Over the release of their three studio albums, Run The Jewels have grown both their name and their massively loyal fan base. RTJ are currently at the peak of their popularity — their latest album, RTJ3, hit #13 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart — and they’re only building more momentum with regular media appearances and a busy tour schedule.
The group brought new life to Hip Hop veterans Killer Mike and El-P as well as tour DJ and professional rap fan, DJ Trackstar. Together they mix in politics and a punk rock mentality to their aggressive Hip Hop aesthetic, all while having a whole lot of fun.
With a new season of We Run The Jewels going down from the back of A Tour Bus Named Attitude right now, HipHopDX, with Beats 1, has compiled some of the interesting facts we’ve learned from Killer Mike and El-P’s real talk on their Beats 1 show, WRTJ, on Apple Music (that you can hear in full), and beyond.
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Run The Jewels Run An 87.6% Metacritic Average
Art is always subjective. But Metacritic scores, which average out the scores from respected reviewers around the internet, are a nice indicator of quality and fan reaction. RTJ are critical darlings, with an average of 87.6 for their three studio albums. Their scores based on user votes are even higher.
Bottom line, everyone fucks with RTJ.
The Run The Jewels Name Comes From An LL Cool J Song
The group’s name is inspired by “Cheesy Rat Blues” from LL Cool J’s 1990 album, Mama Said Knock You Out. In an interview in a print edition of Thrasher, Mike said, “‘Run the Jewels’ is basically the most hardcore shit you can say that sounds slick. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, when you hear you’re going to run something, you know you’re being robbed. You won’t have a chance to fight back. Musically, that’s what it is.”
Adult Swim Helped Push Run The Jewels
Adult Swim senior vice president/creative director Jason DeMarco is the guy who introduced the two rappers to each other in 2011. Since then, the connection between the group and DeMarco has been “like family,” according to El-P in a Billboard article from January. Adult Swim’s Singles Program has premiered music for the group, and Killer Mike even lent his voice to AS series Frisky Dingo, which ran from 2006-2008.
El-P Got Booed Off Stage Opening For Beastie Boys
On a recent RTJ tour stop in Philadelphia, El-P was hit with a bout of deja vu at the venue. It was the same spot he’d been booed off stage when he and his former group Company Flow opened for Beastie Boys in 1998.
Watch him tell the full story:
El-P Once Opened For Ralph Nader
We all know Killer Mike was stumping for Bernie Sanders this past election, but El-P’s former group, Company Flow, once opened for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. The group opened up along with Eddie Vedder, Ani DiFranco and Patti Smith for Nader in front of 30,000 people at New York’s Madison Square Garden during the 2000 presidential election.
“They were really nervous about having us there,” El-P said during a 2002 interview with URB Magazine. “They literally put us in like, a closet. We sat there all fuckin’ day. After we performed — and this is the reason why Ralph Nader’s kinda the man — Ralph Nader brought his fruit plate into our room. He was like, ‘You guys are amazing … I’m so sorry that you sat in this, like, The Matrix room where you just had to, like, imagine food.’”
Meow The Jewels Got Kickstarted For Catnip
The remix album that seemed too ridiculous to be real was in fact crowdfunded on Kickstarter just ahead of RTJ2‘s release. The duo whimsically offered to make a remix of the album in which all instrumentals were replaced with the sounds of cats. With a lofty goal of $40,000, a whopping 2,800 backers managed to raise over $65,000 — all so that Killer Mike and El-P could re-record RTJ2 with a bunch of meows in lieu of actual beats. Talk about a dedicated fan base.
And what did those backers get in return for their money? Pledge bonuses included Meow The Jewels matches, lighters, T-shirts and most fittingly, a bag of MTJ catnip.
They Have Concept Ideas for Run The Jewels 4,5 & 7
While preparing to release RTJ3, Killer Mike and El-P brainstormed ideas for how to keep the series going on Episode 39 of WRTJ. For RTJ4, fans might expect a movie. For the fifth installment, El-P wants to create “an emotion that you can inject into your body” (while Killer Mike thought he meant an emoji). And skipping right over RTJ6, the seventh project will be a child that the two raise and teach how to rap, and his debut album will be RTJ7. Although these concepts are all ridiculous, they show the group’s endless creativity and wild sense of humor.
Prince Paul Thinks Their Debut Is One Of The Top 5 Greatest Concept Albums
Famed producer Prince Paul has seen his fair share of concept albums and when asked by AllHipHop, he named Run The Jewels’ first album as one of his favorites. “To me that’s a concept record, because they came out with personas of hardcore gangster guys and made songs based on that.”
Chuck D Called Run The Jewels “Babies” (As A Compliment)
It’s no secret that both Killer Mike and El-P were more than a decade into their careers by the time RTJ came around. But in the eyes of many, both MCs are relatively new artists. During the second episode of WRTJ, El-P mentioned a meeting in Iceland with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, where the legend called the duo “babies.” For a couple of lesser-known veterans with a significant past in Hip Hop, being referred to as babies in their early 40s is a real compliment.
