“I’m a cynical bastard. I look at the world around me from a cynic’s perspective in many ways. One thing I’m not cynical about is making this music. I don’t involve myself in fake shit. I don’t involve myself in music that’s not a direct result of the love that I have for music. Not always joy but just deep, deep love.” Having his greatest success on the cusp of turning 40 has El-P sounding like a goddamn hippie.
Run the Jewels 2, the collaborative sequel from Brooklyn-born Jaime Meline, aka El-P, and Atlanta rap lifer Michael Render, aka Killer Mike, was released in late October to near universal acclaim. The album is a relentless 39 minutes of poetic aggression and exhilarating clamor. It’s also the endearing chronicle of friendship between two grown men, its makers comfortable enough to get extremely personal yet still focused on delivering their most streamlined and accessible music. Rather than scrambling for cameos with radio clout, they pulled in an eclectic list of friendly collaborations: a resurrection for Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha, bass from Yo La Tengo’s James McNew, beats from Blink-182’s Travis Barker, and some show-stopping filth from Three 6 Mafia’s Lola Mitchell, aka Gangsta Boo. No computer algorithm in the world would produce that particular blueprint. It’s got both men giddy, bordering on silly—Meow the Jewels, a Kickstarter-funded, charity-supporting remix album made entirely from cat noises will follow next year.
We talked to Meline and Render as they headed out on a highly anticipated U.S. tour. (Their scheduled New York City date, November 29 at Manhattan’s Stage 48, sold out, demanding an added second show the next night.) We discussed the emboldening quality of their music, embarrassing your kids, and how spousal advice led to one of the album’s best moments. But mainly about how deliriously happy they are connecting to a big audience at this point in their careers.
“It’s been pretty cool,” admits Meline. “I’m not going to lie.”
When you were making the record, did you anticipate it going over this well, or is the reception exceeding what you thought could happen?
Render: We both felt like it was possible, based off of the way kids reacted to the first one. It’s only possible if you ramp the music up. I think that when Jaime and I started this record, the first thing we said was, “We have to make it better. We have to grow it.” You can’t just say the same thing and be complacent. I think the reaction is based firmly in the fact that Jaime and I stepped up and hit a homer. We didn’t just go for the double or the triple. We went for a home run, and we got it.
Meline: It’s just a week now since releasing it. The last week almost feels like our lives… may have changed. For us to have a moment like this, knowing that we got there with our souls and our minds intact, is a very amazing thing.
I think both Mike and I would have been totally cool if it came out people liked it, and we did another tour. Like, ok, maybe that’s what Run the Jewels was. But to add on to that, all of sudden we’re having to book two nights in a row in cities, things that you dream will hopefully happen because you want to be in front of as many people as you can. You want to know that there is hope in this fucking industry… to be successful and make money off of something without compromising yourself. I’ll take sleeping at night over money. But if I can have both…
A lot of the positive reaction boils down to a vicarious thrill. You pump it into your headphones and you’re ready to fight the world.
Meline: We want our music to feel inspiring. I’ve written a lot of songs that were really personal, for that reason. I’ve written those songs for myself. But when someone says that your music is having that effect on them? I dunno man, it’s pretty mind-blowing to me.
Render: We’re just the luckiest bastards on Earth. I used to sit around and wonder, who’s gonna finally say, “Fuck it. I’m an adult, I still love rap,” and keep rapping and not have an end date. Who were gonna be those rappers? We fucked around, and we’re those guys. I’m not ashamed of my age, I don’t feel unhip that I’m older. I feel like, “Motherfucker, I’m gonna get in here and rap the fucking shit like a Christmas present! What are you going to do about me?”
I go to my 17-year-old daughter’s high school, little boys throw up Run the Jewels logos, and yell out “Killer Mike!” and embarrass her. We’re dope at this shit, there’s no end date on this motherfucker.
Embarrassing your kids has to be an underrated adult pleasure.
Render: As a parent of four children, I love it! I love fucking their shit up. [laughs] No greater pleasure, man.
How did you decide who you wanted on the album as a collaborator? Was it just song-to-song, finding interesting fits?
Meline: I mean literally, like bumping into motherfuckers on the street. “Hey what are you doing man, you want to come by the studio?” That’s how Zach got on the record. Just friends, being around. The only person that we made a point to reach out was Gangsta Boo. And that’s Mike’s homegirl. So, this album is 100 percent organic.
Render: Like the apple juice you drink in the morning, man. Fresh-squeezed, no preserves. [laughs] That’s the expensive shit.
So “Love Again” was conceived from the beginning as a he-said/she-said sex jam?
Meline: No. Here’s the thing with “Love Again”, it was the last record we made. We had one day to turn the record in to get it pressed up. The original version of it, which is actually pressed up on the physical, doesn’t have Gangsta Boo’s verse on it.
Render: My wife from day one was like, “It needs to be like a Trina and Trick Daddy song and go back- and-forth.” We didn’t think we had the time and we didn’t. After Jaime’s girl heard it, she was like “Y’all need a girl on it.” My wife had already said that. So we were like, “Hell yeah, let’s call Boo!”
Meline: We knew that the song wasn’t complete. We liked it, but we hadn’t had enough time to sit with it. We got Boo on that shit, and were like, “Yo, this is the song!”
Render: Shouts out to Lola, man. She’s dope.
Are you guys going to need even more weed than usual to make an album out of cat noises, or just the regular level?
Render: (laughs) Hell yeah. I was just up in the High Times offices yesterday. We got to have more!
Are you just going to be browsing YouTube for its finest cat noises?
Meline: That’s my basic plan, yes.