I was half-asleep when I first read the email from Jamie (El-P of Definitive Jux) and Mike (Atlanta’s own Killer Mike) from Run The Jewels that their second project had been released early in November of last year. As I clicked through the email and ended up on Daylight Curfew’s page, I saw some strange merch items in their shop, ranging from RTJ solving mysteries in a van with you to showing up at your child’s school for show and tell. But none were as perplexing as the $40,000 cat remix album Meow The Jewels. No one thought it would happen, especially not a sleep-deprived hip-hop fan, but now that I’ve listened to the newly released project (which you can cop for free or on very limited edition vinyl, all profit from which is going to charity, here), that same feeling of confused euphoria has come rushing back.
An eager fan-run Kickstarter page and a murderer’s row of guest producers (El-P, The Alchemist, Prince Paul, Just Blaze, BOOTS, Blood Diamonds, Zola Jesus, Dan The Automator, Geoff Barrow of Portishead) later, Meow The Jewels is very real and it’s here. If you’re expecting nothing more than “Run The Jewels 2, but with cat sounds,” then El-P and his camp have a fur-padded punch to the gut in store for you. About half of the project filters cat noises (purrs, meows, growls, screams, etc.) through RTJ’s hard-hitting electronic sound; whether we’re talking about the growling bass of Just Blaze’s “Oh My Darling Don’t Meow” or the deft melodic recreation of Nick Hook’s “All Meow Life” and BOOTS’ “Meowrly,” these fan-boasted amalgams sound better than they have any right to. But the real standouts here come from left-field experimentation, like the serene groove of Blood Diamonds “Paw Due Respect.” Zola Jesus turns fan-favorite “Blockbuster Night Part 1” inside out and creates a cacophonous electronic kitty nightmare with “Pawfluffer Night,” while The Alchemist-produced “Creown” features Mike and El rapping over eerie vocal samples from Meow Mix commercials and Trailer Park Boys layered over soft purrs.
DJs Khaled and Drama wouldn’t be caught dead over these remixes, and that’s kind of the point. Run The Jewels is arguably the biggest fringe movement hip-hop has seen since Odd Future blew up in 2011, a bonafide phenomenon that’s taken both the underground and the mainstream by storm based solely on how grounded it is in outright weirdness. While it is, above all else, a novelty record brought to life by equally sincere and ironic fan interest, Meow The Jewels is still a disarmingly entertaining remix album.