“Being raunchy and sexual is not offensive:” Talkin’ dirty with Run The Jewels

It’s not often that I get the chance to have a face to face chat with a group I love as much as Run The Jewels. Their latest album, Run The Jewels 2, blew my mind, it’s easily my favourite album of 2014. Their New Years Day set at Falls Festival Byron Bay was a blistering success, leaving me drenched in sweat, vodka and a little blood. So the chance to meet these underground-heroes-turn-fully-fledged-rock-stars Killer Mike and El-P was epic.

The interview started with my asking what they liked the most about one another. One of my favourite things about RTJ is that they’re so obviously best friends in love. It’s obvious in their music and even clearer on the stage. Whether it’s their liquid flow, finishing each others’ sentences, the hi-fives, hugs and secret handshakes, it’s fucking beautiful. “I think he has deep, soulful eyes…” jokes Mike about El-P, real name Jaime Meline, an underground legend responsible for Def Jux Records. “He’s just a great human being. He inspires the fuck outta me. He’s the best producer in the world, one of the best rappers in the world, but what trumps it all is that he’s just a great fucking friend.”

“We’re doing Run The Jewels because we really like each other,” says El-P. “It feeds into the art aspects of it, and makes us really excited about the music that we do. It’s a dream job in a lot of ways.”

The duo met at age 35 (they’re 39 now), with El-P set to produce a couple tracks on Mike– Michael Render, who first came to attention featuring on Outkast’s Snapping’ and Trappin’–‘s 2012 record R.A.P Music. They hit it off and he ended up producing the entire album. “We weren’t expecting to meet somebody that we were just that connected to artistically, or just as a person. We’re good for each other, man. I know Mike legitimately wants what’s best for me, and that’s a rare thing. There’s no ulterior motive. He’s a snake charmer, don’t get it twisted. But that’s just conversation. At the end of the day he’s got the heart of a lion and that’s what I respect about him. I call him Lion Chest,” he grins.

We next started talking about the dirty as hell track Love Again, and the interview, unexpectedly, was entirely about sex from then on. It’s my personal favourite track on the album, and El-P’s favourite to play live – because it makes people uncomfortable, but it also makes them laugh. A lot of people have apparently taken issue with the track, passing it off as misogynistic without reading the lyrics. It’s dirty, delightfully so, but misogynistic? No.

The pair swoop in:
El-P: How is that possible?
Killer Mike: Because you’re adult woman?
El-P: How can you like to fuck? That’s impossible!

We go on to dissect the track a little. “The hook is pretty offensive, but the lyrics are quite endearing,” says Mike. “The female (Gangsta Boo) is going batshit, hammering it (His tongue is bomb/He say love for me to ride his face/ front to back, grippin’ ass,) but if you listen to the men’s lyrics, we’re rapping like 12-year-old boys.”

What pisses them off is that critics take apart the track, get offended by parts of it, without listening to the whole thing. “Frankly, it’s condescending,” says El-P. “Adults love to fuck and they love to be dirty and it’s not disrespectful to say it. I find that a lot of the people that have this pseudo-morality around that song are often men, and that’s another aspect of men trying to condescend.

“This is a piece of art. You can’t compartmentalise it, you can’t just look for a buzz word that offends you. You’re supposed to feel a little bit uncomfortable, and then when Gangsta Boo comes in, it’s supposed to completely flip your expectations around.”

Killer Mike: I say you show me a man who doesn’t like a blow job, I’ll show you a man that’s neither fit to be gay or straight. Now think about that.
El-P: I think Lincoln first said that.
Killer Mike: I think it was Truman actually.
El-P: I think it’s Lincoln quoting Truman.

The only thing I had to question was a logistical issue. All day? Those jaw aches! (Hook: I put that dick in her mouth all day/she got that dick in her mouth all day… and He want this clit in his mouth all day/ I put my clit in his mouth all day..)  Mike assures me that as a man, it would be more painful for men than women.
Killer Mike: It’s a marathon with women, it’s a sprint with men.
El-P: We go straight in…
Killer Mike: We just go in *makes slapping sounds* and get outta there!
El-P: Actually, that’s not true, I take my time. Sometimes hours can pass. You take a break, send an email off, whatever, and come back to it!
Killer Mike: You’ve just turned this into a Hustler interview!

Killer Mike: I think that in this age of PC-dom, I’m glad to be part of something that confronts people about sex. I’m tired of people being afraid of gay sex, I’m tired of people being freaked out by anything other than missionary sex. I have a Playboy in my bag here. I’ve been reading Playboy since I was 19 years old. My mom caught me, she was like, ‘You reading it?’ I literally was reading it, she was like, ‘Fuck it! No harm, no foul!’ In the country where I’m from, we have been so held hostage by Christendom, by conservatism, that we need to get off that shit. People need to let it go a little bit.

The pair start listing artists they grew up listening to, like Too $hort, Makaveli and Sir Mix-a-lot, and comedians Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. Proclaiming confidence in both sexuality and intention, their music is an homage to the irreverence of what they grew up on, “and that was dirty, and funny. Being raunchy and sexual is not offensive. It’s just not.”

El-P: “We grew up listening to these songs, laughing at them, being wide-eyed, and at the same time growing up to be respectful, cool people who don’t insult women and who do not treat them badly. So why do we have to protect everybody from their pseudo-morality? We don’t. If you are offended by the word ‘dick’ then come up with another way that I can describe my penis.
Killer Mike: Or don’t name your child Richard!
El-P: Point being, thank you, because there are people who get offended and I don’t think that they really get it. They don’t listen to the song. And I think that when people do listen to the song, the most condescending thing and the most misogynistic thing that I can think of is a man protecting a stranger from sex, or from the idea of sex. That’s what misogyny is in an nutshell, I think. Assuming that men like sex more than woman, or that sex is only okay in a context that you imagine. It’s like… well, cool, I just don’t wanna know you, talk to you, hang out with you, have anything to do with you, and please do not listen to my music because you’re gonna be offended, and I’m gonna smile about it.

Killer Mike: Shout out: Let your wife and children read Playboy.

Run The Jewels & Joey bada$$ tour dates:
Wed Jan 7: The Hi-Fi, Sydney
Thurs Jan 8: The Forum, Melbourne
Fri Jan 9: James Cabaret, Wellington
Sat Jan 10: Studio, Auckland