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Pussy, Politics and Paw Power

Words: Gemma Lacey
Photography: Retts Wood

Run the Jewels, Killer Mike and El-P are a two man party machine, currently found creating trippy videos and tearing up stages across the world with their electric live set. They’re also famous for recording an entire album made from cat sounds; but it’s not all songs about pussy, there’s a more powerful message they share too.

Meow the Jewels was a pretty fun concept, was it a big joke or a genuine idea to promote the album?
EL-P: Essentially, we were trying to put together the pre-order packages for the album and they were boring. It was suggested that maybe we came up with some funny ones. I thought it would be hilarious to introduce a few really large tier options that we obviously would never do. Like the “We Are Gordon Ramsay” package, which was $100,000, we would go to a restaurant of your choice and attempt to change the menu. Or, for $40,000 we would do the “Meow the Jewels” remix album, which is our album made with music made from cat sounds. It was a complete joke, I was completely stoned when I did it, and I had no intention of doing it. It was a huge… I don’t want to say it was a mistake, but I overlooked the power of the cat on the Internet, clearly.

You brought on some amazing people to do this, were there any times when someone sent you a track and you were like “Holy shit, I wouldn’t have imagined it would sound like this”?
KM: I gotta say, Boots was the first one, because he was one of the first ones to come in with his remix, and he told me that he was trying to make the… the way he phrased it was that he was trying to make The Beatles’ Day In The Life of cat remixes. So, he was the first person to throw the gauntlet down, like, “I’m going to make this shit sound good”, and that pissed me off. Because he sent it to me and I was like, “Motherfucker! This is good”, and “Now I have to make something good”. That was one of the first ones that got out there and I think that kind of lit a fire under everyone’s ass. Then, the Just Blaze one sounds incredible, it just sounds like something you should be performing. There are different ways you could approach the thing, you could make it silly, which is something that I wanted to do, and that I expected from people (and that some people did). Or you can go all out and try and make it sound good, really good. Both were valid approaches, I think. I tried to go somewhere in-between. But yes, it was definitely Boots that was the first one… and he kind of has a cat’s name, now that I think about it. Boots. Could be a cat.

Do you currently have a cat?
El-P: My cat is currently dead. Mini Beast passed away about a year and a half ago. So, no I don’t, and my girlfriend is threatening to buy a cat while I’m away on tour. I just hope I don’t come home to another cat because it’s too emotional.

Back to your live show, your sets are pretty electric, are there any standout shows for you?
EL-P: There are a lot of moments for me. There have been really joyous moments, and hilarious moments. But there have also been really powerful moments. It would be hard to look back and say this was one of my favourite moments, but it was one of the more meaningful moments when Mike and I were in St Louis, on the night of the Ferguson Michael Brown verdict, and the show that we did that night was probably one of the most powerful experiences that I’ve ever had. Mike said some really beautiful and heartfelt things and we launched into a show that gave our music a really powerful meaning in that context. Even the silly songs that night somehow felt important and like they needed to be said. I saw an audience that was looking to us, in that moment, to take them somewhere and to heal them. Instead of taking them away from what we were all feeling, I think we dove into it, and we channelled that energy into a show that was really one of the best shows we’ve ever done. I think we both really felt that it needed to be the best show that we’ve ever done. And for this small group of people, I don’t know, was it 800 or 900 people? It wasn’t even a big show, it was a great show though. That was one of the times when I walked off stage and I thought, after all these years of doing  what we do, I’ve experienced an aspect of performing, and what you can do with performance and what it can mean to people, that I hadn’t quite experienced before then. You can get on stage and say everything, you can say, “We’ve all got to be free and treat each other wonderfully”, it’s like, “Congratulations, great thought asshole”, it’s not like everybody has that thought, but to be a part of something that is bigger than you and to be able to hold it, and turn it back in a positive way, in the right way. It was magical in a way that was very dark, so I will always remember that feeling. It was quite literally like being at a funeral before we got on stage, and afterwards it was something else. Something else had happened. I like to think that it’s part of who we are now, that changed who we are a little bit.

Do you think rap has evolved now in terms of the messages it presents, from glorifying luxury to more serious messages?
KM: I mean, I think that’s always been there. If you listen to Biggie, who was famous for elevating himself and talking about luxury and stuff… His first album talked about the brutality of poverty. He had suicidal thoughts. If you look at most rappers, they have substance beneath the veneer. If you listen to Future, he says, blatantly like, “Cops are out here killing kids”, he just says it in the middle of drug references and a jammin-ass beat, so you miss it. But I think that the consciousness of the people that are listening to rap is there.

Finally, Killer Mike, I hear you hate cats?
KM: No, I don’t hate cats, I don’t like cats.

Why don’t you like cats?
KM: I don’t have a reason to like cats. I like big gang cats, I like watching lions and tigers and stuff like that. But domestic cats really serve no purpose for me. I like dogs.

Run The Jewels play Lovebox Festival in London on July 15th, get your tickets here

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