Cat Calls and Charity: An Interview With El-P and the Guy Behind the Meow the Jewels Kickstarter

We interviewed the guy behind the Kickstarter campaign that's tryign to get Run The Jewels to record an album full of cat meows, and got El-P's thoughts on the whole thing.

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Sep 18 2014, 2:43pm

"I must clarify: I was very stoned when I wrote those." Brooklyn rapper El-P tells me about the preorder options for Run the Jewels 2, the new album he is making with Atlanta's Killer Mike under the name Run the Jewels. In addition to the standard CD, vinyl and T-shirt options, you can also pay $100,000 to have the band take revenge on someone who has personally wronged you or $10,000,000 to have the band retire from music forever. Posted on Monday, the packages are clearly intended as jokes, but one fan took it upon himself to start a Kickstarter to raise the funds for perhaps the most ridiculous one: for $40,000, Run the Jewels will re-record the entire album using nothing but cat sounds for music.

Less than 24 hours later, the Meow the Jewels Kickstarter has already raised almost six grand—and El-P has pledged to donate all proceeds to families affected by police brutality. "I secretly was kind of hoping that someone would do that anyway," El-P confesses. "I was like, fuck it, if someone raises the money to do this, I'll definitely do it, and I'll just give the money to charity."

"I was like, you know, for shits and giggles, I'll post [a Kickstarter]," says Sly Jones, a call center employee by day and music blogger by night, who posted the Kickstarter late Tuesday night. Soon after, El-P got in touch via Twitter to voice his support, and things really began to take off. The project is now a Kickstarter staff pick, featured on the site's home page.

"It just kind of went crazy after that," says Jones. "I didn't even get any sleep last night." Some of the Kickstarter's backer options are just as ridiculous as the original album's: $5,000, for instance, gets you a bag of Meow the Jewels-branded catnip and the chance to have your own cat featured on the album, among other things. Jones promises that more "realistic" options are on the way in the next few days, saying he's working with El-P's management to involve the band in the backer rewards, and to have Meow the Jewels pressed on vinyl.

Of course, Kickstarter's terms prohibit it from being used to raise money for charity, but the Meow the Jewels Kickstarter has found a clever loophole — the money is a down payment for the album, and Run the Jewels are free to do whatever they want with it after that. Sly had to be very careful with his wording to avoid any issues with Kickstarter itself.

While El-P and Killer Mike—the other half of Run the Jewels—both think it's hilarious and absurd that their fans actually want to see this happen, they also see it as an opportunity to support and bring attention to a cause they feel strongly about. That's why El-P specifically named the families of Eric Garner and Mike Brown as his charitable causes—two black men recently killed by police.

"[When incidents like this happen,] everyone gets really, really into it for maybe a week, and then it kind of just gets brushed away, but some things you can't just brush away." El-P says. "If you're given the sacrosanct honor of being one of the few people in this society who are allowed to legally take somebody's life, then you have to be held to a standard that is so far above the average citizen's standard that it's almost impossible to achieve with any type of leeway."

Killer Mike has been similarly outspoken on the issue, recently appearing on both CNN and Fox News to discuss the fallout surrounding the death of Mike Brown. He also runs a barbershop in his hometown of Atlanta that doubles as a hub for community outreach and activism.

El-P and Mike have both have a lot of rap records to their name, but their collaboration as Run the Jewels seems to have brought them more attention in the last year than anything else they've done prior. Jones says their politics are a direct contributor to this—they're bringing hip hop back to its social justice roots.

"Where I'm from, they barely took down the Confederate flag 10 years ago, you know?" says Jones, who hails from South Carolina. "My mother is white and my father is black … [and they] were married for 20 years, but it was not a legal marriage. Our state did not see them as really married." "It's little things like that that I grew up seeing. That's why I say I'm really behind things like this."

"I can't believe those crazy fucking bastards are doing it" says Killer Mike when we reached him for comment by phone, "if they actually pull it off, we're going to actually do it. I'm overwhelmed by it. On one front, it's wild and silly. On another front, it shows the power of independence." The moral of the story? Don't ever let anyone tell you that stoned in-jokes and late-night internet tomfoolery can't be a force for positive social change.

You can donate to the Meow the Jewels Kickstarter here.

Matt Meuse is very aware of the fact that his last name sounds like "meows" - @MattMeuse