It’s a Wednesday afternoon, only a few hours since Run the Jewels released the mind-warping video for the RTJ3 single “Legend Has It.” One half of the duo, Jaime “El-P” Meline, is still reeling. “We literally saw the finished version of it today!” he exclaims with a laugh. “We weren’t going to release this video until it was perfect. And it was only perfect a half hour before it was released.”
El-P and “Killer Mike” Render had shot the video in Los Angles back in December, only a few days after spending extensive time with Playboy. But in order to fully execute their vision—namely, the two rappers dropping acid while being falsely placed in a police lineup and subsequently watching their entire world melt before their eyes—a team of visual effects experts had to work nonstop till the last minute.
“That was really one of the most labor-intensive things,” El says of the video’s next-level visual effects. “And those poor bastards have been working around the clock for weeks.”
Bringing the psychedelic experience into the equation allowed RTJ to fully push the conceptual limits. “When you toss reality out the window, everything becomes a lot more interesting,” El-P says. “It also becomes a vehicle for you to actually reference reality or to create more than one reality. And that was something that was really exciting to us. Mike was the one who set the tone by [talking about dropping acid] in the song. That opened the door for us to throw most of the rules away.”
RTJ had originally planned to shoot a music video for their track “Talk to Me.” But El-P says after hashing out ideas with acclaimed filmmaker and longtime friend Brian Beletic, the pair hit on “this random idea of us on acid in a police lineup.” Mike soon came into the fold and, largely inspired by a line in the song in which he raps “We dropped a classic today / We did a tablet of acid today,” the trio began fleshing out a treatment for the video. “Trippy is certainly what we were aiming for,” Mike says. “We talk about tripping on shrooms and shit like that [in our songs] so it was good to be able to visually show it.”
I like the fact that the art makes the point and you don’t try to build art around making a point.
Run the Jewels are no strangers to imbuing their art with a message, and “Legend Has It” is no different. Both rappers say the prison industrial complex and the fact that young African-American men are often viewed as guilty until proven innocent drove the narrative. In the video, which Mike notes was inspired by The Usual Suspects, the detectives ask the witness leading questions, attempting to deflect their attention away from police officers in the lineup.
Both Mike and El-P admit it’s a tightrope act when imparting a message in any art form and not coming across as preachy. “I like the fact that the art makes the point and you don’t try to build art around making a point,” Mike says. “We had a dope piece of art that allowed us to do some social commentary. But doing a dope piece of art was first and foremost. I’m not in a protest band so I didn’t want to do a protest video as much as use my art to state certain things.”
El-P concurs: “We’ve found this sweet spot between comedy and heart. If you get the chance to say something, do it—but not at the expense of being entertaining. So you’re going to see us shooting bunnies and taking acid and then making a comment about the prison population.”
To RTJ, videos like this one are as vital to their artistic expression as their music. To that end, they’re never going to shortchange their fans. “You get a chance to get a short film funded and it’s an extension of who you are as an artist,” El-P says. “We can take two years to make an album and all of a sudden you’re supposed to put out something of equal representation that you whipped together in a month. We’re fans of visual art. So if we’re going to get the chance to throw our hat in the ring and do something artistic, we’re going to try as make it as beautiful and interesting as we have the ability to.”
Mike is more succinct in his evaluation. “It just has to be dope,” he says with a laugh. “That’s my only requirement.”
Watch the “Legend Has It” video here.