“Do Dope, Fuck Hope.” Killer Mike’s hoodie spoke volumes to me when I first saw he and El-P’s group Run The Jewels perform at the 2014 Governors Ball. I still haven’t taken to weed, but the quote is still nothing if not galvanizing to me today because it hypes me up to see two legends getting the respect they deserve.
As far as late-career recognition goes, Run The Jewels is one of hip-hop’s most unexpected career second winds. Mike and El-P were both well established artists way before the fist and gun position, but their pairing under Fools Gold in 2013 as Run The Jewels was what shot them back to the forefront of hip-hop’s mind.
I was five when El-P first linked with Mr. Len and Bigg Jus to form Company Flow and nine when Killer Mike ripped his scene-stealing guest verse on Outkast’s “The Whole World,” but I wasn’t formally introduced to their music until I heard R.A.P. Music in 2012. What started as a chance meeting between the two orchestrated by Adult Swim’s own Jason DeMarco turned into one of the best records of the decade, rap or otherwise, and I was all in. Mike and El’s chemistry was so strong that they formed a group and dropped another 10-track project that would change both of their lives forever.
“El brought up that old [LL] Cool J shit, that “Cheesy Rat Blues.” (“Throw your hands in the air, keep ’em there, run the jewels?”),” Mike told Snoop Dogg on GGN News. “He said ‘What you think of that?’ At first, I was like let me sleep on it. I was hanging up the phone saying this is the hardest shit I’ve ever heard in my life.”
It’s hard to classify what exactly makes their music so infectious. For my money, the Run The Jewels sound sits right in the middle of the bridge connecting Lil Yachty to Ice Cube. The beats pulse with a raw synthetic energy anyone can lose their mind to, but Mike and El are pure lyricists of the highest order at the same time; ones who manage to mix pop culture references, exaggerated turns of phrase (“I’ll teabag a piranha tank” still kills me every time), and sociopolitical commentary in a way as appealing to Adult Swim’s core fanbase as it is to hip-hop formalists. Mike and El both realize the world is in a constant state of fucked, but with some sour and a good beat, we can get over anything (“Do dope, fuck hope”). This was enough for them to literally give their music away for free but still have fans clamoring to pay for merch and for brands like Jagermeister tripping over themselves to sponsor them. Hell, their name got so big that two comedians almost tried to nic the concept for their own movie.
Two albums and near-constant touring and promotions later, Run The Jewels have debuted “Panther Like A Panther (I’m The Shit)” – the first single from their upcoming third(!!) project Run The Jewels 3 – via a commercial for XBOX game Gears of War 4, which they’ll also be playable characters in. The independent cats are really running Microsoft for those jewels.
That and Mike’s involvement in politics and social justice (most famously as a fierce advocate for Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders) have only given RTJ a bigger platform to scream from. Milking that sweet spot has paid huge dividends that are even affecting fellow understated legends caught in their orbit like DJ Shadow. All of this marks Run The Jewels is an against all odds second coming made through decades of blood, sweat, and tears, and a single debut inside a Gears of War commercial is just another notch in the belt before another wild album drops from the sky.