Question in the Form of An Answer: An Interview with Run the Jewels (Killer Mike + El-P)

There might not be a more dynamic duo in rap music right now than Killer Mike and El-P. Responsible for two of last year’s finest releases in R.A.P. Music and Cancer4Cure, they’ve...
By    July 25, 2013


There might not be a more dynamic duo in rap music right now than Killer Mike and El-P. Responsible for two of last year’s finest releases in R.A.P. Music and Cancer4Cure, they’ve returned as Run the Jewels with a new full-length and a massive, summer-long tour with Despot and Kool AD. That’s one hell of a victory lap. Adam Wray spoke to Mike and El about their artistic relationship, the state of the industry, and formative influences. Also: weed.

ADAM WRAY: I want to start off by talking about wrestling. It’s something that’s come up a lot in recent interviews and on the new record. Do you see any similarities between the rap game and pro wrestling?

KILLER MIKE: Everybody fake.

EL-P: It’s all pretend.

KM: Both are very fertile grounds for the adolescent male mind-state and ego, you know? They both embellish these mythical fantasies. Like, we don’t have mythical heroes anymore, so I think that in adolescence, when you’re really young, wrestlers are that for you. And as you get older musicians, male musicians, become that for you.

EL: That’s how people from the South say “wrestler”: “wrassler.”

KM: Wrasslin’! W-R-A-S-S… We the Road Warriors, too. They just came in and beat your ass, they didn’t wait for bells. And I’m not talking about the WWE Road Warriors, I’m talking about the WCW, mid-Atlantic, mid-South wrestling. Like, when Animal and Hawk would just come in and beat the shit outta everybody, and just walk off with the belts.

EL: I don’t think we’re backyard wrestlers. We’re just, like, backflipping off a shack onto a wooden table.

KM: You can backflip, I’m just gonna pummel with, like, shoulder pads with spikes comin’ out of them.

So, in wrestling you have guys that fill the hero archetypes and guys that fill the villain archetypes. It sounds like you’re saying you feel more like the villains.

EL: We are, but we’re the hero villains.


EL: Sure, we’re —

KM: Villains are noble people! Villains aren’t “thugs” and… What was the other shit they used to say on cartoons? Thugs, and henchmen, and shit? Villains are brilliant people. They determine their position. Like, Magneto’s not evil; he’s determined his position. He’s not going to allow himself to be talked down to by humans, he’s not gonna allow himself to be regulated, and there’s something very admirable about that. You know, if you look at Bizarro, in Superman, he’s no true fuckin’ villain so much as he’s from another dimension, where people don’t understand that in this dimension you can’t do the shit he does. I like villains, I always have. They’ve always been more complex and more interesting to me, and to me they’ve always held truer to their principles than heroes.

EL: I like to think of us as bumbling, aspiring villains.

Like Bebop and Rocksteady?

KM: Like Pinky and the Brain.

EL: We’re like Pinky and the Brain. We wanna take the world over, we just keep fucking it up.

“What are we gonna do tonight, El?”

KM: The same thing we do every day: try to take over the world.

What can villains do that heroes can’t?

KM: Be human. Be in touch with real emotion.

EL: Villains can be interesting. Superman has gotta be the most boring fucking superhero —

KM: I hate him. I always was more into Batman.

EL: — and he’s the purest, isn’t he? But on some hip-hop shit, for me, as a kid, everyone who gets into music, we were always into comic books, and cartoons, and whatever the fuck. For me, being into hip-hop, and as a New Yorker, Run-DMC were my superheroes. They were New York superheroes. They were these dudes, they had costumes, they were just these larger-than-life heroes. Superheroes.

KM: And you’re accustomed — you knew you couldn’t be Erick or Parrish —

EL: I was just talking about Run-DMC.

KM: Oh, my bad. I’m over here thinking about EPMD.

EL: EPMD, too, though, same shit.

KM: Run-DMC came in the black, EPMD came in the denim suits.

EL: People liked that! It’s just fun. You wanna watch people be over-the-top and confident. There’s a fantasy involved in it, too. And we tapped into that a little bit, I think, with Run the Jewels, because we’re coming at it from a fantasy perspective. It’s our fantasy to live up to those types of groups that inspired us, to be able to inhabit that space. Those were the most important people. The groups, for me, as a kid, were almost more important than the solo artists. Those were the ones that I really was fascinated by. “How are these people… How do they team up? It’s so crazy, they just roll together, and shout at everyone!”

