With their brand new video for the track “Early” off of their tremendously successful/critically acclaimed sophomore effort, RTJ2, Run The Jewels continues to prove why they are not only one of the most — if not, thee most — skilled combos in hip hop right now, but also one of the most relevant and important projects in all of music. For those of us that have been unflinchingly huge supporters of EL-P (born Jaime Meline), knowing that he was one of the greatest producers for the last 2 decades, it’s amazing to see RTJ bring him the shine that he’s so long deserved. That’s not to say that such a tidal wave of success hasn’t been a surprise, and to EL-Producto, himself, more than anyone. I never followed “Killer Mike“ Render‘s career anywhere near as closely, although I had long been aware of his established talents peripherally, and the collaboration between the 2 artists has proven a formidable one; an undeniable powerhouse showcasing their individual abilities to each others respective fanbases, while stampeding through the monitors of the previously, uninitiated like a digital Kool-Aid Man Randy Savage (Oh Yeah!!!).
I’ve been following EL-P since his work with the groundbreaking 1990s outfit, Company Flow, so, for me personally, being exposed to the potential of Killer Mike and watching his talents unfold has been particularly exciting. Beyond his earth-shaking voice, magma-like cadence, and razor-sharp lyrical ability, Render has injected particularly powerful social messages into his work that penetrate well beyond the music world. With a barrage of issues to tend to in my own personal life, I had attempted to distance myself from the tragedies surrounding police violence and the greater world, as they began to become more and more prominently exposed through the media — It wasn’t news to me and so, I didn’t want to focus on them. It was Mike‘s heartfelt and incredibly humanizing speech that he gave prior to the RTJ show in St Louis, on the night that the verdict not to indict officer Darren Brown in the murder of unarmed African American teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, was announced that was the final catalyst in making me want to speak out more and add to the incredibly vital conversation surrounding these continued tragedies. During the coverage of the Ferguson grand jury case, in particular, Render was interviewed multiple times on CNN and even wrote an op-ed piece for Billboard.com, becoming more and more visible to those outside of the rap world for his educated perspectives, regarding politics, civil rights, and the militarization of law enforcement, aided by his unique vantage point as both the son of an officer, as well as a victim of profiling. As evidence of the increasing respect that Mike continues to earn as a powerful voice in the community, he spoke on police brutality at NYU in March, and even went on to speak about race relations at MIT, last month, before attending the White House correspondence dinner, later that weekend, where Ariana Huffington offered him a position as a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Tonight (5/15/2015), Render will have his brain picked, yet again, when he appears as a guest on a brand new episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, alongside such figures as director, John Waters; political scientist, Charles Murray, and public policy expert Heather C. McGhee, as part of a panel discussing the current issues of race relations in Baltimore.
For those not entirely aware of the magnitude of success that Run the Jewels and, in turn, the reach of Killer Mike‘s voice has achieved, please note that RTJ2 found itself within the top 10 for just about every “Album Of The Year” list that we saw last year (Rolling Stone – #8), typically within the top 5 (#2 from Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, Consequence of Sound, and AV Club / #3 from Spin and Paste) and, even the #1 spot, on a remarkably high number of them (NPR, The NY TImes, Newsweek, Stereogum, and Pop Matters). It crushed just about everything else that was put out, by almost everyone, and the craziest part about that might be that the record was filled with some pretty serious and potentially abrasive content. Although Mike has showcased politically oustpoken lyricism in the past — check out the track “Reagan” from the 2012 EL-P produced album, R.A.P. Music for one especially straight forward and brutal example — and Meline has never shied away from injecting a healthy amount of raw unbuffered content regarding societal issues (domestic violence, war, government surveillance, etc) into his own work over the years, the first RTJ release was a more lighthearted affair, of sorts — a casual effort made between new friends/collaborators that, although resulted in an amazing release, seemed to be more focused on boasting, shit-talking, and comically over-the-top violence, while leaving the more intense and “real” subject matter for their solo releases. When RTJ2 dropped, it was clear that the duo wasn’t fucking around anymore and had embraced their collab as a very legitimate ongoing project beyond a simple one-off side-project, where all of their perspectives, no matter how intense, were fair game and were going to come out unfiltered. To see something of this nature take so many “album of the year” honors and achieve such critical acclaim is incredibly encouraging, and only operates as another reflection of how important such a message is in current times of growing disillusionment and distrust for our political system.
Following in the footsteps of the powerful black and white video, which focused on the struggles with law enforcement and police brutality, that the duo released for the track “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” featuring Zack de la Rocha (Rage Against the Machine), back in late-March, their new video for “Early” (feat. Boots), is a beautifully animated effort by Bug & Sluzzy that finds the group continuing to explore new impacting ways to address these powerful themes of police states and the reduction of civil liberties. The reason that RTJ remains such a relevant and important voice is not only because of what they say, but how they say it. Their individual talents have been evident for years and their collaboration has been like a fucking powderkeg, but the fact that they are only ever content with moving forward and finding new methods, visuals, and approaches from all angles for everything that they do, while welcoming in new artistic collaborations into the mix… that shit’s just really fucking exciting.
Watch the video now and remember to watch Mike tonight on Real Time With Bill Maher at 7pm on HBO.