Killer Mike’s Music Appreciation Started Early
Growing up in Adamsville, Atlanta, Mike was raised by his grandparents, who helped shape his musical tastes. “I grew up with my grandparents so I grew up listening to B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and a lot of gospel,” he said in a print issue of Wax Poetics. “Then I discovered through my mom lots of soul music like Curtis Mayfield and Teddy Pendergrass. That stuff just drove me crazy. Probably my last record that just drove me crazy was Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall.’”
Killer Mike Credits Hip Hop For Saving His Life
At 13, Mike decided he was “grown” and was soon sent to live with his mother. She was, as he put in an interview with Wax Poetics, a “pretty successful fucking hustler” and was teaching him how to cook cocaine by the time he was 16.
He credits Hip Hop for adding a new direction to his life. “When I discovered this thing called Hip Hop and heard rapping, it felt like this is what I’m supposed to be around and what I’m supposed to be doing. I just fell in love with it. It just got reinforced by a lot of artists,” he said. “My older uncles and cousins would be playing N.W.A and Ice-T around me and of course, being from Atlanta, Outkast and Goodie Mob. I’ve always been a gangster rap fan so Geto Boys, Dayton Family, Spice 1, Compton’s Most Wanted, shit like that drove me crazy. They were the best storytellers ever.”
They Are Big EPMD Fans
Run The Jewels says EPMD are their OGs and have greatly influenced them. El-P said on Episode 28 of WRTJ that he wants to make an RTJ movie because he always thought EPMD should have made a movie out of “Who Killed Jane?” The duo wants Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith to make a cameo in their movie just to pay tribute.
Killer Mike Is Kind Of A Sade Stan
“My biggest influences are probably scarface and sade,” Killer Mike revealed in a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything from two years ago. The rapper has also dropped the occasional mention of Sade in his lyrics and on social media. In a tweet sent last year, Mike suggested that a fan play Sade’s music for her infant son to introduce him to music.
— Killer Mike (@KillerMike) February 20, 2016
Watching Sade. God is good…… pic.twitter.com/p2bQFYdZoB
— Killer Mike (@KillerMike) September 29, 2013
Killer Mike and El-P Were Inspired By Ice Cube
Before the Run The Jewels series, El-P said that he and Killer Mike were drawn to work together because of the story of Ice Cube stepping away from N.W.A and working with the Bomb Squad for the East-meets-West sound of his debut album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. Speaking with Red Bull Music Academy in 2013, the producer explained how he and Mike wanted to combine forces in a similar way. “Because me and Mike both had that history of knowing that that’s how that panned out, that reference was really good for us because in our minds, that’s what we can do.”
El-P Didn’t Initially Plan To Produce All Of Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music Album
El-P and Killer Mike’s musical chemistry was instant. After El Producto was flown out to Atlanta to work on a couple of songs with Mike, he ended up staying for a week. “We just started banging out joints,” El-P said in a print interview with Wax Poetics. “It’s just weird, you know. Sometimes you meet people unexpectedly and you just feel like you knew them all your life. Me and Mike just had that bond immediately. So I said, ‘Alright, fuck it I gotta do this dude’s album.’ So that’s kind of how it went down.”
The “Get It” Video Was Made As A Thank You To Fans
While on tour, El-P and Killer Mike shot a video in support of the RTJ track, but it was truly in honor of their fans. “I wanted to thank everyone that came out,” Mike told Thrasher. “That video was as much starring the people that came to the concerts as much as Jaime and me. We had a lot of fun.”
Their First Award Was From NME
Although Run The Jewels put out their first official album nearly four years ago, the group only recently received their first award. At the 2016 NME Awards, Killer Mike and El-P took home the trophy for Best International Band, beating out acts like Foo Fighters and Tame Impala. “We’ve never won anything. We barely graduated from school. We can’t really even read,” El-P quipped as he accepted the award.
“The Whole World” Gave Killer Mike A Grammy
Killer Mike also has a Grammy on his resume. He received the coveted award thanks to his lyrical contribution to Outkast’s 2001 track, “The Whole World.” The song took home a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the 2003 Grammy Awards.
The trio of Southern spitters even appeared on a 2002 episode of Saturday Night Live to perform the upbeat record.
Big Boi Changed Killer Mike’s Life
Killer Mike won his a Grammy with Outkast for “The Whole World,” but before he met André 3000 and Big Boi, he was producing music in his own group, Dahminoz. During that time, he eventually crossed paths with the ATLiens.
“I will never forget it,” he said in a print article in Wax Poetics. “We were all fucking around in Teeth Malloy’s [of The Beat Bullies] basement one night and he was over there. And he’s Big Boi at this point, right? He’s fuckin’ getting his hair braided and shit, he had jewelry on and poppin’-ass gear. We were all fucking around making up songs for whatever reason, rapping, and he said ‘Man, I like you. When I get a label, I’m going to sign you.’ I took it with a grain of salt. Years later, he really gave me a record deal. He changed my life. I was still in the streets doing all the dumb shit that was counterproductive and with my first song, he showed me I could do it.”
