern rapper may have seemed like an unlikely pairing at first, but it was apparent early on that they had similar goals and visions, musically. The EL-P-produced R.A.P. Music [Williams Street] showed Killer Mike spitting intense, personal, sometimes political, and always highly lyrical, verses over heavy beats, reminiscent of the energy and immediacy demonstrated in the old school Bomb Squad-style production on albums like Ice Cube‘s breakout Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. Meanwhile, Mike not only provided a verse on the Cancer for Cure track, “Tougher Colder Killer,” but he also helped to generate some of the momentum that got the album finished, altogether.
Part of the original inspiration for Meline behind C4C was the loss of fellow rapper and close friend, Camu Tao, who the album was dedicated to. When I interviewed EL-P last year for issue #34 of Ghettoblaster Magazine (buy that shit here), I mentioned how it seemed almost like things had come full circle for the 2nd half of the album to involve a brand new friendship blossoming during it, and asked him about what effect, if any, Mike had on the overall product. Here’s his partial response:
“…I guess I was really lucky getting to work with Mike, because he just brought a great energy and I think that did carry over into making the record. Y’know, kind of inspired me. I sort of did the first part of the record before working with Mike, then I took a break and I worked with him, and then I finished up the record. It definitely kept me going, gave me an extra push, because Mike is just so energetic. He’s been very positive in my life, just having that energy around me. He’s been very encouraging.”
That energy carried over into last year’s Into The Wild Tour, as well, which brought them out on the road with Mr Muthafuckin eXquire and Despot, to perform one of the most high energy and engaging shows that I’d ever seen, especially for a hip hop crowd. They also rode out that momentum to churn out this Run The Jewels release, which they approached in a much lighter manner than their extremely personal solo efforts. While C4C and R.A.P. Music were viewed more as important statements dictating the next milestones in their respective careers, Run The Jewels was approached much more casually, with pure enthusiasm and simple love of the artform.
Here’s a video of Killer Mike discussing the project in his own words:
Another incredibly impressive aspect regarding each of their previous albums is that, although their creations had a good deal of overlap, they sound entirely unique and different from one another. As EL further explained to me during our conversation, “It’s my job to help (Mike) make his record. It is not my job to make my record and have him rap over it.” So, while a collaboration between the two artists may not be altogether brand new, Run The Jewels definitely differs from what has come before it, by presenting us with our first opportunity to really witness them from a new perspective where their styles are blended more equally as an actual duo.
Of course, Run The Jewels is absolutely free to download, but there are also limited edition vinyl and compact disc versions available through the Fools Gold label, for those that want something solid to hold on to. CLICK HERE to check the various bundles available for the release, which include shirts, a poster, and even an “herb grinder.”
[It will sign you up for the Run The Jewels email list]
FULL TRACK LIST:
1. Run the Jewels
2. Banana Clipper [ft. Big Boi]
3. 36″ Chain
5. Sea Legs
6. Job Well Done [ft. Until the Ribbon Breaks]
7. No Come Down
8. Get It
9. Twin Hype Back [ft. Prince Paul]
10. A Christmas Fucking Miracle
Beginning with the timeless Company Flow classic, Funcrusher Plus [Rawkus] in 1997, through his 2 solo releases on his own Definitive Jux label–Fantastic Damage (2002) and I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (2007)–and, eventually, Cancer 4 Cure, EL-P established the pattern of coming out with a new, groundbreaking and forward-thinking full-length release every 5 years. The random, yet impressive, side project, instrumental, and/or megamixx would be sprinkled in between them, of course, but the major projects would be regularly delayed like clockwork. This new found productivity for EL is really exciting for a fan of his work like myself, because he’s discovered a way to produce at a quicker rate without sacrificing quality. I’m sure that putting Def Jux on indefinite hiatus in 2010 has freed him up to focus on his own work, rather than that of all of his signed artists, but there also appears to be a new mindset and inspiration responsible for keeping him moving forward. I waited for years to hear a new album from him and to finally catch him live. Now he’s pumping music out regularly and already coming back through Seattle for next month’s Capitol Hill Block Party, after playing the Sasquatch! Festival last month and making a stop in town last year. This is a good time to be a fan of EL-P and rap music in general.
FULL LIST OF TOUR DATES