When Run the Jewels dropped their fourth album this past June, it was immediately hailed as a relevant album of the here and now. Even though it was created over the past few years, since RTJ3’s release in 2016, the duo of Killer Mike and El-P managed to seemingly encapsulate 2020 in audio form, with what my colleague Joe Berkowitz called, “an incendiary album that sounds like it was written and recorded last weekend, but built to last long after whatever is about to happen happens.”
Despite being the last two pirates alive still yargin’, Run the Jewels has long made music that bangs while calling out injustice and inequality, and RTJ4 is no exception.
The most talked-about track has been “Walking in the Snow.” It was just over a week after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police when we heard Killer Mike’s verse:
And every day on evening news they feed you fear for free.
And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me.
And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, “I can’t breathe.”
And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV.
The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy.
They were scheduled to tour the world with Rage Against the Machine this past summer, but then a pandemic dashed those plans. Now Run the Jewels is putting on a televised show with Adult Swim and sponsor Ben & Jerry’s to play the whole record live for the first time. But this isn’t your average concert show.
Called “Holy Calamavote” (playing off another RTJ4 track title), it’s part concert, part voting drive ahead of the U.S. presidential election on November 3.
Hosted by Eric Andre, the pre-recorded show was primarily filmed at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, and will feature guests like Mavis Staples, Zack de la Rocha, Josh Homme, Pharrell Williams, and 2 Chainz, as well as Gangsta Boo, Greg Nice, DJ Cutmaster Swiff, and Cochemea Gastelum.
Run the Jewels’s co-manager and business partner Amaechi Uzoigwe says since traditional touring was out, they were thinking of things like 1969 Beatles rooftop concert in London, or when U2 rented a flatbed in 2004 and drove around Manhattan to play.
“We were thinking on that scale, something just amazing that people would get blown away by that would be about this moment in history, in the group’s history, and the zeitgeist,” says Uzoigwe.
With safety and public health in mind, live-streaming or a broadcast of some kind began to look like the best option. They had already been talking to Ben & Jerry’s about getting involved with the ice-cream brand’s ongoing voter registration campaign, and then looped in Adult Swim, whose senior vice president and creative director, Jason DeMarco, actually introduced Killer Mike and El-P. The whole thing came together in about three weeks.
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Tune in to @adultswim on Saturday 10/17 at midnight for Holy Calamavote, a special performance by @runthejewels! Get hyped about RTJ4, then get even more hyped about making your voice heard for justice on Election Day! Can't wait? Pledge to vote now at the link in our bio!
Ben & Jerry’s global head of integrated marketing, Jay Curley, says the brand has been really trying to help get out low-propensity voters, who are often younger, and particularly young Black males who haven’t been motivated to vote in the past.
“We’ve been running a campaign to try and get them excited, get them into the civic process, and honestly we had a strategic and technical plan, but we didn’t have a very fun plan,” says Curley. “We went to the guys with a goal of getting people engaged, and we wanted the Run the Jewels magic to help make that happen, and that’s how they’ve approached it.”
There’s the typical sponsor stuff, like seeing the brand’s name in all the promos for the show, but Curley says that’s all secondary. “For us it’s less important that people see our logo and more important they see the call to action, the ‘Text RTJ2020’ to get them pledging and registering to vote,” says Curley. “And they’ve been great at integrating that into all the promotion, a little bit in the broadcast, and afterwards right up to November 2nd and 3rd.”
While the network has been putting on its own comedy and music festivals over the past few years, this is its first-ever concert broadcast. “What’s exciting here for us is we’ve never done anything like this, and even though we try to engage with our audiences in a lot of different ways, this is totally new and it’s inviting them to action, to get them to exercise their right to vote,” says Adult Swim president Michael Ouweleen. “When something feels new, it’s easy to get everyone motivated and working fast.”
Between the connection to Adult Swim through the RTJ origin story, and Killer Mike having met Ben & Jerry’s cofounder Ben Cohen through his work with Bernie Sanders, the partnership and project, combined with its overall mission, are a perfect storm.
“Ben & Jerry’s came with the voting platform, Adult Swim is Adult Swim, and we were ready,” says Uzoigwe. “This album for us is a special vehicle to deliver this message. If there was ever a group built for this godforsaken year, it’s these guys.”