Today, on this bright and breezy February Sunday in central Los Angeles, while the rest of the country hunkers in front of screens to watch Katy Perry, dancing sharks, and the worst play call in the history of football, the best rap duo on the planet is here, of their own volition, at a place called the Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats.
“Mike’s not exactly a cat person, but I think he may have turned a corner,” says El-P.
“Fell in love with a cat today,” admits Killer Mike.
Mike and El, also known as Run the Jewels, have released two blockbuster full-length albums in as many years. Their rise to fame as a partnership has exceeded those of their own respectable and influential solo and collaborative careers. They have reached the masses by working their asses off: RTJ released both albums as free downloads on the Internet, have toured relentlessly, incorporated guest verses from legends like Big Boi and Zack de la Rocha, and have the skills, passion, and brother-like bond to attract fans by the thousands. Now, combine all that with the Internet-breaking abilities of cute kittens and you’ve got a monster on your hands.
“Meow the Jewels is a project that somehow happened even though we were just joking about it,” says El-P with a laugh. “We got really stoned and thought it would be funny to propose the idea that for forty-thousand dollars we would remix Run the Jewels 2 using nothing but cat sounds for music. Now, of course, this was a joke, but someone took us up on the offer and started a Kickstarter campaign, and we decided that we would get behind it and donate the money to a charitable cause. We’re setting up funds for the victims of police brutality, and specifically the families of Eric Garner and Mike Brown.”
“It’s amazing,” adds Killer Mike, whose simple words are a sharp contrast to his profound and fiery speeches and songs about injustice, and perhaps serve to convey his appreciative wonder at the absurdity of the whole prospect.
But for as socially conscious as Mike and El are, these are men with razor-sharp senses of humor, too; plus, this is America in 2015, after all, so you can’t have one without the other, anyway. And so we have Meow the Jewels, a forthcoming remix album made entirely of cat sounds. Producers have answered the call to assist El with the music, and the project’s guest roster includes enough A-listers to make Beyoncé jealous: Just Blaze, Prince Paul, Skywlkr, Nick Hook, Baauer, Geoff Barrow of Portishead, Boots, Zola Jesus, Dan the Automator. The duo has also encouraged fans to record and send in their own cats’ sounds, and “celebrity cats” like Lil Bub have sent in their own library of purrs as well.
In the words of El’s former group Company Flow: “Who’s America? God-damn!”
Is Meow the Jewels a labor of love for you, or could it be also a sort of panic to make good on this certainly good-natured but joke-y promise of a remix album?
El: It’s both. It’s a labor of love, and it’s a terrifying prospect. It’s a labor of love because it’s going towards something we believe in. And it’s gonna be the shrillest, strangest rap album of all time. Probably the biggest hit in the cat community—hip-hop-wise—in a long time. Ever since Jingle Meows.
Mike: You got help [producing], though. You got lucky.
El: I did. A lot of amazing people chipped in for this, because I think they all recognized that it was a good cause. And that it’s pretty stupid, too. I think the challenge of putting together what might be the greatest group of hip-hop producers on one record and making them make beats out of cat sounds was just too ironic and weird for me to pass up. I couldn’t say no to that. And I feel like they all felt the same way. So, we’re gonna see who wins the battle of cat production.
And now fans are volunteering their own cat sounds and sending them to you to use, right?
El: They are. Lil Bub, who is a very famous cat, got in touch with us. As many people know on Twitter and Instagram, this is a very—possibly the most—famous cat celebrity. Really grounded and level-headed for as big as she is.
Mike: I hope we get Dan Bilzerian’s cat.
El: What kind of cat? Like a baby tiger?
Mike: Nah, it’s cute, a little fuzzy… He looks like the type of cat that a villain in Inspector Gadget would hold. But he has seen probably more beautiful women, Rolex watches, and fur coats than Ric Flair in his prime.
El: Yeah, this cat has seen things. He’s got a thousand-yard stare.
Mike: Yeah, I envy that pussy.
El: And Lil Bub sent us a library of sounds. Lil Bub makes very strange sounds, ’cause Lil Bub has a long tongue that just sticks out of his face always. Wait, I think it’s a she, right? It’s a she. Her face.
Mike: Lil Bub’s a lesbian. You gotta love it.
El: It’s all starting to come together.
Mike: You know, we could end world hunger, guys. But instead we’re having you send us cat sounds.
El: We really could end world hunger but we’re choosing not to. Because we think that you guys need to pull your bootstraps up and just end your own world hunger.
ZZ Top toured in the ’70s with live buffalo, rattlesnakes, and vultures in cages… Is there going to be a Meow show with live cats?
El: I really, really hope so.
Mike: But I have the Siegfried & Roy clause in my contract. If that happens, I only work the side of the stage where the caged cats are. No matter what size.
El: What if they just busted out and fifty cats attacked you on stage?
Mike: Lord have mercy. I’d have a posse of guys there with ARs to shoot me and the cats. I’d just die.
El: “Just kill me!” You know how long it would take for cats to kill you? I mean, a tiger is one thing. But then the tiger didn’t even kill—which one was it, was it Siegfried or Roy that got attacked?
Mike: I don’t know. One of ’em. God bless him.
El: Terrible. Terrible thing. But, he lived… The cats…it would take about twenty minutes, I’d think. About a hundred cats, twenty minutes of you just slowly dying from little scratches.
So this was no small feat for you to be in the Kitty Bungalow today, Mike?
