Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Visual Storytelling of Run the Jewels

Alex Castro, the Verge:

Alongside the two antiheroes of Run The Jewels is a third, ever-present visual staple: the pistol and fist. This simple image has graced the cover of every Run The Jewels album, communicating very clearly what the duo are here to do. This image goes directly against more traditional hip-hop album artwork, which tends to feature a portrait of the artist in varying forms. By choosing a more symbolic art direction, the group sets the tone for their records to stretch beyond reality. This is supported by auxiliary imagery for packaging and album skits, which hint at the duo escaping hell.

The creation of the covers has been spearheaded by El-P, one-half of Run The Jewels, and recently, Tim Saccenti, a photographer and filmmaker who’s worked with El-P since his second album. However, both are quick to mention the contributions of numerous artists over the years, including illustrator Nick Gazin, who drew the first two covers and helped conceive the original logo, and, of course, Killer Mike, the other half of Run The Jewels. “I consider it to be sort of an art collective,” El-P says. “Different people have different moments in it that enhance it and turn it into what it is.”

I spoke separately with El-P and Saccenti about the history of Run The Jewels’ visuals and how they’ve been brought to life through sculpture and photography for their most recent albums. Here’s a combination of both interviews, which have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

The low poly pistol and fist motif on their most recent release might be my favourite iteration yet.