Run the Jewels made a serious dent with their eponymous first release in June, 2013, but when Killer Mike and El-P returned with their second album this past October, its impact looked more like a massive, smoking crater. Run the Jewels 2 held its own on the charts and is now humping everyone’s end of the year lists for dominance. Merely tossing this historical release on a list with nine other records seems an insufficient celebration of RtJ’s greatness, so instead, let’s look at the other unfuckwithable things Mike and Jaime have done this year…
1. Giving Away RtJ2 for Free
Though the record was officially distributed on CD and LP by Nas’s Mass Appeal Records, RtJ gave us Jewel Runners a figurative reach-around by making their second release available to download for free several days before it officially dropped. In an email thanking fans who previously downloaded their first album, Mike and El explained, “We want anyone who wants it to have it, especially those who don’t feel like they can afford to spend cash on that type of thing or maybe even aren’t sure we are worthy of it. Take it, test it out. Enjoy.”
2. Formulating an Insane Preorder Prize Package
The second purpose of the abovementioned email was to outline the many glorious prize packages available with a preorder of the record. Starting out at $10 for the Super Digi Package, the list went on to include several “Bonus Packages,” such as the $25,000 “Show and Tell Package” for which “Run The Jewels will fly to your town and accompany your child to show and tell at his or her school. […] El-P will explain the true nature of the world and teach your child how to curse and smoke (if desired), Killer Mike will teach your child how to fight and organize local community action.” While the bonus packages were boner-inducing, the duo included a disclaimer: “Run the Jewels reserves the right to take your money and not fulfill any of its obligations as outlined in any package priced at 35k or more.” Bummer…
3. Meow-ing the Jewels
OR WAS IT?! Also included was a $40,000 Bonus Package entitled “The Meow the Jewels Package,” an offer to replace all of the beats on the record with cat sounds. One fan was so intrigued by the joke that they exclaimed, “I CAN HAZ ALBUM?!” and started a Kickstarter to fund the project. El-P agreed to follow through with the remix record if fans could raise enough money, and since the Internet is eternally beholden to its feline overlords, they exceeded their goal by $20,000. El has since enlisted the help of Zola Jesus, Boots, Baauer, the Alchemist, Just Blaze, Dan the Automator, and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, and has announced that he will donate part of the proceeds to the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. There is no set release date for this insane project, but there is a sweet trailer and video evidence that El-P is already hard at work auditioning vocalists (see below).
4. Shattering the Weed Smoke Ceiling
While many still regard hip-hop as a genre dominated by misogynists, RtJ have achieved the difficult balance between being sex positive without veering into the realm of exploitation. As Killer Mike told Pitchfork in 2012, “I can’t be all Public Enemy and not embrace my 2 Live Crew. […] I’m a whole man.” Their Quaalude-laced, neon fever dream video for the album’s second single, “Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry),” proves that the inclusion of naked ladies in hip-hop videos can be thoughtful and artistic, and the reverent way they talk about the women in their lives – “I just do drugs and rap about the women I’ve experienced who are as virtuous to me as my grandmother,” Mike told NME in December, 2013 – is sure to make their female fans more than a little swoony. The egalitarian Gangsta Boo verse on “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” also deserves a mention.
5. Huggin’ It Out like Bosses
RtJ started out like one of those unlikely animal friendship videos your mom forwards you in emails. Despite being two very different rappers from two very different worlds, there is an undeniable magic when Mike and El get together. Their love and respect for one another is palpable (see below), but never more so than when they are on stage together. Anyone who caught them on their tour this year knows that these two growed ass men are not afraid to hug it out in front of hundreds of people, and sometimes even include them.
6. Killer Mike Speaking about Ferguson
At a time when emotions are running high and most of the world seems to have forgotten that dialogues should be about compassionate understanding, not about shouting each other down, one beautiful voice rose above the din and brought tears to our eyes. While playing a show in St. Louis, Mo., Killer Mike took a few moments to address the matter that was on everyone’s hearts and minds. I’m not gonna paraphrase this shit for you, because it’s too important. Just listen…
7. Tagging the Jewels
In October, RtJ launched Tag the Jewels, a “worldwide street art initiative for which over 30 artists across six continents were invited to remix the group’s iconic album cover art – two opposing hands, one forming a gun, the other holding a chain,” originally designed by artist Nicholas Gazin. The website features a huge gallery of the artwork, as well as a map so you can go view the pieces in person. Though the murals are beautiful, and in many cases, quite evocative, they’re still only half as cool as the hilarious fan art El-P used to post regularly on his Tumblr.
8. Killer Mike writing Op-Eds
As someone with a background in community organizing and activism, it’s no surprise that Mike has become an important and inspirational figure to many of his fans. In early December he co-authored a poignant piece with University of Richmond professor Erik Nielson for USA Today about the repercussions of accepting hip hop lyrics as admissible evidence in court cases, and the way violence has both shaped and “scarred” hip hop culture. If that’s too heavy for you, you can also turn to Mike for a little everyday guidance, which he doles out in his short “Life Advice” videos for Adult Swim (see below), one of the many reasons I wish Killer Mike was my dad.
9. El-P writing fanfic about Steven Seagal
Mike is not the only talented author in this duo! El-P has tossed his hat in the ring by releasing an excerpt from a fanfic he penned about his favorite action star, Steven Seagal. The excerpt is short, but it shows rudimentary promise, and we can only hope that El will soon extend his writing chops beyond lyrics and into the realm of the “My Little Pony” laden cesspit that is fanfiction.net.
10. Running the Jewels… 3
Okay, so this may be cheating, because technically Run the Jewels 3 will not start production until January 2015, but it was announced in 2014, SO IT COUNTS, goddamnit! Moving from the gleeful surprise factor of the first record, to the dark, razor sharp synthesis of the second, it’s anyone’s guess what enigmatic pleasures RtJ3 will offer. Lucky for fans, these dudes have formed a well-oiled machine that pumps out sick albums fast, so we likely won’t have to wait too long to find out. In fact, we’ll probably all be bumping Run the Jewels 8 before we ever get to hear Despot’s Chinese Democracy.