The visual evolution of Run The Jewels

As Killer Mike and El-P release their fourth album as rap duo Run The Jewels, we speak to long-time collaborators Tim Saccenti and Nicholas Gazin about how the band’s ‘stick-up’ hands logo has become one of the music world’s most recognisable emblems

Founded in 2013, Run The Jewels began life as an off the cuff collaboration between two rappers in their late 30s, both of whom had spent the majority of their careers on the peripherary of commercial hip-hop. Killer Mike was best known for being a satellite member of Outkast’s Dungeon Family collective, while El-P had won underground acclaim with the group Company Flow, along with founding independent rap label Definitive Jux and releasing several solo albums.

The duo first worked together on Mike’s 2012 album R.A.P. Music. After recognising their creative chemistry almost immediately, they decided to make it official, and Run The Jewels was born (the choice of name was a nod to an LL Cool J track from the 90s). A year later, they dropped their debut self-titled album as a free digital download. At the time, mumble rap was beginning to spread from Soundcloud to the mainstream, while Trap music was spawning global superstars such as Travis Scott. In this landscape, Run The Jewels’ politically conscious, bombastic sound, which draws heavily on the classic hip-hop records they grew up listening to, felt distinctly out of place.

Run the Jewels’ first album, featuring the first iteration of their distinctive hands logo

In spite of this, the album turned out to be a surprise critical and commercial success, and Mike and El-P’s collaboration swiftly turned from a casual side project into a creative endeavour that has defined the past seven years of their lives. Follow up album, Run The Jewels 2, was hailed as one of the best musical projects of 2014 and led to performances at major festivals including Coachella, while with Run The Jewels 3 they gained fans across the globe, resulting in a year-long world tour. The duo have also become well-known for their detail oriented approach to building the visual world of Run The Jewels, whether through their striking music videos or self-initiated art exhibitions.