Run the Jewels release timely track ‘Early’

SHARE Run the Jewels release timely track ‘Early’
SHARE Run the Jewels release timely track ‘Early’

BY MOIRA MCCORMICK | FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

After two jam-packed days of promotional events late last month in New York City, hip-hop superduo Run the Jewels spent Halloween eve decompressing in Brooklyn, at a wrap party following their taping of “Late Show with David Letterman.”

Run the Jewels members Killer Mike and El-P, who headline two shows (one already sold-out) Nov. 22 at Metro, were honored guests at the soiree hosted by their label, Mass Appeal. The recently-launched indie imprint, co-founded by venerable New York emcee Nas, staged RTJ’s post-“Letterman” festivities in an atmospheric Williamsburg bar called Union Pool.

RUN THE JEWELS When: 5:15 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 22 Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark Tickets: Sold out Info: metrochicago.com

Dotting this former swimming-pool-supply store’s walls were images of RTJ’s masterful sophomore album, “Run the Jewels 2.” Veteran British music journal NME is among the record’s legion of critical admirers; wrote reviewer Al Horner: “Cranking the urgency and confrontation of last year’s self-titled debut to neck-breaking levels of intensity, ‘RTJ2’ is an urgent, paranoid album for a violent, panicked time … but as long as Mike and El-P are collaborating, at least the future of hip-hop is in safe hands.”

Brooklyn native El-P, a celebrated rapper, producer and erstwhile record mogul in the underground hip-hop realm, noted that this had been his third time on “Letterman,” and the second for Atlanta-based emcee Killer Mike, a 2002 Grammy-winner. At the suggestion that they and the talk-show alpha dog must be old pals by now, El-P remarked with a laugh, “We exchange, like, seven or eight words. ‘Hi, how’re you doing,’ etc.; same thing every time. But he’s a legend, so it’s amazing.”

Run the Jewels’ “Late Show” episode aired on Halloween, featuring their combustible performance of the harrowing album track “Early.” Joining RTJ on Letterman’s soundstage were Beyonce collaborator Boots, singing the plaintive, haunting hook he supplies on “RTJ2,” plus a trio of vocalists made up like Day of the Dead figures.

“Early” is uncut, eloquent rage, focused and controlled as a blowtorch, aimed at police brutality. Thus it is particularly, grimly relevant right now, in the wake of the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner (though as Killer Mike pointed out in a subsequent phone interview, “Early” was written and recorded “just as a social statement” before both incidents).

Mike and El-P are now collaborating on a recording whose profits are earmarked for Garner’s and Brown’s families: a lighthearted spoof of “RTJ2,” completely fan-funded via Kickstarter.

“There’s something really beautiful about everyone rallying around the idea of making something really silly,” said El-P of the parody project (a cat-sound version of the album that they’re calling “Meow the Jewels”) “and [having it] speak to our hearts. Because people actually do care.”

While “RTJ2” proper does indeed strike “urgent, paranoid” notes, the record has its playful side as well — and it’s an emphatically, explicitly grownup kind of playful that’s on display in the track “Love Again (Akinyele Back).” Over El-P’s dizzying, carnal beat, first Mike and then El recount some of their fondest amorous exploits in vivid detail, punctuated by a jutting, boastful hook — all of which gets put in perspective, shall we say, by the reciprocal-in-every-way woman’s take that is served up in a verse by guest emcee Gangsta Boo.

“We’re not the aggressors, and we’re also not condescending,” El-P stressed, referring to Mike’s and his own contributions. “We’re just talking about real, raw — “Adult sex,” Killer Mike finished.

“We knew that feminine energy needed to be represented there, because we didn’t want it to be interpreted as aggressive towards women,” El-P continued. “We wanted to make a classic song, with the idea of sexual empowerment and the contrasting perspectives.”

For Boo’s part, as she detailed, “I was in a group of five guys” — Southern gangsta-rap crew Three 6 Mafia — “so I always had to bring it hard. I’m known for doing the back-and-forth, speaking up for the females.”

“Ultimately,” El-P declared, “everybody is in on the fun.”

Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.

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