KM: M.O.P. Ah, fuck. God, some of the most perfect rap villains ever.

You guys are hitting a point in your careers — especially now that you’re doing Run the Jewels together — where you could be filling that superhero role for kids growing up. What do you hope kids listening to the Run the Jewels record will get from it?

EL: What I want for them to get from it is a feeling of rawness and rebellion that I think has been missing a little bit. You’re listening to a record where we’re taking absolutely no prisoners, but we’re not taking ourselves too particularly seriously. And at the same time, we’re just basically saying, “Fuck you” to everything. That energy is really mischievous and important, and that shit really formed who I was as a person, looking up to people who were not in the strongest positions in society, they weren’t rich, they weren’t in control of the world, but at the same time they were saying, “Fuck you, I’m the shit.” And there was something to aspire to as a kid with that shit. I wanted to feel that. I wanted to be that way, y’know? I wanted to be the type of man that could say, “Fuck you” if I didn’t like what they were saying. And so these rappers became my heroes. Nowadays, there’s no real rebellion, is there? There’s danger. There are people saying, “I’ll hurt you,” but there’s not anyone saying, “Fuck your idea.” There’s not anyone saying, “Fuck your plans, fuck your sense of grandeur.” And those are more important to me than, “Fuck you, if you try and take what I have, I’ll hurt you.” That shit’s cool, too, but this is a different zone, this is something that isn’t always being tapped into. There’s no one better way than the other, but it has to be there. There’s a balance. Me and Mike felt like we knew what that was. We knew what a group was. The last great group was probably… Part of them is sitting in the fucking room right now. [El gestures at Kool AD, formerly of Das Racist] Straight up, you know? Das Racist was a big deal to people like me because it was a group.

Do you think rappers are taking themselves too seriously these days?

EL: People are taking themselves too seriously. Music should be serious sometimes. You need to sometimes take yourself seriously in order to say something. It’s an act of bravery sometimes to take yourself seriously without feeling embarrassed about it. Like, “No, I know I’m saying something here, this is my idea and I’m sticking by it.” That’s important. But at the same time, I don’t take myself particularly seriously in general. So, even when I do, I don’t look at it as though it’s dire. I’m not as invested in my own ego as I am invested in trying to be expressive, trying to say something, trying to make something that I like. When we get in a room it’s just too fun to make really serious shit. We say some shit on this record, some serious shit that we believe in, but it’s in the context of a bigger friendship and bigger relationship. It’s not all shits and giggles.

KM: Rappers take the shit they buy too seriously. Nobody gives a fuck. That’s just between you and your girlfriend and whatever rich person you’re trying to emulate.

Jumping back to the mischief part of what you were just saying, El, I want to talk about drugs for a minute.

KM: Okay!

On this record, you talk about mushrooms and hallucinogens a fair bit. Is that kind of stuff important to your writing, to your creative process?

EL: It’s not important to it. It just happens to weave its way into it sometimes. I’ve always been an advocate of weed and psilocybin ingestion because I enjoy it. As an artist, I’m a seeker. My mind desires ethereal experience, if I can achieve them. One of the reasons I’m a professional musician is that if I wanna do mushrooms all day, I don’t wanna have to clear it with anybody. We talk about shrooms on this record because we were doing shrooms when we made this record. We went up to this place in upstate New York, this beautiful studio that’s surrounded by woods, and we brought a bunch of shrooms up there and, y’know, we did a bunch of shrooms.

That’s a lovely little Sunday right there.

EL: Yeah, I mean, shit. It’s not that complicated. I personally quite enjoy the experience.

KM: I dunno if I like drugs or I just like plants.

You’re just a botanist.

KM: I’m not into coke, I’m not into prescription shit. I danced a couple rounds with syrup and shit, but that shit’s a dead end, that ain’t cool. I remember when Bun B called me, like, “I don’t even fuck with that shit anymore, it ain’t cool.” For me, my mind is just going all the time, everyday. Marijuana in particular just helps me relax. Once I relax, I focus. I don’t need marijuana to rap, I just need marijuana. I don’t like living without access to marijuana. I like marijuana. I got introduced to shrooms through my man DJ Swift and Jaime. Shrooms are cool.

