Heavy smoke wafts through the air in Run the Jewels’ trailer as Killer Mike puffs on a joint. His partner in crime, El-P, is sitting comfortably on the couch after the duo’s Maha Music Festival set in Omaha, NE, was cut short due to an impending storm. With the driver of a black Cadillac Escalade patiently waiting to whisk them away, they are still eager to discuss their meteoric rise to fame.
After all, it was only five years ago that Mike asked El-P to produce his 2012 solo album, R.A.P. Music, the project that started it all. In 2013, the Georgia native/Outkast affiliate and New York–underground hip-hop legend officially teamed up under the Run the Jewels moniker—and the rest is history.
“We did not anticipate this,” El-P explains. “There’s really no way around it. We just didn’t—certainly not when we were doing the first Run the Jewels project, ’cause we were just doing it for fun. We didn’t think it would become the main thing we were doing. We just didn’t have anything lined up. We were just hanging and being creative with each other. We just did it just because we loved making music.”
Run the Jewels released its self-titled debut in 2013 to critical acclaim and followed up with Run the Jewels 2 in 2014 and Run the Jewels 3 in 2016. Since then, the duo’s stock has soared and they’ve simply been enjoying the wild ride. Mike has always had one goal in mind, and, evidently, his plan is working.
“I’m fucking nuts, so I’ll say it, like, ‘We’re going to take over the fucking world.’ We are becoming what we always wanted to become, and that’s one of the best rap groups. We wanted to do what we saw Outkast, EPMD, the Beasties, 8Ball & MJG, and UGK do—hang out, make dope music with your friends and rock the crowd.”
Together, El-P and Killer Mike offer more than just clever rhyme schemes, explosive production and intriguing lyrical content. They’re a symbol of what it means to put any perceived differences aside and bust through stereotypes. Considering America’s political climate and ever-evolving divisiveness, Run the Jewels’ outspokenness couldn’t come at a better time.
“We just are friends,” Mike explains. “Our friends inspire people. We aren’t mad about it inspiring people, because I would love to see kids in this country overcome these issues. We’re given racism, classism and suspicions of one another. We’re kind of given that by our parents, aunts and bigger society. I’m happy to see kids coming up using our friendship and saying, ‘You know what? We cool.’ That’s not why we’re friends, though. We’re just fucking friends.”
“The power of the symbolism doesn’t escape us, especially in these times, but it’s a by-product of a genuine friendship,” El-P adds. “This is just the reality of our friendship. This is just the truth.”