WRTJ Is Recorded On The Road
Run The Jewels Sometimes Only Spend 60-70 Days At Home In A Year
Considering their hefty tour schedules, Killer Mike and El-P don’t sleep in their own beds very often. During Episode 19 of WRTJ, Mike confesses the duo might be home 60-70 days out of the year.
DJ Trackstar Was Actually A Track Star
As a high schooler in Madison, Wisconsin, the unofficial third member of Run The Jewels was one of the city’s best long-distance runners. Trackstar told DX he was one of Madison East High School’s better runners, but didn’t push himself as much as he could have. Hence the name.
Trackstar’s Climb To “Trackstardom”
Trackstar, who has never had another stage name, moved to St. Louis for college and began his career as a DJ. The Hip Hop junkie spun records for Washington University’s WKUR radio. He became a DJ because the college had access to all his favorite records and served his needs to hear the latest. After that, Trackstar became a local fixture for his Dollar Mix series and weekly gigs at local spots like Hi-Pointe and Halo.
Trackstar Was In A Crew With STL Activist-Rapper Tef Poe
Before RTJ and before he joined the St. Louis supercrew The Force (consisting of Black Spade, Ka$h, Vandalyzm, Rockwell Knuckles, Family Affair, Tef Poe and others), Trackstar was in a group known as Honors English in 2003. Joining Trackstar in the crew was Ka$h and Tef Poe.
Trackstar Has Been Busy With The Turntables
Some of Trackstar’s standout DJ moments include hosting 2009’s Growth & Patience: The Best Of Royce Da 5’9 mixtape. Before then, he compiled and hosted NY OIL’s (formerly Kool Kim of U.M.C.s fame) 9 Wonders mixtape. Also in 2009, the relationship between Trackstar and Killer Mike was born with the DJ co-hosting the Anger and Ambition mixtape with his RTJ brethren. Between 2006 and 2009, Trackstar was putting out 20-plus mixtapes per year.
The Early Stages Of Trackstar’s Link To RTJ Came In 2011
7 years ago today I met @killermike at @criminalrecords and gave him a copy of the Best of KM mixtape I made because he was my favorite rapper. "If you need anything I'm around all weekend." "What are you doing tomorrow?" "Nothing, what's up?" "I'm opening for Rakim, do you want to DJ for me?" And that's how this all began. Crazy.
Back at SXSW in 2011, Killer Mike named Trackstar as his official tour DJ. Fresh from living in California, Trackstar relocated to Atlanta and the following year Mike released his blistering R.A.P. Music collaboration with El-P on the boards. The rest is pretty much history.
Trackstar Is A Peacemaker
In a recent WRTJ episode (#47 for those keeping score), Trackstar barked on Killer Mike when he thought the burly rapper was more into his phone than hosting the show. Mike barked back saying he was actually dialing in El-P. Trackstar calmed the brewing beef down by reminding Mike that he scored him a discount on “trees.”
DJ Trackstar Is A Big Battle Rap Fan
Trackstar definitely reps his Rap Fan brand to the fullest, following the fast-moving world of battle rap and popping up at King Of The Dot events. He even judged the title match between Rone and Illmaculate last year, though his vote for Illmac was ultimately in the minority.
Marvel Has Paid Tribute To The Group With Several Comic Book Covers
Back in 2015, Marvel Comics revealed they were releasing two covers as an homage to the group. The group’s famous fist-and-gun logo featured on variant covers of Issue 45 of Deadpool and Issue 2 of Howard the Duck.
“We didn’t know it was happening,” El-P said during an interview with Rolling Stone. “We just got told it was happening and we were like, ‘You can’t be serious, that’s not possible, how is that even possible?'”
They’ve also influenced covers for a Doctor Strange/Punisher crossover and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther.
Killer Mike’s Barbershop Connection
Mike and his wife own the Graffiti Swag barbershop in Atlanta, a dream of his come true.
“Once I became an established rapper and once I got my respect up there, the only other thing I’d ever dreamed about doing is owning a barbershop, and I went directly into the barber business,” he told Noisey.
Killer Mike Would Host a Reality Show If He Ever Had To Replace El-P
On the 44th episode of WRTJ, the two rappers reflected on their many years together and Killer Mike joked how his wife says he’s in two marriages. He got sentimental when El-P straight up said he quit. The two laughed it off before wondering how exactly El-P could be replaced. The answer: a reality television show. They said they’d see how much the new guy smoked and test how he says “Shut the Fuck Up!”
Words by Chris Mitchell, Ural Garrett, Victoria Hernandez, D.L. Chandler, Danielle Harling, Kyle Eustice, Henry Mansell and Scott Glaysher.
For more real talk from Killer Mike and El-P check out Run The Jewels’ #WRTJ, going down from the back of A Tour Bus Named Attitude. Hear it all on Beats 1.