I’ve been a huge fan of EL-P‘s work for years, from Company Flow through his time running the underground powerhouse, Definitive Jux label, and we’ve been hyping the Run The Jewels project, since before the first album even dropped as a free download in 2013. We caught Killer Mike and EL-P when they toured on the same bill together to promote their respective solo albums in 2012 — back when you could find EL sitting outside of a 650-person-capacity club, smoking a cig with nobody bothering him — and shook our fists at the meager attendance, when they returned to Seattle as RTJ in 2014, giving one of the most impressive live performances of the year to a shamefully half-empty venue. While others complained about Macklemore winning the Grammy that year, we’d already checked out the minute RTJ2 wasn’t even nominated. Both EL and Mike have put decades into their careers, focusing on quality and substance above all else and neither ever achieved the success that they rightfully deserved until teaming up to make an album devoid of the stress and pressure they’ve placed on themselves throughout their other work. The first RTJ LP was crafted and released without expectations and it was that loose organic approach that wound up being the key. There was a spark when these two came together that is undeniable; they are a force. Now with their third album, RTJ3, continuing to yield them more and more critical acclaim, the rap duo shows no signs of slowing down, now heading out for the sold-out European leg of their Run The World tour. At this point, there’s no question that RTJ is planning to ride this momentum full-force until the wheels fall off, attempting to keep a speeding space-age locomotive on the rails to the best of their ability, and are doing a fairly admirable job, considering. They are doing HUGE things right now and it’s amazing to watch, yet for some of us that have been so amped on the project since the beginning, it might all be starting to feel like a little too much.
This can be the double edged-sword of being a music fan, the idea of wanting your favorite artists to achieve widespread recognition and then, once they have, questioning what, if anything, has been sacrificed. Ticket prices go up, the intimate venues turn into sold-out arenas, the dynamic of the crowd changes, etc. I’ve actually been of the personal opinion, for quite a while, that EL and Mike should take a break after promoting this release to put out solo albums, hoping that EL-P has secretly been working on them on the side, already. But here’s the truth, with RTJ, both members have proven more prolific than they’ve ever been, and that’s not only from a musical perspective. On the plus side are ventures like the international Tag The Jewels graffiti project, or how Killer Mike, in particular, has been doing amazing things with his increased notoriety, from endorsing Bernie Sanders and speaking out regarding other vital political causes, to supporting his community, promoting black owned business and banking. So, if you’re one of us who feels, at times, like these guys might have begun indiscriminately signing off on EVERYTHING on the merchandising tip — maybe you questioned their decision to release an exclusive tape through Urban Outfitters, or, like one of my friends who has easily repped EL and RTJ harder than anyone, thought the RTJ “You’re In Luck” shamrock beer shirt only promoted “douche bag, bro culture” — there’s a lot of great things coming out of these dudes and a lot of powerful medicine being delivered, which might even be more essential for those who, at least right now, can only taste ice cream.
We may not be able to get behind every single move they make 100%, but we definitely respect them as artists and it seems like any time we begin to question if this jet-fueled boxcar is finally about to fly off the track, they pull us back in with the only thing that ever really mattered… the art. Today, Run The Jewels does that yet again, to great effect, by dropping a video for the song “Legend Has It,” their first so far from RTJ3. The song itself touches on why RTJ has grown so steadily and with such impact, as they maintain their trademark aggression while addressing how aware they are of their present success, infiltrating a system to a certain extent; expressing their appreciation for a fanbase willing to trust in and follow them; and providing plenty of convincing reassurance that they understand exactly where they’re at, right now, and have everything under control. So far, visuals have definitely proven one of their strong suits and they’ve only earned additional points by bringing in Brian Beletic, 15 years after he delivered one of my all time favorite videos for the track, “Deep Space 9mm” off of EL-P‘s 2002 debut solo album, Fantastic Damage. With the “Legend Has It” video, Beletic proves that his eye for affecting shot angles and ability to edit a compelling story together, have only improved — this time, he’s placing the duo in a rigged police lineup, while they’re hallucinating on LSD.
The director offers the following insight: “The video for ‘Legend Has It’ plays with the theme of guilty until proven innocent. We live in a world where the stronger the truth the greater the opposition. In this story EL-P and Killer Mike are in a police lineup and the cards are stacked heavily against them. But why is that?”
Run the Jewels adds, “this video is a worst nightmare scenario. High on acid and caught in the system. Pitted against icons of innocence in a police line up that doesn’t feel real. No bunnies were hurt in the making of this video.”
Watch it below…
Along with the new video, Run The Jewels has also officially announced their contribution to this year’s Record Store Day. The limited edition screen printed LP tote bag features the artwork from the European tour, as well as a golden pistol & fist pin set. The bag will also include a free download of the demo version of RTJ3 cut, “Panther Like A Panther.” As the press release notes, “This version of the track is featured along with the RTJ gameplay characters in the hit video game, Gears or War 4 (XBOX), and the album version is featured in the trailer for the new Fate of the Furious motion picture.” As usual, RSD releases will be available on site at independent record stores on Record Store Day (April 22nd) in limited quantities.