The Untold Truth Of Run The Jewels

Jaime Meline and Michael Render, better known as El-P and Killer Mike of Run the Jewels, aren't exactly new kids on the rap block. The duo, which has been rapping together since 2013, came together after years of industry experience. Per NPR, El-P was a part of Brooklyn trio Company Flow, and he worked behind the mic, too, co-founding the record label Definitive Jux. Killer Mike, meanwhile, rose to prominence thanks to a feature on OutKast's "Stankonia" (Big Boi once told Trevor Noah on "The Daily Show" that signing Killer Mike was one of his "greatest accomplishments") and his own solo work.

That being said, the pair only reached the astonishing success they have now when they finally came together, and interestingly enough, they never expected it. As El-P told The New York Times, he and Killer Mike only thought they'd be making "a [expletive] mixtape as friends." Their self-titled debut album was met to "universal acclaim," per Metacritic, and even managed to get onto Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.

Since forming Run the Jewels, the rap legends have successfully connected with their fans, weaving political and societal themes into their music with apparent ease. "I appreciate being in that moment with the people out on the streets and being the soundtrack to their moment," Killer Mike told NPR. This is the untold truth of Run the Jewels.

Run the Jewels is a subtle nod to an LL Cool J song

While Run the Jewels definitely sounds like a good name for a rap group, what the heck does it mean? According to El-P, the phrase is quite common in New York. As he told NPR, "If you were hearing the word run the jewels ... you were in trouble."

More seriously, the rapper noted that the idea for their name came from a dark place, when he had "personally lost everything." Explaining that he was listening to LL Cool J's 1990 track "Cheesy Rat Blues" one day, he revealed that the lyrics truly resonated with him, as the artist was also rapping about "losing everything" and "being a rap star." If all of that wasn't pretty close to home already, LL finishes the song with the lyrics, "throw your hands in the air, wave them like you just don't care. But keep them there — run the jewels."

El-P notes that the song made him feel "bigger" and was "powerful" — something that their fans felt, too. "It became a life-affirming thing for them," added Killer Mike. Suddenly, "run the jewels" took on a different meaning for an entirely new generation. 

Adult Swim played a big role in Run the Jewels' inception

Killer Mike and El-P were already industry veterans by the time they linked up to form Run the Jewels. As it turns out, it was thanks to Jason DeMarco, the vice president and creative director for Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim," that brought the two together (via Billboard).

As Killer Mike revealed to Thrasher Magazine, DeMarco linked the two men up in a studio, and after working on material for three hours, Killer Mike demanded they do a whole album. Eventually, after it was released, the pair went on tour. "El-P and Killer Mike opened for Run The Jewels," Killer Mike told Thrasher. "Then we'd come back out on stage as Run The Jewels, and for whatever reason, people went fu**ing nuts."

To this day, Run the Jewels know where they came from. "If Jason calls, we say yes," declared El-P to Billboard, adding that "he's like family." Sure enough, the rappers are close to "Adult Swim" and have collaborated with the company, releasing a "Rick and Morty" crossover music video in 2018, been a part of the network's "Singles Series," and even helped host a televised concert created to promote voter registration in 2020.

Killer Mike and El-P never expected to find as much fame

Both El-P and Killer Mike have been vocal about their struggles prior to coming together. When they did finally form Run the Jewels, their immediate success came as a bit of a shock. "I didn't imagine Run the Jewels to be more than just a cool thing that we did ...," El-P admitted to Spin, adding, "I didn't think it would become the biggest thing in our careers and didn't think it would be this whole second career for us."

Run the Jewels catapulted both artists into the spotlight — and they're very conscious that none of it would be possible without their fans. Pitchfork calls them "two generous and sincere men who deeply love their family, friends, and fans," adding that they're even known to give their albums away for free. If that's not all, their music video for "Get It" pays homage to their listeners, showcasing the men performing live and spending time with fans.

