A little personal background is in order: I bought Company Flow’s Funcrusher Plus from my local indie music store in 1997/1998. My mind was blown. It was the punkest, most experimental, sonically aggressive hip-hop album I had ever heard. El-P and friends were gods to me in high school. The DIY ethos that had hooked me in the early 90s had gone back underground as alternative went mainstream, and this is where I re-found it manifesting itself.
I picked that CD out of the tray, saw the words, “Independent As Fuck,” and fell in love. Nobody had to pick you, you could pick yourself. If you could make a movement, you could make anything happen. It didn’t take playing other people’s songs, you could write your own. It didn’t take a club hiring you to play, you could book your own show. It didn’t take a record label to record and distribute your work, you could do it yourself if you were willing to learn.
When Co Flow broke up and El-P left Rawkus I followed. The Def Jux years (note: definitive juxtaposition, a direct dig at Def Jam – again, brilliant) were a huge part of my college experience. I watched them quite literally redefine how music was made and distributed In the early 2000s. This was organized indie capitalism and it was liberating. It wasn’t the Sex Pistols self-imploding, it was The Clash bleeding for the art and figuring out how to make a living at the same time. These weren’t starving artists. They were making it happen (and just barely, as he explains in the interview).
By the time the El-P and Killer Mike solo albums were coming out, I was already what, 15+ years deep in loyalty to every iteration this guy put out?! I mean, I even bought the abstract jazz album. This was just going to be one of those artists I followed forever I figured. Every generation has them. Enter Run The Jewels. Because this is what the greatest artists do. They compound and compound, snowballing into more and more over time. Again, I had a new favorite thing from El-P and his circle.
The punk ethos was back. It never left. But RTJ 1 showed it was ALL the way back. The albums were free to stream. The emotions. The attitude. The artwork. The one foot in the past and the other on the future’s neck stance.The sneer and scowl behind the lyrics. Looking back on the catalogue, nothing had felt quite Co Flow level “oh man, what is THIS” to me except maybe the Cannibal Ox record. Now, with Killer Mike entering the fray, who I knew from OutKast but had never really explored, it went to a whole other level. With four RTJ albums out now, I’ve been hooked over and over again.
This week, hearing El-P and Killer Mike talk to Lefsetz made it even better. I started reading Lefsetz in college when a music business professor passed out copies of a post he received via fax. Here was this former attorney and culture nerd explaining aspects of the industry in a critical way like I had never heard. It might have been the first business/cultural analysis that ever punched me in the gut. Lefsetz has also been an inspiration. For decades.
And that’s how whole chapters of life come full circle I guess. So listen to Bob Lefsetz talk with Killer Mike and El-P. I’ve learned so much from these guys independently. Having them all talking together was extra special. Rant over. Enjoy.