'We worship physical music': Run The Jewels dig into their deep history of vinyl loving

'We worship physical music': Run The Jewels dig into their deep history of vinyl loving

Killer Mike and El-P have been around vinyl records pretty much since they can remember.

Earlier this month, before a gig supporting Lorde in front of 19,000 people at New York’s Barclays Centre arena, they spent half an hour gleefully chucking records at Music Week’s photographer during our cover shoot. 

Run The Jewels, rap survivors, hip-hop heads and international touring superstars, are staring out from the cover of the new edition of Music Week because they are ambassadors for Record Store Day 2018.

They’ve lovingly created their own special something for RSD 2018, but Run The Jewels’ appreciation for wax extends far beyond their own material (although it must be said that RTJ’s vinyl output so far has been delectable).

From their earliest days in the music business, rapper and production whizz El-P in New York and vocalist Killer Mike in Atlanta, RTJ have placed more value on vinyl culture than many of their peers.

It all feeds into their progressive approach to rap music in 2018 – give music away for free, play great shows, give back to the fans – and makes the pair a fascinating proposition for the industry. As Killer Mike said in our cover story, ““Man, if there was a formula… Shit! Record companies would have already recreated us five times by now.” 

To celebrate their patronage of RSD 2018, what follows is an exclusive extract from our backstage interview, focusing on all things vinyl…

Are record stores still playing an important role in the music business?

Killer Mike: “On a microcosm level, yes. The record store experience also happens in different places now. I own barber shops, even though we don’t sell music I see the same discussions happening there, and kids in coffee shops, too. Music has, because of streaming, poured out into those places, instead of having to run out and get the CD, my barbers who are cooler and up on it are playing new music as soon as you walk in the door, so I get a chance to see it happen.” 

How do you see the role of physical these days?

KM: “I drive old school cars, so for me physical product is still important. When you’re in the South and you drive, you’re not bluetoothing, you’re playing CDs. I still buy CDs for that. Your phone is going off so much that it interrupts the music experience, to be honest. I still like having physical product, I like the way it looks, I like to feel it.”

How different is a physical record collection to a library on a streaming service?

El-P: “Much love to Apple, but this is not something you own, you’re leasing this product, you cannot pass it on, if you die you cannot will it to your children. Bruce Willis made a big fuss about it, one day he realised that his extensive library of MP3s was not something he could leave to his kids and pass on. The reality is that there are only two places you can go to get something physically related to the artist you like: either go to the show and buy a T-shirt, or go to the store and buy a record. I’m never going to complain about the way the music industry sells music as long, as we still keep that art going. I want to be able to share that with my kids, I have records framed, especially the ones I’ve done. I have a whole storage unit of records. It’s because it means something. As a hip-hop producer, you’re raised collecting.

“It’s not the way everyone can possibly feel, but the proof is in the pudding, people are buying vinyl, obviously there’s something beautiful about it that cannot be replaced digitally. It doesn’t mean it’s worse to hear a song digitally, but you just can’t get what you can physically, and that is important.”


The reality is that there are only two places you can go to get something physically related to the artist you like: either go to the show and buy a T-shirt, or go to the store and buy a record

El-P, Run The Jewels


And you’ve taken that ethos into Run The Jewels, too…

El-P: “We came into this with years of goodwill from the people that followed us, but there was a little bit of magic that happened with the way we did it. One of the things we made sure of was that… We both love art, we’re both people who grew up worshipping physical music and we weren’t going to let this go, we had to make something beautiful physically too. It’s not official until we put something in our hands.”

El, you’ve got plenty of experience in this area from running Def Jux too...

El-P: “When I used to run a record label, I thought it  was progressive. I thought I was doing it in a progressive way, but the reality is that it was attached to the old school physical model of record labels, so there’s only so progressive you can be. I always fantasised about getting closer to the fans, I didn’t know how it was going to happen… It was, ‘Instead of the label being the middle man, I’ll be the label and then I won’t have a middle man…’ I couldn’t envision it. Then, technology came and not only allowed you to get directly to the fans, but it also carved out room, which is this booming vinyl market.”

So would you say things have changed in that regard?

El-P: “The industry used to flood you with a million tapes, CDs and pieces of vinyl and hope that everybody wanted all the formats. Physical has shrunk and it’s narrowed it down. There’s a real fanbase of people who want to be able to buy things, we want those people. We also want people who may not want to buy music because technology doesn’t work for them. You can’t be mad that it’s changed, you can just put out what you think is beautiful.”

Subscribers can read this week’s Run The Jewels cover story online here, and click here for the pair’s reflections on their Pyramid Stage Glastonbury show from 2017, where they shared the floor with Jeremy Corbyn.

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