'The Soul's Gonna Speak': Run The Jewels Stares Down A Fraught 2017 Killer Mike and El-P, who make up the rap duo, discuss facing a politically tense new year with a bold new album — and a keen memory of the nation's recent history.

'The Soul's Gonna Speak': Run The Jewels Stares Down A Fraught 2017

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When President Obama gave his goodbye speech this week, one of hip-hop's most politically active stars was watching. Killer Mike is a rapper who actively campaigned for the man he calls that old crazy haircutted (ph) white guy from Vermont. He gave him a shout out at the Democratic National Convention.


KILLER MIKE: His name is Sen. Bernard Sanders, and we've all been on a journey with him. If you've been pro-Bernie, let me hear you make some noise.


KILLER MIKE: If you feel the Bern, let me hear you make some noise.

MARTIN: Killer Mike really did feel the Bern. So when he and another rapper named El-P joined us to talk about some new music from their band Run The Jewels, we also got their take on the president's farewell. Killer Mike says he did like it when President Obama urged Americans to get more involved.

KILLER MIKE: When he started talking about activism, lacing up your boots, hitting the streets, you know, I tweeted it sounds like someone's been listening to the OG - the old guy - Bernie.

MARTIN: Clearly neither of these guys are Trump supporters, but they say they also aren't dreading the transition.

KILLER MIKE: I don't have a sense of dread, to be honest. And the older black people I talk to don't have a sense of dread, who've lived under Nixon and who've lived under duplicitous presidents and governors before. So, no, what I have is a sense of what's next and what can we do to take care of ourselves.

MARTIN: At this point, El-P chimes in.

EL-P: I think that it's a mistake to let our history off the hook so much so to say that Trump is introducing the idea of dread into American culture.

MARTIN: Scathing social commentary, it's a big part of what these artists do musically as Run the Jewels.


EL-P: (Rapping) Beware of horses. I mean, a horse is a horse of course, but who rides is important. Sitting high with a uniform, barking orders, demanding order. And I'm scared that I talk too much about what I think's going on. I got a way with this, they might drag me away for this.

MARTIN: The duo takes its inspiration from the rap they grew up hearing in the '80s and '90s, at a time when the war on drugs and cocaine were ravaging American cities. Killer Mike had a front row seat from his neighborhood in Atlanta.

KILLER MIKE: I saw the world change, I saw it go upside down. And the irony of it is the only people who were telling the truth about what was happening at that time was rappers.

MARTIN: Today, they hope to carry the mantle. 2016 provided a lot of material, not least the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by several high-profile shooting deaths of African-Americans by police.


KILLER MIKE: (Rapping) Conversing with a ghost, conversing with a ghost. He just leaving and he screaming Jesus. He had the highest hopes, the had the highest hopes. People yelling, screaming at polices. Riots tonight, riots tonight. Burning, looting, shooting, taking, thieving.

EL-P: We unfolded a narrative in this one that we knew was important to get right. We wanted to make it an anatomy of a riot.


KILLER MIKE: (Rapping) But they know his problems and feel his pain. She's still the same, she's still the same. We just prey off in they deadly game.

MARTIN: It's called "Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)." It's about how these shooting victims don't just go away. Again, Killer Mike.

KILLER MIKE: I think that there is a pound of flesh owed in terms of this country making sure all of its citizens enjoy the constitutional rights that are promised. And because we don't, we keep resetting to the same place of anger and fear and angst and explosions of that. The dead don't rest. The soul's going to speak based on the fact that this country's still not offering full justice.


EL-P: (Rapping) Nobody gets no more sleep 'till we teach them remembering.

TUNDE ADEBIMPE: (Singing) Thieves.

MARTIN: That's Killer Mike and El-P of Run The Jewels.


TUNDE ADEBIMPE: (Singing) Thieves.

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