With Run the Jewels, Killer Mike leads a rap revolution

Killer Mike (right) and El-P performing as Run the Jewels last April in Indio, Calif.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images/file
Killer Mike (right) and El-P performing as Run the Jewels last April in Indio, Calif.

For many artists, being half of a hard-hitting, wise-cracking rap supergroup would be enough to fill up your schedule. But then again, Killer Mike — who forms Run the Jewels with fellow hip-hop veteran El-P — isn’t like most musicians. During the furor of the 2016 election cycle, the bar-spitting master MC, now 41, spent months stumping for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, emerging as an atypically salient and singular voice on issues ranging from police brutality to institutional racism. But since the election, Mike’s lost none of his fire.

Ahead of a sold-out show Friday at the House of Blues where Run the Jewels will blast through “Run the Jewels 3,” the socially conscious and sonically ferocious disc they dropped free of charge on Christmas Eve, the rapper spoke to the Globe about channeling rage through rap, the group’s fired-up fan base, and hip-hop’s purpose in the age of Trump.

Q. What was it like to put together something as monumental as a new album even with politics consuming so much of your time?


A. The studio was my haven from the world over the course of last year. The world got really crazy, in matters of race issues and in terms of politics, on both a grand and very local level for me. I used this record as a chance, not to hide but to bunker myself in and get my thoughts and feelings out in a way that wasn’t just rage or anger. It’s been a therapeutic process for me, making this record. I had a lot of fun making it.

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Q. Run the Jewels has always been politically astute, but this third album feels like a cinematic call to arms. And the album cover (a gilded-gold version of Run the Jewels’ perennial logo, two disembodied hands clutching a gold chain) reflects a more theatrical, almost higher-budget era for the band. What went into deciding what Run the Jewels would tackle on this album?

A. I think once El-P had locked in the beats, I instantly started seeing and feeling things. On my end, it was very deliberate to make sure the things I said were cinematic. You know, “We showed up, ski masks, picks, and axes to murder asses/ Lift up our glasses and watch your palaces burn to ashes” — I wanted people to flash back to a movie they saw about the French Revolution. Or I wanted them to imagine the proletariat class and the master class today. All along, it was about making sure you’re telling the story you want to tell. Starting with a song like “Down” and ending with “Kill Your Masters,” even the titles are pretty significant.

Q. Do you see Run the Jewels as in any way leading the revolution you advocate for?

A. I don’t know if we make change as much as we reinforce. I have to believe that, at our core, most human beings are good, and most human beings do good not only for themselves and their families but also for the greater world. Ultimately, what we’re encouraging people to do is act upon the right intuitions. That could be local politics and activism. It could be self-care and exercise. But the right intuition is never going to hurt other people.


We’re encouraging people to keep fighting the good fight. At the end of the day, if I’m fighting racism, and you’re fighting sexism, and you’re fighting for your rights as a gay or lesbian individual, we ultimately have the same oppressor, the same adversary, so it’s more about encouraging allies then it is pushing a specific agenda.

Q. To blow up with Run the Jewels after such a long career in rap, how would you describe any sense of pride or accomplishment you feel?

A. Well, what I take pride in is that I’m allowed to be a human being. I’m allowed to do things right, I’m allowed to make mistakes and say I’m sorry — because I have an audience who doesn’t make me an idol or an icon. My source of pride more comes from the fact that right after I step off stage doing badass rap as Killer Mike, I’m allowed to be Mike Render and a human being who can stand in front of my barber shop and talk to 50 kids about politics and what we need to do locally to stay active in Atlanta to make sure this generation is heard. My pride comes from the fact that people who are listening to us are going out and doing amazing things in the world.

Q. What’s it like to have the kind of adoring fan base Run the Jewels has harnessed?

A. Our job is to make the dopest music we possibly can, have a lot of fun, impress the [expletive] out of each other in the booth, and give that back to the world. I really enjoy, as a guilty pleasure, going on Instagram and seeing people throwing up [the RTJ logo] on the streets, in crazy places, like at weddings and on the top of mountains. It really has turned into a philosophy — the jewels of your life, you run them. You want it, you take it, and you don’t ask anybody for it.

Interview was edited and condensed. Isaac Feldberg can be reached at or on Twitter at @i_feldberg.