You’ve got a record on here called “DDFH” “Do Dope Fuck Hope.” Is that an accurate representation of your worldview? That we’re beyond hope?

EL: It’s tongue-in-cheek.

KM: Sarcasm.

EL: It’s sarcasm. And at the same time, it’s kind of a decent plan. Again, in the context of saying something serious, you can’t really be thinking that we take that seriously.

KM: Shit, you were hopeful when America got a new president. And five, six years later, all the same shit is happening. If I buy a fuckin’ twenty-sack of marijuana, I know on the other side of that I am going to be high. That can’t let me down. I found that I’ve dealt with addiction within my own family, I’ve dealt with addiction in the era that we happen to have grown up in, and what I’ve found out about most addicts I mean, pure addicts, people that are getting hooked on the shit that’s getting marketed towards you by drug companies, Oxycontin, evil-ass shit like Promethyzine they’re very sensitive people. Very sensitive people. And a lot of times, they don’t have the natural tools it takes to be happy in this fuckin’ world that is I think Jaime refers to it as a “swirling sea of shit.” For a lot of people to survive that they need something to either take the edge off or embellish the good parts of their brain that still kinda click. I don’t need that, I don’t need drugs to exist, I like smoking weed, relaxing a little and focusing on what’s in front of me, but I’m very empathetic and sympathetic to people who have these terrible addictions because most of them are kind in nature and loving in spirit and are sensitive people who cannot cope.

EL: I come from a family where addiction is not unfamiliar, as well. As long as this world is still a spinning, grinding blade of oppression and stress, I’ll never judge anybody for partaking in drugs. At least in theory I empathize with it, ’cause that’s kinda how I am, and because I’m one of those sensitive people Mike is talking about. I’m an artist, I’m a freak. The bad shit out there, I tune into it clearer than your average person. I have a direct connection to negative energy when it happens around me. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why people like me end up enjoying drugs. At the same time, no one’s saying that this is the solution. “Do Dope Fuck Hope” is just as much of a mockery of that ideas as it is an admission of… That’s the truth. Just being able to handle waking up and getting from Point A to Point B sometimes is enough to make you want to just fucking disappear.

KM: If you’re black or brown and you’re waking up in New York, you wake up in the safety and comfort of an apartment. You exit your door knowing that the billionaire mayor of New York is willing to put millions of his own money to ensure that your civil liberties can be interrupted by the police force every day. As a policy. So when I say, “’cause we smoke sour to deal with the paranoia/that they charge by the hour, can’t hire the Jewish lawyer/’cause if you ain’t Jigga or Puff, you doin’ time/and even then you might get ten, word to Shyne,” that’s reality. Think about being a kid that just wants to dress like his favourite superhero rapper, you go out on the street, and every day you know that this one fuckin’ cop that doesn’t like me, he’s gonna fuck with me, I’d get a little high, too. I’d smoke a little sour, too. And then, you’re dealing with the fact that if I get locked up my mother can get put out of this building, or my girlfriend or I can get put out of this building. There’s no fuckin’ public defenders anymore, that’s a bullshit myth. Now, public defenders, you get charged for that shit on the back end. You can’t hire the same lawyers that Jigga or Puff hire, and even if you do, like Shyne, you still might end up losing ten years of your life and coming out batshit crazy, not knowing what the fuck is going on, because the whole world has somehow changed. That’s a heavy fuckin’ burden to carry when you’re a 21 year-old kid that works at the fuckin’ Best Buy and you like to walk with your iPod and you might smell a little bit like marijuana. No one deserves that. The tragedy and the travesty of it all is that no one on the other side of the fence is an advocate for not putting that type of stress on a human being. The people that tell you “Don’t wear fur coats,” or “Mike Vick was bad” are the same people that’ll just watch callously as we have to have a trial, a mockery of a trial, because a child who had some candy in his pocket happened to be wearing a hoodie, happened to be walking home behind a group of houses and is now dead. It’s a fucked up system, man. It’s way fucked up.

EL: So, in conclusion: we like weed.

KM: Do dope, fuck hope.

All of this negative shit you guys are talking about, you engage with it on your records. And you come at it from a place of justified paranoia, from a place of anger, but never from a place of fear or fearfulness. Am I wrong?

EL: No.

So, I’m curious: what are you scared of?

