I know that I’m in the minority, but I’m really hoping for rapper/producer, EL-P (born Jaime Meline) to put out a brand new solo release at some point in the foreseeable future. But with all that Run The Jewels — his project with Atlanta staple and bestie for life, “Killer Mike” Render — has accomplished since their 2013 inception, and with how prolific they continue to prove themselves in all possible dimensions, it may be awhile yet before that ever even comes close to becoming reality. And, to tell you the truth, once it did, I would, most likely, just begin to start anticipating the next RTJ effort anyway.
EL‘s work as a solo artist versus what he puts out as part of Run The Jewels, is just simply a fairly different entity. I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding about my love for RTJ — we were all over this project, before they even dropped their breakout debut as a free download — and maybe it has something to do with my own obsessive personality and/or how much I used to enjoy leg wrestling my own anxieties after melting 10-strips into my face as a youth, but there has always been a certain level of precision in an EL-Producto solo effort, that a loved; a quality that felt like it was wrought from every last piece of himself, scraped from his bone, and that each blood-spattered verse was being delivered by a man climbing out of the grave, just regaining his breath, and with a lot he’d been waiting to get off of his decomposing chest meat. To me, a Producto album is riveted together by the audio equivalent of a grainy movie scene where our hero cackles after tasting his own dripping gunshot wound, as he continues to mob and lurch forward. The biggest issue with these releases was that it consistently took 5 years between each one of them to drop, like clockwork. RTJ, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have the ability to cease pushing material out. And why should they? The quality of what they’re doing is undeniable. Everything that they touch is fucking gold.
Exhibit A: Their brand new video for the track “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” an immediate standout from their remarkable sophomore effort, RTJ2. As Jaime and Mike explain, the video was “Directed by Ruff Mercy, the man behind the amazing video for ‘Run the Jewels’ from RTJ1, ‘LCS’ was shot on a cold London night in a dreary outdoor parking lot. And it was awesome.”
Meline‘s solo work has often felt like a painstaking affair for him, meticulously constructed by a perfectionist locked away in his dungeon; his head in a vice, spine patched into the motherboard, and his plasma injected into every single compact disc being stung with the laser. The collaboration with Killer Mike, on the other hand, feels like the murky single panes have been busted out with a grimy rag to let the air drift in and the light beam through the swirling dust; the cinder block walls, demolished into rubble. Alone, EL comes across like Dr Frankenstein with each finished project being the monster he’s released unto the world. With RTJ, the good doctor is taking his brutal patchwork humanoid out on a stroll; side-by-side, trampling through the village, stomping down cottages, and throwing molotovs. The way the Brooklyn producer and the underground Southern Rap icon meld together so seamlessly is beyond impressive. Together, they are like beast mode on wax and they never miss a beat, while bringing that infectious high energy routine with them on the road (you can read our review of RTJ’s August Seattle show, here). It’s effortless, because it’s not really a “routine” at all, and it’s really more of a compulsion or necessity than any type of “effort.”
But as Meline touched on when I spoke with him back in 2012, Render isn’t really a distraction from his individual work, but rather a “motivator.” The two first worked together when he produced the critically acclaimed, hard-hitting 2012 LP, R.A.P. Music for Killer Mike, an album which he was reluctant to get involved with as he was halfway through finishing up his own album, Cancer 4 Cure, at the time. EL explained that Mike is “encouraging” and that his “energetic” presence actually “kept [him] going” and “inspired” him through the process, as he was finishing C4C. I’ve heard tale of a sequel to R.A.P. Music being on the horizon (something else we’re truly looking forward to), so there may be a new solo effort for EL in the future as well, but until then, I guess we’ll all just have to deal with more music from one of the biggest and most refreshing forces in hip hop today. Producto ran the Def Jux label for a decade, but he has never been this noticeably productive in his entire career, and the fact that he managed to enter the scene, 2 decades ago, with one of the most important and influential hip hop crews of all time, in Company Flow, only to eventually wind up in one that’s equally as vital and explosive this many years later is no accident. If EL-P is anything, he’s a man that is set on moving both himself and his medium-of-choice forward and into new, previously untread territory. Sharks can’t swim backwards, after all.