Although they've achieved such massive success, it looks like even as the years go on, Run the Jewels still don't know what to expect. "We're not really a thinking man's operation," quipped El-P to Spin. He claims that the pair thrive in the unexpected, forgoing any sort of planning. Oddly enough, he adds, "it all feels like part of the ride of being in something beautiful and unexpected."

Killer Mike owns multiple barbershops

Besides his love for rap, Killer Mike's other passion is owning barbershops — and he has an entire worldview behind why they're so important, too. "Our whole philosophy is men deserve to be shaved, washed, and groomed," the rapper told Vice's Noisey, adding that for working-class men, affording to go to places such as social clubs isn't exactly an option. Instead, he notes, barbershops work as places to go to "express our thoughts, concerns, laugh, joke about sports, music."

As of 2021, Killer Mike owns two barbershops in Atlanta, Georgia, and both are called The SWAG Shop (an acronym for "shave, wash, and groom"). An Atlanta native himself, the rapper sees his project as a way to give back to his community. "I want to see young African American men employed, without having to continue to beg people for employment," he explained to Barber Schools. He notes that after earning disposable income, he wants to see his employees go on to "invest in other things."

And while he's certainly giving back to the community, Killer Mike recognizes the project as something to fall back on for himself, too. "I never wanted to only depend on rap to the point [where] if it disappointed me, I just wanted my whole world to wash away," he dished to Noisey. Thankfully, his backup plan is serving him just right. 

At one point, you could buy Run the Jewels catnip

In October 2015, Pitchfork released a curious review on a Run the Jewels album called "Meow the Jewels." In it, they quote philosopher Albert Schweitzer — "There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats." Apparently, Run the Jewels figured out a way to blend both.

"Meow the Jewels" is a cat-sampled remix album of RTJ's sophomore effort, "Run the Jewels 2." As El-P explained to Mass Appeal, the idea started off as "a joke" while he was organizing merchandise orders for the group's website. "I thought it would be funny if we came up with a bunch of fake ones," he quipped, so he included a "Meow the Jewels" album package priced at $40,000. Unexpectedly enough, the idea got picked up by a fan on Kickstarter and was suddenly backed by A-list producers and artists willing to contribute, too, including Portishead's Geoff Barrow and Massive Attack's 3D.

Turning the debacle into a charity event, the rappers raised $65,783 and got to work creating the album (and filmed an adorable cat audition video, as well). They also updated their Kickstarter page with a breakdown of where the money would be going, donating the original $40,000 to the families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Jr. After the manufacturing fees and other various costs, the rest of the money went to merch, including — you guessed it — "Meow the Jewels" catnip (via Kickstarter).

They're known to rap about sociopolitical issues

Part of Run the Jewels' success can be attributed to the fact that they truly don't follow current rap trends and have instead carved out their own sound. The Guardian calls them "political" and "angry," with roots "in the golden age hip-hop of Public Enemy and EPMD." It's that iconic Run the Jewels sound that connected with listeners in 2020 when the artists released "RTJ4" mere days after the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests against police brutality.

"When everyone is ready to see and accept it ... the action of revolt and progress starts," Killer Mike explained to Complex after the album's release. He explains that the two men haven't exactly adapted their lyrics to current events — it's merely something they've "been seeing all along." That being said, it's not like either Killer Mike or El-P are particularly ecstatic about the accuracy of their rhymes in the world today. If anything, its relevance is disheartening. "The best thing that could ever happen to the world is if Run the Jewels was just blathering nonsense," El-P mused to The Guardian.

Run the Jewels released "RTJ4" on June 3, 2020, announcing on Twitter, "The world is infested with bulls**t so here's something raw to listen to while you deal with it all."

