Enter the Kingdom of Run the Jewels - March 8, 2018 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Enter the Kingdom of Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels. Photo by Dan Medhurst

People like to say certain musicians are taking over the world, but in the case of hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, the hype is warranted.

Since rappers El-P and Killer Mike first united in 2012 to tour, their partnership has blossomed into an empire. In addition to three critically acclaimed albums, Run the Jewels remains at the center of whatever’s good with the cultural zeitgeist, be it their track “Legend Has It” showing up in a Black Panther trailer to a craft beer line that debuted in February. The critics love them, and their fans are always ravenous for more.

Thus, El-P is willing to spend a portion of his 42nd birthday on the phone chatting about the band’s latest adventure — a North American tour opening for Lorde.

“There’s no fun in doing things that are expected,” he says of the decision to team-up with the New Zealand pop star. “We were psyched. We’re music fans, and we respect what Lorde does.”

To celebrate the collaboration, El-P remixed the track “Supercut” off Lorde’s latest record, Melodrama, turning the upbeat ballad into a grimy, bass-heavy jam. Naturally, there are fresh verses from both rappers too.

“I thought it was a really good opportunity to do something really different,” El-P says. “I just wanted to put Lorde on something that people hadn’t heard from her before.”

Doing the unexpected has proven to be a big part of Run the Jewels’ success. For one, they are always open to collaborations, partnering with everyone from Beyoncé collaborator BOOTS to Atlanta singer Joi. They have a sound — fast, hard, energetic, and playful — but nothing is sacred when it comes to what’s next. That’s for the music and the moment to decide.

“I can honestly say, with the people you hear on our tracks, there’s an organic chemistry and friendship there,” Killer Mike says. “And it’s ever-growing. It’s bigger than me and El being the group. It really is a community of people.”

Part of the community are the fans, who aren’t hard to spot, thanks in large part to the immense quantity of inventive merchandise Run the Jewels have created alongside their music.

The group’s logo — a hand in the shape of a gun pointed at a closed fist — has become a Bat-Signal for the Run the Jewels faithful. It also adorns products that range from a Rick and Morty x Run the Jewels hoodie to Meow the Jewels, a remix album of the group’s second record on which the instrumentals are replaced with cat sounds.

The duo are quick to praise the team they’ve assembled to bring these ideas to life, although some concepts originate from what Killer Mike thinks up “in the middle of the night.”

“Your music lends itself to further creativity, so why not?” he adds. “Why not shower curtains and baby onesies?”

Killer Mike is also down with the designs fans make and wear to shows. In fact, he says it might just be your ticket to a dream job.

“We end up using those people,” Killer Mike explains. “I want to let people know that we hire more people like that than not. I encourage people to keep doing that type of stuff because behind it could be a hire. I love paying people who are fans and who are already enthusiastic about it because it brings a different energy to the art.”

Another part of the legacy Run the Jewels has built comes from their dogged pursuit of the things that matter most to them.

Killer Mike says it took a year to secure getting a track into one of the trailers for Black Panther and a related Lexus ad that aired during the Super Bowl, but he knew he wanted Run the Jewels to be a part of what has now become a full-fledged cultural phenomenon.

“It makes me very proud to know that little kids now are going to grow up admiring a comic book character that they readily identify with,” he says of Black Panther. “As a black guy in America, your heroes are still your heroes, but they don’t always look like you. So I’m very happy to be a part of this moment in history.”

In many ways, Run the Jewels have made a point of writing their own history. On Dec. 24, 2016, the group dropped the digital release of their third record, Run the Jewels 3, three weeks early. Now some are wondering when fans should expect the fourth installment from one of the most popular duos in modern hip-hop.

“We’re gearing up,” El-P says. “We’re warming up. There are things being checked off, but we’re still doing a bunch of other stuff. We’re going to take our time and try and make it the best possible record.”

“It’s going to feel like a back-alley brawl with only one set of guys that’ve been handcuffed,” Killer Mike adds. “It’s going to be unflinching and unrelenting. We’re going to get snubbed for the Grammys this year!”

Run the Jewels with Lorde and Tove Stryke, Tuesday, March 13, 7 p.m., at Oracle Arena. $39.90-$78.75; ticketmaster.com