My husband has been begging me to contribute to CNQ for a while so here we go!
The Run the Jewels show we saw a few weeks back was amazing but it's more than that, I have listened to Run the Jewels 2 multiple times every day since, watched any interview I can find with Killer Mike and El-P, and have started digging deep into their back catalogs. I'm in DEEP.
I have always liked hip-hop but my tastes have always leaned more towards fun stuff, clever braggadocious lyrics, preferably filthy, with a beat to dance to. I wanted to like conscious rap but it was always boring, heavy handed, or both. I enjoy conscious commentary couched within a banger but that just doesn't happen as much. My husband doesn't quite appreciate Kanye West as much as I do but I think he's excellent at this- his politics are often muddled but he is often talking about something more than sex and money (although there's plenty of that as well) with humor in a sly way that doesn't bring the whole song down. All Falls Down was one of his first singles and as long as you aren't distracted by Stacy Dash from Clueless' nipples (or the fact that she's become a very outspoken Republican recently) you'll hear some interesting racial commentary without being didactic. I won't even go into my theories that Kanye is a genius and that much of his persona is an elaborate put-on (perhaps even his marriage to Kim Kardashian.)
I knew of El-P from his old label Definitive Jux and just seeing his albums out there in the music media being well-reviewed but I never sought him out. Honestly, I wasn't in the market for another super verbose white, male rapper. The Beastie Boys did a perfectly fine job of playing that role so I didn't really have room for Eminem, Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, or the like. On the flip, I really didn't know anything about Killer Mike until last year when we saw him at Fun Fun Fun Fest and were astonished by his performance and his overall attitude, he exudes good vibes while also being rightfully pissed about a lot of things in the world. He had been affiliated with Outkast but he never quite got the attention he deserved and really I was never that into Outkast. His most recent solo album R.A.P Music is clearly excellent (and produced by El-P and he raps on one track) but it still wasn't something that I listened to constantly; liked it but didn't love it. But the mixture of their bromantic chemistry, El-P's production that is just weird enough to be interesting but also bangs and has great hooks, their different-but-complimentary flows, their balance of seriousness and goofiness, just coalesced into the perfect album. It's fun without being stupid like most radio rap, it's conscious without being dull, and it's aggressive like street rap while being welcoming to people from all walks of life (during the show they both shouted out gay rights and called for us all to be kind to each other, discouraging the guys trying to get bout it in the pit from flailing into women who are just trying to enjoy the show.) And for an album recorded pre-Ferguson it certainly sounds like it's a direct response. Add to all of this the fact that these two guys are almost 40, from 2 totally difference scenes, and both never quite broke through despite their immense talent...it's an underdog story, to boot! It's deeply inspiring. I haven't felt so affected by an album or band in years, probably not since I got into Sleater-Kinney's Dig Me Out (they are my all time favorite band, and coincidentally you can here them shout out Run the Jewels in this interview about their reunion tour and album.) Embarrassingly, I had not listened to Run the Jewels' first album at all because it wasn't on Spotify, how lazy? We'd watched the videos for a couple of the songs, 36" Chain and A Christmas F*cking Miracle, both of which are great but I am incredibly stoked they've released the first video for RTJ 2.
I am a librarian, and my first impulse when I get into something is to dig around and find everything I can online about it. And "it" in this case is El-P because I have developed a weirdly intense crush on the man. Never been into gingers before, but his talent, his white boy swag, and chipped front tooth give me the vapors. Killer Mike also has a beautiful smile and loads of charisma but he's married so that's why El-P gets the brunt of my affections. It's interesting to me how girls are expected to find the male musicians they enjoy attractive; it starts early with boy bands and Bieber-types but there's plenty of it in grown womanhood with the likes of Drake for the hip-hop crowd or Dierks Bentley for the country lovin' ladies. The opposite is true for men- sure they can find a woman hot in her videos but they have to insist they mute the music. Overall, men aren't encouraged to like music by women; a group like the Pussycat Dolls were marketed very sexily but not to sell albums to pubescent boys but rather to sell a male-approved sexuality to girls who could listen to Don't Cha with abandon (we all know guys enjoy pop trifles like this or Taylor Swift or the Spice Girls in their day but it wouldn't be considered masculine to admit it.) I'm sure there are many a women studies thesis that addresses this phenomenon but all I can really say is that I've been taking the bait since the jump; while the Monkees were very much before my time, they reunited when I was in middle school so they were re-airing the show. I was in love with Michael Nesmith in the same way millions of girls were in 1967 but also developed quite an appreciation for his country-tinged rock (which lead me to Son Volt which lead to a deep attraction to Jay Farrar, it's a cycle.) Through some deep Googling, I read who El-P's girlfriend is, read her Twitter (she's pretty funny) for way too long, and found this silly little song she wrote on the fly about him. When he says "very nice, sweetie" at the end, I die. Based on the oral focus of his more sensual lyrics, she is definitely getting hers, good for them!
This song has a particularly notable El-P verse and something about his creepy mustache does it for me.
It really cannot be overstated how engaging El-P and Killer Mike's chemistry is. I have gotten misty just reading about their developing friendship. There is a strange dearth of good quality videos of them performing together but this is a nice live studio session where you get to see them chat and be adorable together and then kill it on the track (Sea Legs has become one of my favorites.)