Run the Jewels' music is aggressive, but it's also fun

Although their music is politically charged and aggressive, Run the Jewels maintain that it's also expressive and fun. "Well, those are the times right now," El-P bluntly told Vulture in 2020. He explains, however, that their shows and albums are filled with positive energy, and that the music isn't solely serious. "We understand what messages people are connecting to and the context in which it's connecting," he says, while also noting that it could be used to just, well, have a good time.

And while current events may have paved the way for the duo's lyrical content, Killer Mike wants to remind his fans that Run the Jewels are not "a political rap group." As he declared to NPR, "We don't care what party you belong to. We don't care who you supported. We don't care what you're doing tomorrow politically." However, what Run the Jewels do care about is social freedom — a right they believe everyone should have.

At the end of the day, both Killer Mike and El-P are lovers of rap music — two talented industry veterans who came together to form Run the Jewels. "We're friends. We love making rap music," El-P told Complex. "It's not all serious."

Run the Jewels took time to work on solo projects

Saying that Run the Jewels have been busy since the release of their 2013 debut album would be a severe understatement. "We spent 123 days doing shows. I worked myself into the hospital twice from dehydration and exhaustion," Killer Mike revealed to Spin when asked why the group waited so long to release their fourth effort, "RTJ4."

After the promotional run for their third album, 2016's "Run the Jewels 3," Killer Mike and El-P decided to briefly go their separate ways, later admitting to The Guardian that it wasn't just physical exhaustion that they felt — their friendship was drained, too. As the outlet reveals, Killer Mike turned to activism, publicly supporting Bernie Sanders' presidential candidacy and even launching his own Netflix docu-series, "Trigger Warning with Killer Mike," which looks at American socio-political issues that affect the country and the Black community. "You entertain and also give people some food for thought," the rapper told Billboard. "Or at least allowing others to start to understand the world from other perspectives."

El-P, on the other hand, sat down to write the soundtrack for "Capone," the 2020 Tom Hardy flick that chronicles the infamous Al Capone's fall into dementia. As he stated in a press release (via NME), the rapper spent his childhood listening to film scores. "They've always been a huge influence on me ... I loved helping create and getting lost in this twisted little trip into Al's mind."

Run the Jewels have inspired comic book covers

Although it may not be evident at first glance, it turns out that hip-hop and comic books go hand in hand. As one article by Vice's Noisey writes, "From Wu-Tang to, nearly all your favorite rappers, producers and general B-boy luminaries" are huge comic book fans. One prime example is Darryl McDaniels, aka DMC — the founding member of Run-DMC, who explains that hip-hop was born in the early '70s, around the same time that comic books were reigning supreme. "It was part of our lifestyle," he muses.

As it turns out, Run the Jewels' Killer Mike and El-P — who were both born in 1975 (vial Black Past and All Music) — are also comic book buffs. "Comic books are a part of the creative world of a kid in an urban environment," explained El-P to Rolling Stone, while Killer Mike revealed that his childhood was spent reading comic books with his stepdad.

The two comic book aficionados were certainly overjoyed when, in 2015, Marvel decided to honor Run the Jewels with two comic book covers, Issue 45 of "Deadpool" and Issue Two of "Howard the Duck," paying homage to the hip-hop legends by featuring characters with their fist-and-gun logo. As Killer Mike told Rolling Stone of the moment he found out, "I was dancing around the room in my Polo underwear."

A gag phone call led Trackstar to become Run the Jewels' unofficial member

While Run the Jewels consists of two members, El-P and Killer Mike, fans may have noticed another mystery man on stage with them. Cue Gabe Moskoff, aka DJ Trackstar — the duo's unofficial group member.

Unlike El-P and Killer Mike, who have decades of experience in the music industry, Trackstar was merely a Washington University graduate who, between 2003 and 2009, worked as a local Missouri DJ. As he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Killer Mike was once his "favorite rapper," having first heard him in 2006. It's that adoration for his idol that led him to dial Killer Mike's phone number one day after seeing it listed in an interview with the rapper. "I wanted to know what my favorite rapper's voicemail sounded like," he explained.