EL: People who don’t realize what there is to be scared of.

 Go on.

EL: I don’t want to. Listen, I’m not the type of person who should be making statements about what to be scared of. Nor do I feel like it’s my responsibility, you know? All of these things, I present them in my music from a human perspective, not from a lecturing perspective. I don’t have a solution or know anything better. What I know — the visceral reaction for me, the way my mind works — is that I find the world unsettling. I find the world difficult to deal with on a lot of levels, and that’s a big inspiration for my music. But I don’t feel inspired to pretend that I truly understand it. What I understand are the questions I have about it and my gut reactions to it. I think that fear is a very natural perspective to write from, because it doesn’t presume anything. It doesn’t even presume that you’re right. I leave a lot of room for the idea that I’m not right about a lot of things. That’s just the way I feel. I’m okay with that. What I’m documenting in my shit is not about being right or wrong, it’s about reacting, and it’s about feeling, and the conversation in your head about it, how it applies to your own sanity and your own existence. Luckily, and because of that, I’ve never really fallen into the category of “political rapper.” My albums can seem a little political because all of that stuff around me seeps into who I am. And with the Run the Jewels record, it seeps in, too, because it’s there. That’s me and Render’s thing. It’s always a conversation with us. But we’re not making a political record, we’re just making a rap record. And you’re gonna get a lot of aspects of different little shrapnel of ideas in a record like this. But something like “DDFH,” Mike came up with that, and I always looked at it like Timothy Leary, “turn on, tune out.” The modern equivalent of that. Both of which were a failed idea. Neither of those were particularly foolproof plans. It’s a double meaning. It’s a mockery of ourselves, and the position that we’re in. If you can’t find humor in the futility of our existence, then, y’know, you’re kinda fucked. I find it to be very funny, personally.

KM: I’m just afraid for poor people. I’m deathly afraid for poor people. To my core. In my lifetime, I’ve seen how the treatment of the poor has progressively gotten worse. I think you can defend people based on race, you can defend people based on sex, you can defend people based on sexuality, but I think the minute you start advocating on behalf of poor people you die. Strangely. And weirdly. And at four o’clock in the morning you get shot down in front of your own wife and children in Harlem. So, for me, I just… I pray at some point poor people find true freedom or kill their masters.

Mike, you’ve got two kids —

I have four.

Oh, fuck.

KM: Two boys, two girls. I don’t have two wives, although my ambition has been that at times.

EL: Still working on it.

Give him time. You made a great point in old interview about how your kids were picking out Halloween costumes, and your daughter taught you about your own sexism. How else do your kids influence you and your music?

KM: Well, God has an amazing sense of humor, because he delivered me back to me with breasts and a smart mouth. Her name is Aniyah. She is an amazing, amazing creature, and her five year-old sister Michael is also. These two people have confirmed for me that women are wiser. When women do certain things, it’s already been thought out. They mull over stuff from a very early age. I’m a reactionary person. Being a man is almost no good, ’cause I’m impulsive and reactionary, so all my decisions are based on either impulse or the reaction to an impulse that I’ve had. I can just see in watching my daughters how they contemplate things, how they think about how their friends connect. Like, she thinks about which friends she’s gonna invite over when she has other friends over, and I wasn’t progressive enough to think about that shit at 15 years old. You know, Mikey has told me, “You need to lose weight, you need to stop smoking cigarettes.” And I don’t smoke cigarettes, but I smoke joints. She’s never seen me smoke a joint, but she’s walked into my home and smelled the remnants of smoke. She knows it’s smoke. And her thing is, “You’re supposed to be alive for me!” And that’s five years old.

At five years old, Pony Boy [one of Mike’s sons] was just like “Do we get to play more video games?” That was it! So, what my girls have taught me is that women are equal and beyond. I am less of a man if I am not connected to a feminine side, or not connected to my wife, or my sisters, or my daughters. I’m not a whole human being, I’m not having a whole human experience, because I’m only experiencing this thing that I have. My wife has taught me and my daughters have taught me the value of women. And my music has changed because of it. My music has progressed. I told a friend of mine the story of Aniyah again, we talked about Marilyn Monroe. The original story is that she wanted to dress as Marilyn Monroe for a Halloween party, and her little brother was dressed as Michael Myers. I didn’t give a fuck, but somehow I had a problem with her dressing as a white woman. And she said, “Dad, you’re not asking him to be Martin Luther King or Malcolm X.” And I just looked at her and said, “I like the wig.” Recently, we were out, she, myself, and my wife were together and she wanted a picture of Marilyn. I’m like, “For what?! You don’t have no black women to follow?” You know, back on that shit.

