Hip-hop dream team El-P and Killer Mike, collectively known as Run The Jewels, had a pretty exciting 2014. Their second album together, RTJ2, gained nearly universal critical acclaim, topped many year-end lists, are opening for Jack White at Madison Square Garden, and have established themselves as a powerful voice in the ongoing Ferguson saga. But perhaps what the pair is most excited about is the an announcement from Marvel that new issues of comics Deadpool and Howard The Duck will feature alternate covers referencing Run The Jewels’ iconic logo: a finger gun pointed at a fist clutching a stolen chain.
The inspiration for both the group’s name and their logo is taken from a line in the song “Cheesy Rat Blues” by rapper LL Cool J. He raps “Throw your hands in the air / And wave ’em like you just don’t care / Keep ’em there / Run the jewels, run the jewels, run the jewels.” Speaking to Interview Magazine, El-P said that the name “was just the most hardcore shit that could be said, that could be heard and it really exemplified the spirit that I brought into making this record. ‘We’re not second to any rapper or producer. We rival all of your idols and we’re going to spend the next 30-some-odd minutes proving that.'”
“We didn’t know it was happening,” El-P told Rolling Stone “We just got told it was happening and we were like, ‘You can’t be serious, that’s not possible, how is that even possible?’ Then they showed us the covers. And it’s fucking crazy.”
Killer Mike was equally excited: “When it came all the way through, I was dancing around the room in my Polo underwear.” Both rappers admit to a lifelong love of comics, but it their fandom had no part in getting these covers made.
The Howard The Duck and Deadpool covers were drawn by Marvel artists Mahmud Asrar and Skottie Young, respectively, at the behest of Marvel’s editor-in-chief Axel Alonso, who happens to be a Run The Jewels fan himself. He suggested the the idea to his artists after seeing the “tag the jewels” meme circulating online, in which graffiti artists from around the world posted their RTJ-inspired pieces. Alonso also was inspired by his son, who he saw flash the hand sign after scoring a touchdown in a middle school football game (flashing the hand signal has become a cultural signifier similar to Jay-Z’s infamous illuminati triangle).
Hip hop and comic book collaborations seem to be having a moment : Ghostface Killah had a comic writer create the entire story for his recent album, and recruited other artist to make accompanying visuals. “You might not admit it on record, but you talk to almost every rapper—we all grew up with that shit,” El-P says. “I guarantee you like 80% of any rappers that you meet probably went through a large comic book phase.”