Why Run The Jewels and Virtual Reality

At the center of all great cultural shifts there is music pushing it forward. At this particular juncture, that sound is being created by a ferocious and brilliant hip-hop duo called Run The Jewels. To paraphrase legendary Southern California band The Minutemen when they sang “Mr. Narrator, this is Bob Dylan to me,” — Run The Jewels is the Clash circa 1977 to me, it’s Black Flag inciting a musical (and actual) riot, John Coltrane changing radically the vocabulary and Public Enemy waking a nation up. It’s no coincidence that Run The Jewels’ member Killer Mike is being interviewed about racism, social injustice and police brutality on shows like The View, Bill Maher and Late Night With Stephen Colbert, guest lecturing at MIT, was invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner and appears on stage with Bernie Sanders.

For all it’s sonic innovation and cut and paste brilliance, hip-hop is really just protest music. Strip away the bullshit stereotypes (real or imagined) and you’re left with a lot of powerful stories from the outer edges of culture. It’s the voice of the dispossessed, disaffected and disproportionately incarcerated that most of us would otherwise ignore. But ignore it at your own peril, because the future, whatever it ends up looking like, is coming fast and it’s probably not listening to Aerosmith and watching network TV. I believe that virtual reality is poised to become the most significant conduit for artistic expression in our lifetime. Which is why a year ago I decided we needed to bring Run The Jewels and their message into immersive storytelling. It seemed obvious even then that these were authentic voices saying something important and connecting emotionally with a generation. They are artists who see themselves as more than just another cool product, but instead as poets, comedians, and unorthodox entrepreneurs who focus on connecting directly with their fans and not pandering to them. Choosing to give their music away to the hardcore is just one of many smart moves they do.

On set with Peter Martin and Killer Mike

Meeting with the Run The jewel’s management I discovered a team that completely backed the duo’s uncompromising vision. Killer Mike and El-P suggested their song “Crown” which features a deeply personal true life consequences of the street hustle story from Mike and a statement about military indoctrination by El-P. I immediately thought the song, with its compelling narratives, was perfectly suited to be the first significant VR music video. And having Run The Jewels involved would make the project potentially historic. We partnered with a director Peter Martin (Valis Studio) who is a brilliant creative in digital and traditional storytelling. With Peter and RTJ on board we made an absolutely awesome VR music experience. It seems we are not the only ones who think so. The New York Times just featured the experience in their Sunday Magazine, designating it a musical and technological turning point. It’s welcome recognition for an idea I had a year ago about merging brilliant underground hip-hop and a technology on the verge of exploding. The rest, as they say, is history, or will be. But right now, it’s fucking happening.

Killer Mike and Anthony Batt

Making Run The Jewels VR was a great team effort and I have to give big thanks to: The entire Wevr team that makes all our projects look amazing. Luis Blackaller for being my creative partner and friend. Neville Spiteri that trusts my creative judgments and mood swings. Peter Martin that brings creative collaboration to the next level. Sam Margolius who tirelessly produced the project with us. The genius managment team behind RTJ Amaechi Uzoigwe and Will Bronson. Amit Nerurkar and the entire team at Mass Appeal. John Alpert for helping me daily with his creative writing skills.