RTJ shook the world with their first release, but last year’s followup cracked the Earth and shifted the plates even wider, with RTJ2 earning “Album of the year” honors from such big shots as Pitchfork, Stereogum, Spin, Complex, and even USA Today, along with breaking the top 10 (usually top 5) from just about everyone else who even chose to make a list.
One major difference and step forward between their debut and their latest effort is that, while the first release was more of a light-hearted break from the intense individual pressure that they put on themselves when crafting their respective solo works, the subject matter has become slightly deeper and more intense, as the duo embraced the project even more as a full time gig, accepting that this is where their true efforts and energy would be directed. Mike’s verses, especially, add a whole new dimension to the work. Last year, he provided one of the most powerful voices for, not just the issues regarding such topics and Ferguson and the Eric Garner cases, but for social change in general. This, of course, is not only a reference to the messages expressed through the music, but by Mike as a public figure speaking out through various appearances, televised and otherwise.
Run The Jewels embodies the pummeling ethos that their name suggests, of taking what they believe is theirs and demanding that all others scatter, abandoning their thrones. Relentless, both sonically and lyrically, as well as in their sheer volume of output, we’re not even through the first month of 2015 and the duo has already knocked out more impressive moves than most outfits will pull off throughout the entirety of year. This month started off with a track being utilized in a promotional spot for the NFL playoffs and just recently found Marvel announcing 2 separate comic book covers — one for an issue of Howard The Duck and another for Deadpool — paying tribute to RTJ‘s trademark gun and fist logo. Their reach is no joke.
Beyond that, 4 more murals paying tribute to the logo and the duo that it represents have gone up in various international locations as part of their worldwide “Tag The Jewels” initiative (our original coverage of the project has, yet again, been updated accordingly).
As for the music itself, the intention to begin work on RTJ3 has already been announced. Meanwhile, EL-P has begun to post tiny 15-second work-in-progress Instagram video snippets for the tongue-in-cheek pre-order option-turned Kickstarter campaign-turned reality, known as Meow The Jewels, which will entail RTJ2 being reimagined with the instrumental tracks being comprised of samples from real life cat sounds.
But one of the most interesting things that the boys have been involved with is a collaboration of sorts with the BBC and their new experimental platform/”media centre,” Taster. Filmed around and during their sold-out performance in London in December, the new interactive documentary works like somewhat of a choose-your-own-adventure, allowing the viewer to decide whether to follow Jaime or Mike as they go through pre-show rituals, discuss their various projects, address politics, and more.
So where is R.A.P. Music 2 and/or the next great EL-P solo effort? The answer is simple, these two respective artists are simply following wherever the energy is and the inspiration takes them, right now. Mike has even stated that he was working on 4 different projects, at the same time, at one point, and that he would wind up determining what to pursue based on whichever one drew him toward it the most. At least for now, Run The Jewels is the project that has the real momentum, as well as the quality to support and validate it. In fact, nothing is really making the case for them to not keep this beast rolling. It’s where their hearts are and that’s being reflected in the product, the same way that these 2 have always put everything they had into whatever they touched. The fact that the people have gotten behind it to such a degree is as much of a blessing and encouragement as it is a surprise. Here’s to everyone continuing to collectively assist in pushing this hoopty up the hill, indefinitely.
Last night RTJ performed as part of the Sundance Film Festival festivities in Park City, Utah. The remainder of their currently scheduled — and festival packed — upcoming live dates are listed below.
1/30 – New York City – Madison Square Garden (w/ Jack White)
3/7 – Dominican Republic – Isle of Light Fest
3/17 – 3/22 – Austin – SXSW
4/11 & 4/18 – Coachella – Coachella
5/22-5/24 – Boston – Boston Calling Fest
6/6 – London – Field Day Fest
6/7 – London – The Forum
6/11-6/14 – Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo
7/2-7/4 – Keflavík, Iceland – ATP Iceland
8/28-8/30 – Reading, UK – Reading and Leeds Fest