She looked at me and I said, “Why do you like her? Just tell me why you like her.” And, you know, my daughter’s mom was a thickie. Big ass, thighs, and breasts. You don’t think when you have a daughter, “She’s gonna be shaped like her mom one day.” And she’s shaped like her mom. She looked at me and said, “You know Marilyn Monroe was the reason models could be over 165 pounds.” And just gave me a list of body image things that I, as a man, had not ever given a fuck about before I had a daughter and didn’t want people to judge her. She told me, “This is the person I like because this is me.” It just enlightened me and gave me such a confidence in her and her thinking. And also my parenting. Whatever me and her mom and her step-mom and her aunties have been trying to do seems to be working. So, it has given me the affirmation that I’m a most whole human being when I am involved with all of humanity and mainly women.

Right on. That sort of reminds of some of the literary influences you’ve spoken of before. You’ve talked about bell hooks, James Baldwin, dudes like that—

KM: Well, bell is a woman.

Yeah, I know. I’m sorry, I use “dudes” in the neutral. The royal dudes.

KM: I got you. Anything I’ve found that rose me as a human has seeped into my music. With people like Baldwin, with hooks, with Zora [Neale Hurston]— Oh my God, with Zora. Take Zora, for example. I already liked reading and literature, but I often found that the wisest people I knew were people who weren’t necessarily into high art, reading, and literature. The wisest people I knew were very salt of the earth people. My grandfather dropped out of school in the third grade so he could support his sisters. He was one of the most learned human beings I’d ever met, but in worldly way. He’d turn to me sometimes when I’d say something dumb or lacking in common sense and he’d say, “What are they learnin’ you in school, boy?” Meaning why aren’t you using your “Why?” Why aren’t you saying, “Why?” and figuring problems out yourself? Well, learning about Zora Neale Hurston and learning about another one of my favourite authors Langston Hughes, he and Countee Cullen had pretty much shitted on her. She wasn’t a part of the movement in the way that she deserved to be. She suffered sexism and things of that nature. But the books that she wrote were beautiful and in the colloquial language that I spoke. So when I read her books, I hear my grandparents’ voices. I hear my great aunts and my great uncles. So, for me, that marries the high-art thinking of literature with the common word of a Southerner. Written like North Florida and South Georgia. And it showed me that I can use rap and I can be a rapper and have these high-art ideas and have a short and direct style, and partner up with someone who’s complex and dexterous on the microphone. It makes the most sense in the world because we’re saying the same thing, I just say it with a lot of syrup in my voice and my drawl is thicker. So, Zora Neale Hurston is what I aspire to be: someone who expounds these high ideas in very colloquial, very Southern, very direct talk.

Now that you guys are working together as a group and not just working on each other’s records, you seem to have achieved a whole being more than the sum of its parts kind of thing. El, how has Mike influenced you?

EL: I think that we reminded each other of certain aspects of ourselves and our styles that gave each other excuses to bring out a bit. Around me, Mike has absolutely no fear of losing me. He has absolutely no fear of going wherever he wants to in his head, even if it’s a little weird. Even if it’s a little complicated. He talks about the direct approach — that’s Mike naturally, but he’s also a very complex individual. We balance each other. There’s never a point in our creative process that he feels he can’t go somewhere, in a direction stylistically or whatever it is. I think I brought a little of his abstraction out. A little bit of another element of his writing that was very much there but not necessarily encouraged by his career up until now.

KM: Absolutely.

