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Run the Jewels take cues from hip-hop’s great groups

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Run the Jewels is a chokeslam to modern rap. The fiery duo of El-P and Killer Mike makes music that grabs you by the throat, lifts you high in the air and slams you down to the ground.

That is the feeling given off by “Blockbuster Night Part 1,” the first single off the group’s second album, “Run the Jewels 2.” El-P’s rumbling low-end production rolls along like a tank while Killer Mike dismantles opponents with lyrics that rattle off like bullets fired from a machine gun.

“That’s what I intended: let my brothers know we back,” says Mike, on the phone last week from a tour stop in San Diego. His partner El-P chimes in, “That was the first song that we recorded for ‘Run the Jewels 2.’ So it was literally like, ‘we’re back, mother (expletives).’ ”

They’re back all right, but they weren’t gone for long. “Run the Jewels 2” was released last month and follows the duo’s self-titled first album, which was released in summer 2013.

The first album laid the template for the group: militant and minimal hip-hop that didn’t sacrifice its sense of humor. “Run the Jewels 2” is even better, hitting harder yet managing to have more fun along the way. It’s one of the year’s best albums.

It also costs nothing, part of the group’s strategy to sacrifice record sales and make up the money on the road. The group plays Saint Andrew’s Hall in Detroit on Tuesday.

“We’re giving our record away for free,” says El-P, the 39-year-old Brooklyn rapper and producer, born Jaime Meline. “That’s us basically saying, ‘come to our show.’ So if that’s what you’re asking for, you better make sure that show is worthy of their money.”

The duo has honed its live show on the road for the last year, playing to festival crowds across the country and overseas. Mike, the 39-year-old Atlanta rapper also known as Michael Render, grew up seeing powerful hip-hop shows from the likes of LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Beastie Boys and Run D.M.C., and his goal was to bring that sense of showmanship back to live hip-hop.

“For me and El, we take our shows as seriously as we take our albums, and we’re glad that it’s translating and people appreciate it,” he says. “I don’t want to be the next rap show that just stands there and has you look at me and hopefully repeat my words. I find that deplorable. I expect to see something when I see a show, and I’m grad we bring that to the spectrum right now.”

El-P and Killer Mike were both hip-hop journeymen with decades of experience between them when they came together in 2012. El produced Mike’s acclaimed “R.A.P. Music” album and the creative spark between them led to Run the Jewels, and the partnership has legs, according to the two MCs.

“I want us to have the consistency of EPMD. I want us to have the creative leaps and bounds of OutKast or A Tribe Called Quest. I want us to maintain the integrity of UGK. And I want us to make perfect albums as a unit, and as solo artists, and come back to a unit with the ease of 8Ball & MJG,” Mike says. “I have examples that show me you can do this and you can do this right, and I let those examples lead me. This group has given my life path another lane.”

That lane doesn’t exclude the occasional side trip, but Run the Jewels will continue to be a main destination.

“The second that this doesn’t seem to be the thing to do at the moment, we have other avenues of creativity to pursue,” El-P says. “But I think me and Mike will always come back to this. This is important to us.”

agraham@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/grahamorama

Run the Jewels

with Ratking and Despot

7 p.m. Tuesday

Saint Andrew’s Hall,

431 E. Congress St., Detroit

Tickets $20

LiveNation.com or

(313) 961-8961