Rapper Killer Mike and El-P’s duo Run The Jewels is back with a new video for “Early”, a song from their Run The Jewels 2 album that highlights the killing of people of color by police — you should watch it; it’ll be one of the most beautiful and harrowing things you see all day.
Killer Mike was discovered by OutKast, and has collaborated Jay-Z and the Coup while also doing voice acting on Frisky Dingo, an Adult Swim show on Cartoon Network. El-P is an acclaimed hip-hop artist, producer and co-founder of the influential Definitive Jux label.
The fully animated video tells the story of a man arrested for smoking medical marijuana who watches his wife get shot in front of their little son. Killer Mike’s first verse is from the point of view of the arrested man, while El-P’s second verse is from a person a few blocks away who heard the gunshot.
Bug & Sluzzy, the video’s creators, are actually four St. Louis-based artists and designers who dig Run The Jewels and their socially conscious rap. They approached the band, offering to do a project, and the band asked Bug & Sluggy to do a lyric video keeping in the spirit of “Early.” Working nights and weekends as a passion project, they completed the video in a month and a half, using the band’s trademark red and black colors in a stark visual style.
Killer Mike’s dad is a police officer, and as he raps in “Don’t Die” (from his 2012 solo album R.A.P. Music), “Motherfucker, my dad was a cop/You don’t think I know a dirty ass cop when I see one?” As he makes clear in the song “Early”, he “respect[s] the badge and the gun,” so he isn’t anti-police, just anti-abuse.
Nor is this the first time Killer Mike has spoken out about these issues. After Ferguson, he said:
I’m appalled that regular Americans are apathetic. I’m appalled that people choose to use the word ‘thug’ as a code word for ‘nigger.’ I’m appalled at everyday citizens… When will we, as an American constituency, tell our politicians enough’s enough? Enough mayors supporting murderous police departments. Enough police chiefs having to give excuses for murderous police officers.
Likewise, Mike’s appearance on CNN, where he talks about breaking down during a stage show shortly after the Ferguson verdict was announced, went viral:
The opening line in “Early” makes the struggle clear; citizens aren’t against the police, they’re against being abused by police. There are good cops and there are bad, but when good cops close ranks to protect a bad one, they all become bad.
We saw it in Ferguson when police rallied around Darren Wilson, we saw it in Seattle when Officer Ian Birk shot a deaf Native American woodcarver, and the Seattle Police Union blamed the city’s “socialist agenda” for giving people of color too much protection, and sadly, we’ll likely see it again.