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Run the Jewels Provides a Fitting Soundtrack to Troubled Times

Made up of legendary Brooklyn-based producer and rapper El-P and once-underrated Atlanta MC Killer Mike, hip hop duo Run the Jewels is built on constant forward momentum.

After El-P provided production for Killer Mike’s 2012 solo LP, R.A.P. Music, and enlisted Mike for a feature on his own album, Cancer 4 Cure, a true collaborative project seemed like the natural next step. Their debut, Run the Jewels, was released in summer 2013 to critical fanfare. Light on hooks but heavy on aggressive beats and unforgiving, rapid-fire rhymes, it was an absolute powerhouse of an album.

Despite a heavy touring schedule, a follow-up, Run the Jewels 2, was released just one year later, in fall 2014. Critical and fan reaction was swift and immense.

In the year between the two albums, America had gone through significant changes. In the wake of awful displays of police brutality in Ferguson, MO and elsewhere, public disgust with unjust authority was at an all-time high. The taut, explosive Run the Jewels 2 dropped one month before a grand jury decided not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of black teenager Michael Brown.

The sense of urgency in Run the Jewels’ music was kicked up several notches. All that pent-up aggression now had specific targets. No more were Mike and El-P’s lyrics aimed at nameless fuckboys and nondescript nobodies trying to jack their style. Instead, the white-hot intensity of songs like “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” and “Blockbuster Night Part 1” was perfectly in tune with the zeitgeist.

Mike and El-P had been outspoken about such societal injustices for their entire careers prior, but now they had the attention of the masses. As they toured the country behind Run the Jewels 2, they promulgated their platform through both music and an unrepentant onstage energy. Meanwhile, Mike appeared on a series of cable news shows, speaking boldly against authoritative violence and racially motivated police cruelty. Intentionally or not, Run the Jewels had provided the soundtrack to a revolution.

While the group continues to figuratively fight back against senseless violence, Run the Jewels was recently involved in a literal scuffle that may have an effect on the rest of their current tour.

During SXSW, Mike and El-P were attacked onstage in the middle of a performance by an allegedly unstable man who had been seen walking the streets of Austin muttering to himself; the man made the claim to police that Run the Jewels had stolen his lyrics, as well as his money.

Before the assailant was apprehended by security, Mike threw a punch, tearing his rotator cuff in the process. Against his doctor’s wishes, Mike is continuing on tour and refusing to wear a sling. You can’t make this stuff up.

Despite the injury, and a seemingly insane touring schedule, El-P claims the group is on the fast track to Run the Jewels 3. And with the unrest that characterized much of 2014 showing no signs of lessening, we should expect a more politically direct and even more aggressive—if that’s even possible—venture. (We’ll also be seeing the Kickstarter-funded Meow the Jewels project, a version of Run the Jewels 2 remixed with cat noises and vocals, sometime later this year.)

Run the Jewels plays the Georgia Theatre on Apr. 4, and Killer Mike holds a Q&A lecture at UGA’s Tate Theater on Apr. 2. Go to both, but please, try not to jump onstage.

WHAT: Killer Mike lecture and Q&A
WHERE: UGA Tate Theater
WHEN: Thursday, Apr. 2, 6 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $5 (door), FREE (w/ student ID)

WHO: Run the Jewels, The Difference Machine, Fort Knox w/ DJ Dark Knight
WHERE: Georgia Theatre
WHEN: Saturday, Apr. 4, 8 p.m.