Surprisingly, Killer Mike picked up, causing Moskoff to open up about being a superfan. After impressing him with a "best of Killer Mike" mixtape, the rapper asked him to take the stage as his DJ at one of his concerts. The rest was history. "My relationship with Mike is just charmed. This whole thing is charmed, crazy and pure." As of this writing, Trackstar still serves as the DJ for Run the Jewels.

Surprisingly, Run the Jewels identify with rock bands

There's no denying that Run the Jewels is a hip-hop group. That being said, their dynamic is much more similar to that of rock bands. "We're a rap group almost masquerading in the rock world because we depend on the live show and merchandise," Killer Mike explained to GQ in 2020. Sure enough, in a world of Soundcloud and YouTube rappers, Run the Jewels stick out for their energetic and downright electrifying live shows — which sometimes even include mosh pits started by their fans.

Aside from relying on their live shows, both El-P and Killer Mike are actually rock fans, too. "I just like heavy music in general — from heavy rock and heavy metal and heavy rap and heavy everything," dished El-P to Revolver. Killer Mike, on the other hand, notes that his love for "rage" music was spurred on after seeing Run-DMC and Metallica in the "same summer" one year.

The pair has even collaborated with some pretty big rock names, too, having worked with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, Deftones frontman Chino Moreno, the Mars Volta, and Blink-182's Travis Barker. As El-P proudly told Revolver, "I've been fortunate to work with a lot of people I really admire in other worlds than just rap" – and it looks like the feeling is mutual, too. As of 2021, Run the Jewels have a rescheduled post-pandemic tour planned with Rage Against the Machine in 2022.

Killer Mike has been an advocate for Bernie Sanders

It's no secret that Killer Mike is a prominent social justice advocate. Along with hosting the Netflix series "Trigger Warning with Killer Mike" and collaborating with Adult Swim to put on a live show encouraging voter registration for 2020's presidential election, the rapper is interested in more than just beat-making. "[Growing up] they were my passions, rapping and organizing," he explained to The New York Times, noting that the latter made him "feel better" about helping his community, while "rap music gave [him] a voice." 

That passion for organizing led Killer Mike to Bernie Sanders, for whom he became a vocal advocate in 2016, even going as far as to publish six video interviews with the senator on YouTube. In one interview, the rapper praises Sanders' civil rights efforts, lauding the senator for spearheading the conversation between segregation, racism, civil rights, poverty, and war. "You're the only person who has dared to talk about [Rev. Dr. Martin Luther] King's connectivity," he declares to Sanders in the clip.

According to The New Yorker, Sanders and Killer Mike have stayed in touch throughout the years, with the latter having Sanders in his phone's contact list as "The OG." As the rapper told The New York Times of the politician, "[he's a] good man in a very crooked game."

Run the Jewels aren't going to stop making music anytime soon

El-P and Killer Mike of Run the Jewels aren't exactly spring chickens in the rap game. Both men, who were born in 1975, have been in the music biz professionally since the 1990s — Killer Mike making his mainstream debut in 1999 recording verses for OutKast's "Stankonia," while El-P was a member of Company Flow, a trio from the mid-'90s (via Rolling Stone).

While both rappers are certainly considered middle-aged, that doesn't mean they're planning on retiring anytime soon. "We're not fu**ing done yet!" roared El-P to GQ in 2020, noting that the pair agreed that they'd "do four records at a bare minimum." Killer Mike, on the other hand, offered up a bit more insight, sharing that the music-making process with his friend has been incomparable in his adult years. "Anything that makes me feel 15 and comes off this raw and rugged and hip-hop and in your face? I'm not stopping this s**t 'til it's over," he declared.

So, what's the secret to such long-lasting success in the hip-hop industry? While El-P confessed to The Ringer that he's not sure, he did reveal, "I've always put my nose to the grindstone and made it about the music."