Mike: I mean, I don’t have anything against them; I just don’t have that much knowledge of cats. I’ve never really been around them. I like watching ’em, though. They’re cool to watch. I like cats in mice-field areas where I can watch ’em hunt and kill stuff. The thirteen-year-old Mike would dig that.
El: What a violent little kid that was.
Mike: No, that’s not violence. That’s just the way the world works. See, I went to a farm. I know that food doesn’t come from the grocery store case. You have to kill stuff to get it.
El: That’s crazy-talk. I’m from New York and I know for a fact that food comes from stores. Don’t listen to this fucking country-propaganda shit.
Mike: When my son turns thirteen this month I’m gonna make him kill a chicken. And we’re gonna cook it.
El: Food comes from machines. Machines. Make. Food.
Mike: But cats are cool. I just probably won’t be a cat owner in my lifetime.
El: Well, you’re allergic, right?
Mike: Yeah, I’m a little allergic. I get itchy and scratchy. I had to take a couple Benadryl today.
El: I grew up with cats. My first cat was Murphy. Named after Eddie Murphy.
Mike: That’s dope!
El: Got him when I was seven. He lasted into my twenties. Second cat was Mini-Beast. Drunken girlfriend brought her home as a kitten off the street to my apartment. So drunk. She said that she was gonna keep the kitten. And I said, “Fine, you can keep it here for the night while you’re sleeping here,” and then the next day she woke up like, “Where’d this kitten come from?” And I was like, “You found the kitten on the street, remember? And you were gonna take it home and let it live with you.” And she was like, “I can’t do that, I live with my parents. They’re not gonna let me have a cat.” And then when I broke up with her, I was like, “The cat stays.”
Mike: That’s real. Mini-Beast. “I’m keeping Mini-Beast!”
El: The cat stayed for a long time. I actually had to put her down last year.
Mike: God bless the dead.
El: And it was a very gentle and peaceful death. Afterwards, the person who euthanized my cat handed me a credit card machine, which I thought was a little weird. Like, “Oh, OK, thanks. Do you take Amex?”
“Just because we’re bereaved doesn’t make us saps,” would be the line, right?
Mike: Exactly, exactly. You’d think they’d do that first though. Like, with people’s funerals, you gotta pay before they go into the ground, you know?
El: Right. Cats could just have credit card slots on them, once we fully integrate machines and cats. Once the cat-cyborg revolution happens, they’ll just have credit card slots. You could buy shit off your cat.
Mike: Makes sense to me.
Food comes from cat machines in the future.
El: Cats come from cat machines.
Mike: There are some countries where food is a cat. Hope we’re not touring those countries.
In which we give each Run the Jewels rapper one-half of a famous lyric from his own catalog and ask him to finish the line with a new, cat-centric flair.
To El-P: “Now we can all become Lord of the Flies when…”
El: Alright, right, right, right. “We can all become Lord of the Flies when humanity sees its demise / Cats are so goddamn cute they put tears in my little eyes.”
Acceptable. Acceptable answer.
El: Thank you. It was not great but I had to do it.
To Killer Mike: “Glitter, glisten, gloss, floss…”
Mike: Oh, OK. “Glitter, glisten, gloss, floss / A cat should be runnin’ like Randy Moss / And me and my cat ride off in the sunset on a brand-new hoss.”
El: Very beautiful. Poetic. I can picture it: Are you shirtless on a horse, with a cat on your shoulder?
Mike: Yeah, I’d be Rick Ross—prior to weight loss—with the cat on my shoulder. But I do have a leather pad on so the claws don’t…
El: Yeah, of course. Some Mad Max shit.
Mike: Makin’ one titty jump. [Laughs.]
El: [In a gruff, Rick Ross voice] “Paris.”
Mike: [Also in a gruff, Rick Ross voice] “Paris.” Shouts out to Ricky.
To El-P: “So inappropriate, right behind your ears is a…”
El: Inappropriate is a tough one. “So inappropriate, right behind your ears is a wayward cat and his future is so hopeless.”
Mike: Man, that’s beautiful. That’s fuckin’ beautiful. That’s like the girl in high school who already is like Master Poetry. That shit’s dope.
To Killer Mike: “Hardcore G-shit, homey, I don’t play around…”
Mike: Ah, man. “Hardcore G-shit, homey, I don’t play around / It’s Siegfried & Roy time when I make them tiger sounds.” Come on, now!
El: Dirty trick.
Mike: I had to! I had to!
El: First of all, because you’re Southern, you get to rhyme things that don’t rhyme.
Mike: Hey man, “Errs” man. “Purrs.” “Errs, purrs.”
Either of you can take this one: “I had a young player from the hood…”
Mike: I forgot that…
El: That’s Boo. [Gangsta Boo, on Run the Jewels 2’s “Love Again (Akinyele Back)”]
Mike: Oh! Dayum. Oh! Ooh, ooh, ooh! “I had a little player from the hood, who say he loved cats so he licked this pussy good / Meow the fuckin’ Jewels, kept them on his tools, I don’t take a bottle when we take ’em by the tools / Boo went through whole crews, it made the evening news / And if you ain’t fuckin’ with the Jewels, then fuck you!” [Laughing and clapping.]
For more info on Meow The Jewels, stay tuned to RunTheJewels.net
Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats is a nonprofit cat adoption organization in Los Angeles. They specialize in socializing feral kittens and finding them homes, while also spaying/neutering adult feral cats in an effort to responsibly address the problem of feral cat overpopulation. To donate and learn more, head to KittyBungalow.org