Before I became old and boring, I used to be quite into music. In my late teens and right on up to my mid 20s I was heavily into the nerdier side of hip-hop, particularly music made during the genre’s so called ‘golden age’ when artists were freer to sample records. Think Beastie Boys and De La Soul rather than P. Diddy.
In recent years I’ve found I’ve had less time for music in general and when I do actually listen, I tend to fall back on tried and tested tracks rather than putting in time and effort to discover new music. I was pleasantly surprised when, earlier this year, my brother-in-law recommended I check out Run The Jewels and I found myself enjoying new music for the first time in ages.
For the non-Guardianistas, Run The Jewels are a hip-hop duo made up of underground producer/rapper El-P from New York City and the rapper Killer Mike of Atlanta (whose you may have heard on Outkast’s seminal Stankonia LP back in 2000). Together they manage to make one hell of a noise and manage to sound futuristic/old school/underground/commercial/political/angry/profane/immature all at once. Quite an achievement.
Besides making excellent music, RTJ are interesting in how they approach making music, getting paid and connecting with their fans. One great thing they do is give away their albums as free downloads, in exchange for giving them your email address. After reading The Curve earlier this year, I really like the way RTJ are using the power of free music to build up a fan base, which they can then monetise in other ways, such as live performances, limited edition vinyl, merchandise and the like.
Judging from the level of interest in in RTJ gigs, their Curve based business model seems to be working for them. Their success is all the more remarkable given both members of the group are what you might call ‘veterans’ and have experienced the highs and lows of traditional music industry. It’s great to see them enjoying a second wave of success, seemingly more on their own terms. Hopefully RTJ’s success will encourage more artists to find their own way of connecting with fans and forgo the traditional music industry shenanigans.
Another thing that makes RTJ interesting to me is their willingness to embrace the surreal. Currently, producer El-P is working on a remix album with a difference. While hip-hop is no stranger to transformative remixes (think Coldcut’s masterful re-working of Eric B & Rakim’s Paid In Full), I can’t think of any artists who have been visionary enough to make a remix album consisting of cat sounds.
Back in October of last year, when offering pre-order editions of RTJ2, their website included a special $40,000 option:
“Run The Jewels will re-record RTJ2 using nothing but cat sounds for music. “
Whether or not this was intended as just a goof, fans clearly liked the idea and before long their was the obligatory Kickstarter campaign to get the remix album, christened Meow The Jewels, made. The campaign proved successful and Meow The Jewels is being created as we speak.
Yesterday, my brother-in-law alerted me to the fact that the first track from Meow The Jewels had been posted online. In his text, he asked me to play the track, which goes by the name of Meowrly, to my cat Zelda to see what she made of it. I dutifully did so and decided to video the results for posterity.
If you watch the video you will discover El-P has been pretty faithful to his promise. Not all of the music is made from cat sounds but it’s a good effort. Sadly, I don’t think Zelda is much of a fan but I’m not going to let her dampen my enthusiasm. I am still very much looking forward to hearing more from Meow The Jewels and want to support RTJ and their forward looking approach to making music and connecting with their fans.