EL: Conversely, he brought me a little closer to being more direct, and brought me a little closer to the middle. I have a tendency in my stuff to really, really not care if anyone even fuckin’ understands what I’m saying. That has always been something was guided by the fact that I felt very clearly that I’m doing this music for me. But being around Mike, we’re both pulled a bit center of our positions, which allows us to create something that is our own and a little bit of a step out. That’s what you hope for in a group situation, that you’re creating a new whole, and you’re not simply doing your records but in 16 bars. “All right, I’ll do my record in 16 bars, you do your record.” And the great groups — Brand Nubian — a lot of amazing groups like that that I grew up on, everyone had their thing. Onyx. You waited for the Sticky Fingaz verse, but you knew the Fredro Starr verse was gonna be grimy as fuck. But the Sticky Fingaz verse was gonna be this other thing. Brand Nubian, you know, Puba was slick as fuck on some smooth pimp shit, and Sadat and Jamar had more of a militant vibe. It was the combination of these things that you kept you on the edge of your seat. So when you listen to a record like Run the Jewels, the great thing about it is that it’s exciting. You don’t know what’s gonna be said next, you don’t know how it’s gonna be said. Because me and Mike together are an unpredictable animal. We’ve established ourselves as solo artists. You can listen to a record of mine, and even though we will always strive to do different things and go further with our music, we’ve still established our voices. And you, the listener, someone who’s been following, when you pick up a Mike record and you pick up an El-P record separately, you do have an idea of what you’re gonna get. That’s why you pick the record up. With Run the Jewels, we’re redefining that a little bit. And because of that it gives us room to do other things in our solo stuff, too. It’s just expanding ourselves. That’s what I think.

KM: I mean, it’s cliché, but friends are supposed to make you better. Jaime makes me better.

I want to talk about how you released the record. I thought it was kind of awesome that you guys were like, “Hey, we’re gonna put out a record. It’s gonna come out on this day.” And then you just did that. It wasn’t like a week before you got an email telling you download an app or whatever. Do you have any thoughts on this trend of the promotional campaign being as talked about as the actual record?

EL: I do have thoughts on that. I don’t enjoy it. I find it very displeasurable. The reason why I came up with the idea of doing the record the way that we did was because I really felt in my gut… What I could imagine was us making a record. What I could imagine was us touring. What I could imagine was us making a connection with the fans. I could imagine them being excited about the music we were doing because I was excited about it. What I couldn’t picture in my head was having to do a marketing campaign, trying to contextualize it for everybody and prepare everybody’s minds for it, deal with complicated business contracts and all that shit, and also have to deal with all the trappings of having to compete on a marketing level. It just repulsed me and I thought for this, my gut instinct was, “I just want everyone to have this record, ’cause if everyone had this record, they’d be surprised.” If we weren’t asking for anything, they can go into it and listen to it. And they might be surprised. You ask somebody for $14, they better be getting what they fuckin’ want. You don’t ask someone for something and they don’t know what they want. They can be open to it, and we wanted the hearts and minds of people. We wanted that. We wanted to thank our fans. I believe that we’ve hit critical mass when it comes to all these fuckin’ marketing campaigns and all this shit. Everyone’s acting as though, y’know, you put enough money behind something and you can make people like it. That idea seems to be prevalent right now. “If I have $10 million, I can force everyone to like this shit.”

You know what? Fuck that shit. You’re gonna like my shit because it’s music. And that’s all we wanted. And we figured, “You know what, this is a relationship we’re building with the fans. If we’re all stepping into this shit, no one knows what’s up, it’s a little tricky. Are they gonna download it or not download it, do they want us to keep making it, ” blah, blah, blah. We’ve got a long way to go as fans and artists in this relationship together. We want to all keep being fans, we want to all keep being artists. This is me throwing into the pile. Let’s start here, let’s start with this and see how this happens. It’s all a bit of an experiment for me, but I feel really good about it because I feel like I’m not embarrassing myself, I’m not begging. I’m not asking you to do anything, I’m not asking anyone to do anything. If you enjoy this shit, great.

KM: You can be a liar by accident. A lot of times marketing makes you that, and I just don’t want to be that anymore. That’s not what it’s about, putting out one song to entice people. I’m a big Jay fan. And I don’t mean a big Jay fan like I went and bought collared shirts because Jay said so, y’know? That’s the secondary, tertiary era of Jay fans. I mean, when I first heard the guy that rapped fast, I thought he was dope, and then when he popped back up as the guy who rapped slow about dope then I knew he was dope, and then when he popped up rapping slow about dope with Biggie next to him on a song, I’m like, “This motherfucker’s incredible.” I’m a longtime, lifetime Jay-Z fan. So, when I saw the fuckin’ commercial and I saw Rick Rubin in it, I just immediately went fuckin’ crazy. “Oh my God, ’99 Problems,’ it’s going back down!” But I, as a customer, didn’t understand that Rick has just been helping people that same way rock executive producers helped, coming in as an ear, because you can’t explain that unless Jay-Z gives the interview prior to the commercial. But that’s not what happens. The commercial comes out and I’ve built these expectations. I’m still just a rap nerd-ass fuckin’ fan. So, when I get the record, you’re kinda like, “Aw, but Rick isn’t…” It’s a letdown. It’s not that Jay had malice or a liar’s intent, but the person who marketed that, who put that commercial together, knew what I was gonna think. They essentially tricked me. Even though it isn’t the biggest disappointment, it’s still just a little… I didn’t want to do that.

