Bassheads: EL-P and Killer Mike are Back With That Crack

Words By Horace Byrd III, Photos By Diana Levine

El-P and Killer Mike are like a deadstock pair of Kareem Abdul Jabbar hightop kicks from the early ‘80s that have been in a box with the acid paper this whole time. And when they hop out of the box you can still smell that unique cologne that only a sneaker nerd can truly appreciate— that special combination of leather, rubber, suede, that blue cardboard box. It’s a scent that never gets old and you feel brand new every time you come across it.

Killer Mike hails from Atlanta. He came up with Outkast and the Dungeon Family. He’s had mainstream hits. He’s toured the world. He’s had record deals come and go. He loves rap— the rap he grew up on. Same with El-P— the New York native who has been cooking up crack rock beats and rhyming on top of them since he was 16 years old. This is the same El-P who built the Definitive Jux label from scratch, and made noise with a group called Company Flow. These men are veterans of the rap game, but they’re not shell shocked. They’re innovators who came together under a banner called Run The Jewels, recorded one album called Run The Jewels, and now have a second album on the way called Run The Jewels 2. Full disclosure— they’ve inked a deal with Mass Appeal records & tapes.

Mass Appeal: Y’all just played the record here the other day, and like I said then, it literally felt like each song was a really amazing level of a video game. As a listener— for me at least— at the end of each song it feels like you’ve completed another level of the game.

El-P: I feel like with Run The Jewels, we’re inhabiting a little bit of a superhero stance. But it’s like … an ignorant superhero. It’s a superhero that’s going to fuck shit up. To some degree, that’s the energy that we have with this music. If it’s not triumphant, at the very least, it’s definitely on some “You’re not fucking with us” shit.

Killer Mike: Yup! I’ve often said I kind of view Run The Jewels as a graphic novel. Everybody has been fed their religion, everybody’s been fed their cultural myth— Run The Jewels is creating a new myth. If it’s from the logo, to the design, to the philosophy of “I don’t give a fuck.” I think that it’s needed, and I think that … even if I’m not a video gamer, because I grew up ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s; that type of shit has become such a part of my life. I expect everything to have newer and doper levels. I think El and I are always trying to top the last song we did, and I think that’s what people are getting.

As cats who have such a legacy and long careers; I mean you guys are the rare pair who can … I don’t want to say re-invent themselves, but sort of stay contemporary and stay fresh. What is it you think that keeps you guys contemporary, and fresh?

El-P: I think we may have an arsenal …

KM: I think we made a commitment to not stopping.… Part of staying contemporary is to stay active. I think that a lot of guys get caught up in the “am I old enough,” “am I ‘South’ enough,” “am I ‘this’ enough.” I think so many people get caught up in the “am I?” game that they forget to just be. So, we did Run The Jewels, and when it worked really really well, there was no question on what we were gonna do next: we were gonna do it again.

El-P: I also think you’re talking to two guys who never in their heads, ever in their lives felt that they got what they came for, yet. You know what I mean?

KM: Absolutely.

E-P: There’s no bouncing back for us because we literally never left what we do. We literally never stopped, we literally never tried pushing forward. There’s never been a moment where we’ve been like, “Well, that worked. What next?”

I think also what makes it unpredictable and unexpected is just the cultural references and where you guys come from regionally and bringing all that together. It’s not like it’s “your chocolate is in my peanut butter,” but y’all are definitely a combination that hip hop hasn’t really seen.

KM: These weird little regional differences [that we/the beats] have, these crazy little idiosyncrasies because they show up in the music, through the music in a more pure and honest way than if you just grab a kid from Atlanta, kid from New York, and start a new super-group. I think what makes us a “super-group,” essentially, is a genuine super-friendship that built this group. It’s easier to just be yourself … it’s not like we sit down and plan certain cultural references to contrast to the antithesis of one another. What really happens is that these things that we are apart from the music become a part of our music because two friends are rapping together.

