There are two reasons that the latest music video for rap duo Run the Jewels is being shot at Atlanta’s retro, neon-saturated Landmark Diner, explains director Trevor Kane: A long runway perfect for a dramatic escape and the Key lime pie.
Michael “Killer Mike” Render, 39, loves that the place looks like it’s out of a Tarantino film. He and bandmate Jaime “El-P” Meline, also the uncommon hip-hop age of 39, sit at a table and share droll, friendly chitchat that could have come from a Pulp Fiction reboot.
“French Montana has a monkey,” says Mike. “If you go from selling DVDs at home to having a monkey? You’re rich as fuck.”
El-P points out that boxer Adrien Broner has a pet lemur in his latest music video. “And his song, compared to the rap spectrum,” he says, “is pretty decent.”
Kane attempts to takes control of the scene: “It will read better if you’re not talking.”
Their banter is constant, caustic, occasionally filthy and often hilarious. That camaraderie is all over their upcoming album, Run the Jewels 2, a noise-addled, dog-shooting, future-shocked reinvention of golden-era rap albums like Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and Willie D’s Controversy — albums that dealt equally in righteous political indignation, bragmaster alpha-male antics and hilarious third-degree burns. If there were a Grammy for Most Creative Ways to Say “We’re the Best” (“We might be giants standing on little dandy shoulders/You punks is pussy, proverbial pansy panty-holders”) these guys would win it, or take it by gunpoint.
“There’s really no fucking way that you’d ever think, ‘I’m gonna make my best friend at 35,” explains El. “You’ve already been through it so many times. I wasn’t in the market for it.”
There was a time when such a partnership seemed all but inconceivable. In 2003, Atlanta human megaphone Killer Mike had multiple verses on what the RIAA considers the best-selling rap album of all time, Outkast’s 11-times-platinum Speakerboxx/The Love Below. In Brooklyn, El-P was pouring sweat into Definitive Jux, a critically adored subterranean record label where success meant the high five figures. They were separated by nearly 900 miles of Interstate and the incalculable hurdles of the hip-hop culture wars — Internet turf battles about North vs. South, mainstream vs. independent.
“Thank God that’s over,” says Jason DeMarco, the Cartoon Network executive who originally introduced them together in 2011. “The one good thing about the music industry dying is that shit doesn’t matter anymore. All anybody argues about now is if Young Thug is a good rapper.”
The partnership is giving both rappers a renaissance at the cusp of 40. With a dozen records between them released in every conceivable fashion — from majors like Columbia Records to indies like Fat Possum to a TV networks to self-pressed CDs and vinyl — they threw caution to the wind and dropped the 10-track Run the Jewels as a free download. The result is a runaway success like neither has experienced.
They claim to have ran out of the RTJ2 pre-order stock in a day. Festival crowds have grown. They started seeing fan art and tattoos and “titty pics” and girls making their instantly iconic “pistol and fist” logo out of Hulk Hands.
“El-P and I were opening for each other. I’d do 30 minutes, he’d do 30 minutes, then we’d do 30 minutes together,” says Mike. “I come out, the crowd, bam. El come out, the crowd, bam. But then we came out together and there was this other group of kids that went crazy. At first it was just like, ‘Oh shit! Those kids are mighty young to like Killer Mike and El-P!’ And within four or five shows, we started realizing…”
“They don’t like Killer Mike and El-P!” interrupts El with a huge laugh.
However, Run the Jewels haven’t exploded to the point where they can afford to use the Landmark Diner for the whole night, so they’re stuck rushing through the last scenes in the video while the owner hovers impatiently. Brooke, a 26-year-old waitress working the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift, is cast for her first acting job. Kane never gets the runway scene he wanted. However Brooke does bring El the Key lime pie.
When El complains about a fly landing on it, Mike pops his balloon firmly: “It’s just a gnat, flick it off and keep eatin’. It’s the South.”
In case the gnats and muggy night didn’t convince you that this was the South, at the next shooting location, Black Lips saxophonist Zumi Rosow offers El-P some Georgia moonshine in a pickle jar from a topless Ford Bronco. In this shot, El and Mike are going to do a bad job getting a cat out of a tree.
“Do you have a cat wrangler?” Rosow asks.
“I don’t think it’s that kind of budget,” replies El. “At best we have somebody who’s worried about the cat.”
Beyond the video’s $10,000 budget, they’ll also sink a couple thousand dollars of their own money. As the night progresses the pair will carry all 130 pounds of the Black Lips’ Cole Alexander (plus boots) in a gurney. Killer Mike will rap while driving an ambulance down 75 South. They both will fall out exhausted, in an SUV, at 4:50 a.m., waiting to be called for the final scene.
“We’ve never complained and kicked and screamed about not getting [success],” says El. “We just never stopped.”