Take Big Boi, for instance. Big Boi got his verse done while we were on the road and had to come to Brooklyn, but it got to be looking at one point like the schedule wasn’t gonna allow it. And Jaime was like, “Damn, man, we got the record mixed, so I’ll just mix a version without,” and I’m like, “He’s gonna do it.” And I really just sat down with Big and was like, “I need you to do this ’cause I don’t wanna be a liar. ’cause we’ve already talked about it.” And Big knocked that shit out. Not like that’s what made him do it, but he knocked that motherfucker out of the park. Jaime didn’t want anybody else on the record. Me and him didn’t want anybody else on the record. And we were honest enough to say, “This is the only person that’s gonna be on it, this is who we asked.” We knew we had expectations up there, and there were some tense moments like, “Oh, shit, is it gonna come through?” But Big understood what it was like to connect and have your audience believe you and how sacred that trust is. And that’s what marketing can take away. And that’s no douse on anyone, that’s not saying you don’t want more money to help more people get exposed to it, but I don’t want to be in the position in my career again where I’m telling a lie overtly or inadvertently. I would like to remain in the honest, dope place I am now because this feels better.

EL: I mean, really, it was just about goodwill. It was just about feeling, y’know?

KM: We just felt it was the right thing to do.

EL: “What’s your marketing plan?” There is no fucking marketing plan! We made a record. That’s it.

KM: People can have it, and their deal is if they like it, come to the show.

EL: The marketing plan is making good music. I can’t tell you what a relief it is to take all that shit out of the fuckin’ pot. And I’m not saying I’ll never do another record where I sell it again, I probably will, but I will definitely do more free records as well, because, you know, this feels like a breath of fresh air, as they say. For me, anyway. This feels like a modern way to do a record. Out of all the growing pains in the digital age that we’ve all gone through and we’ve all struggled with, it feels really good to be like, “Uh, fuck it. We believe.” And we do. We saw how the fans came out for us and supported us and we were blown away by it. One of the big ideas of this record was a thank you to those people that have helped us have such an amazing year, and you can’t thank someone by charging them.

Cool. I’ve got a couple quick ones for you guys — say as much or as little about them as you want. First: what’s your favourite older track of yours that doesn’t get the credit you feel it deserves?

EL: Goddamn, I dunno. I would say that probably 90% of my catalogue doesn’t get the credit it deserves. I was just listening to — and I guess I’m biased because it’s Camu — but I was listening to “Jukie Skate Rock,” which is a sort of instrumental thing I did on a record. It was kind of a dance record, sort of an 80s, electro throwback, and it had Camu all over it, singing and talking on it. I listened to that the other day for the first day in a long time, it just popped up in my iTunes randomly when I was looking for something else. Camu always puts a smile on my face. I was listening to it and I was like, “Man, this shit could’ve been bumping in clubs.”

Mike, what about you?

KM: “Ric Flair” should be one of the top records ever talked about in rap. The rhymes on that were insane, the beat was insane, Flair talking shit was insane. I would definitely say that song. I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind as a series, parts 1, 2, and 3 are criminally slept-on.

Favorite track to perform live?

EL: Right now, “36” Chain.” I’m really having fun with “36” Chain.”


KM: Off Run the Jewels, “Sea Legs.” Of any of my tracks, “God is in the Building.”

El, what’s your favourite sound?

EL: The sound of money coming out of an ATM.


KM: Counting money. I’ll give you an honest answer: my favorite sound is when me and my wife and kids are all together and screaming and yelling at each other. And that’s pretty much what we do as a family.

EL: That’s so weird, that’s one of my least favorite sounds: your family screaming.

KM: That’s what we do.

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