El-P: The thing I’ve noticed about Run The Jewels is, no matter how far you think you’ve come and shit, no matter how far you think you’ve come as a culture, multiple cultures, there’s still this fascination … there’s still this … people get … this little contingency… not even little, but unspoken contingency of people who genuinely … it’s almost like they just want to say, “How is it possible? How is it possible that you’re actually, legitimately friends?!?” Like, you know what I mean? It really is … it’s almost a racial question. The fact of the matter is: me and Mike are both the same age, we both literally were born in the same year, we both literally had very, very similar experiences in terms of our musical direction. We’re not the fucking UN! Still, people are witnessing something that’s hasn’t necessarily been mixed up in the same way before.

Well, that’s not true because there was Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.

KM: That was my favorite Mike song.

El-P: But besides…

KM: That’s it. It don’t get no better than that.

El-P: But besides Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, basically we took “Say Say Say” and decided to make a career out of it.


Well, that’s very smart.

El-P: But on some real shit, I think there’s something that comes through the music that’s intangible. People can’t wrap their heads around it happening, and there are two people who are on the same songs they’re making songs together. They’re from different places, have had different experiences, and at the same time they somehow they seem to be of the same mindset. I really like about us.


What happens when y’all you start missing each other? Do you just get on the phone? Do you FaceTime? What happens?

El-P: We haven’t not seen each other for a full month since 2010— we’re either on the road or in the studio all the time. We talk, we talk everyday!

What happens when there’s an argument? How do you resolve them?

KM: Arguments get solved immediately; we never leave the room with an argument. Yeah. Somebody says, “My bad. I’m sorry” or “It was a misunderstanding,” and we axe that shit. It’s just what it is. If you’re that close of friends, you’re going to run into disagreements and arguments, but like ain’t no argument worth throwing my friendship out. This my man a 100 grand.

EL-P: I mean it’s straight up. When you make a friend at 35 years old, it’s a little bit different, you know what I mean? Like … you’re already a grownup. You already know you’ve seen every way a friendship can tank, you’ve seen where friendship can triumph, and you’re just not as susceptible to the little to the bullshit as you used to be.

Hall & Oates made dope shit, but they couldn’t keep it together.

KM: Yeah, man. That’s heartbreaking too, bruh. Like before, like I can’t lose my friend for a group— that ain’t cool, bruh. The fact that Hall & Oates don’t get along breaks our fucking heart. They had more soul than a black neighborhood.

Have you heard that they found 800 pounds of cocaine on Paris Hilton’s family ranch in like Costa Rica or something like that?

KM: They found 800 pounds of cocaine on the Hilton family ranch in Costa Rica?


El-P: Note to self: Book flight to Costa Rica.

KM: Note to self: Make friends with Paris Hilton. She’s the plug!

El-P: You know what’s crazy? I don’t fuck with yay, but I would do it with Paris Hilton in Costa Rica. You know that shit is the illest fucking fish scale you’ve ever touched in your life.

KM: Ever. I was just looking at celebrity nudes; I was looking at her titties this morning!


El-P: Guys, real shit though: literally, before I got on the phone with you, booked myself a vacation to Costa Rica. I’m not even kidding.

You both said that you would do cocaine with Paris Hilton on her ranch. I wanna know what each of you are gonna wear to that affair?

KM: Only topless, she gotta show them titties.

No, what about you though?

El-P: I have a different perspective. I would do it on her ranch, but I just prefer she not be there.

KM: I want her there; I just don’t want her DJing. She just can’t DJ.

El-P: Yeah, she can’t DJ.

No, but what are you guys gonna wear?

KM: I would wear my Gunplay promo t-shirt. I definitely would have it, because you can’t snort cocaine with Paris Hilton in Costa Rica without having Adolf Sniffler’s promo shirt on.

El-P: If I’m in Costa Rica on the Hilton compound with 800 pounds of raw, uncut cocaine, I’m not wearing shit.

Mike: [Laughs]

You’re just gonna hop into it and disappear.

El-P: Just jump in, cannonball into the mound.


This article appears in Mass Appeal Issue 55. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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