In the UK a couple of years ago you could quite often see a particular advert for Cravendale brand milk. Nothing too spectacular about that, you might think, but actually the good people at Cravendale seemed to have an extreme amount of foresight about just how powerful a force cats would actually become.
In this particular series of ads, cats became (even more) sentient. In the first advert, a group of cats evolved to have thumbs, leading to them cross-stitching, hanging around in West Side Story-style gangs and eventually terrorizing a poor man who was just trying to enjoy his morning cereal.
In the second advert, things took a more sinister turn. A much larger group of felines – apparently led by Blofeld’s moggy – form the Thumb Cat Regime, kidnap milkmen and brainwash them to do their bidding. The advert ends on an oddly ambiguous note where it’s not all that clear what the furry terrors are actually planning to do with this army of roboticised milkmen. “Jog on kitties” is the final line.
It’s now perfectly clear what the kitties were planning. First they came for the milkmen, now they’ve claimed the rappers and their legions of fans.
Specifically, they seem to have adapted their milkman-hypnotising tech to work on rappers El-P and Killer Mike, aka Run The Jewels. For those who don’t know, Run The Jewels is their intense collaboration which has now spawned two incredible albums. Before their second effort Run The Jewels 2 was even released, though, fans of the duo lobbied the pair to rerecord the album using only cat noises, spearheading a Kickstarter that aimed to raise the $45,000 needed.
El-P then endorsed the project, so long as at least some of the proceeds went to helping “the families of those who have lost their lives to police brutality” and charities that helped neglected animals (most likely cat shelters).
Now with 50% of the pair under the feline spell, the Kickstarter surpassed its goal with ease. Everyone from Zola Jesus and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow to Dan the Automator and Alchemist signed on to contribute to the LP. The celebrity that conquers them all, though, is Lil’ Bub.
The ridiculously derpy yet also ridiculously cute feline is undoubtedly an internet sensation. His official YouTube channel has over 150,000 subscribers (only a few thousand less than Grumpy Cat) and nearly 50,000 followers on Twitter. The real extent of his fame is measured by the fact that he has his own ridiculously detailed Wikipedia page. In a killer twist of irony, Lil Bub’s figures far eclipse those of Run The Jewels, who have just over 10,000 YouTube subscribers, 23,000 Twitter followers and a far less detailed Wikipedia entry, despite the duo having a much more interesting and long-standing history. This is also despite El-P being the self-proclaimed inventor of the ludicrously silly “fartnoise” movement and even having a cat-in-a-spacesuit avatar on his own Twitter page.
So, Lil’ Bub is on board. That instantly launches Meow the Jewels, as it’s now known, into the realm of ultimate viral success. Yesterday, El-P released a short video on Instagram demonstrating what some of Meow the Jewels will sound like. Hint: it sounds as silly as you would expect it to.
Luckily, El-P is still self-aware enough to realise that sitting at his computer all day remixing his own critically acclaimed album to include a symphony of meowing is ludicrous. On Friday he thanked Lil’ Bub for coming on board and immediately followed it by saying “Thank god the money is going to charity because meow the jewels is going to be the single silliest fuckin record every recorded.” He later followed this with the coda, “oh my god what am I doing with my life?”
That’s a pretty good question, actually. Run The Jewels 2 was probably the best rap album of last year (which is no mean feat considering some of the stiff competition it faced). It tackles police brutality, protest, subverts rap’s obsession with drug dealing into an intense struggle with guilt, and contains more labyrinthine rhymes and flows than you can shake a stick at. It’s still alpha male, completely drowning in swagger and bursting at the seams with extremely intelligent diss-lyrics but it also brings back much of the spirit that made rap and hip-hop great in the late 80s. It genuinely cares about its lyrical and musical constructions. It has rhymes that aren’t forced or lazy, it sets its punchlines up and often tells a skilful narrative that takes a few listens to really notice every little nuance (including Rage Against The Machine’s Zach De La Rocha masterfully riffing on Philip K. Dick). That being said, its throwback nature was balanced by its blasts of synths and explosions of noise that kept it thoroughly contemporary. In other words, it built on everything that made the first album great and multiplied it by a factor of ten.
So why is it just a bit sad that the viral nature of cats is about to take over Run The Jewels 2? Why is El-P himself just a bit jaded at this whole prospect? Something tells me it’s because, despite the fact it’ll probably make a buttload of cash for their chosen charities, the whole concept reduces RTJ2 to a bit of a joke. Yes, it will be a brilliantly fun album but won’t be one that’ll stand the test of time. It’s possible to imagine spinning Meow the Jewels once for a laugh or it becoming another viral video sensation but it’ll be one of those LPs that just sit on your shelf gathering dust, unlike the original recording.
Perhaps even sadder is the fact that there will be many on the Lil’ Bub bandwagon whose first taste of Run the Jewels will be of the snippets of the remixed version of ‘Jeopardy.’ The messages embedded into the lyrics themselves will no doubt be lost underneath a wave of mews and purrs and people finding it all particularly hilarious. What would have originally stood as something of a timeless record, both documenting segments of history and social issues as well as arguably taking contemporary rap to the next level, could well be overshadowed by the fact that it’s been somewhat artificially taped onto what could well be a temporary internet meme. It would be a real shame if RTJ became the duo who were only really known for creating “that cat record” instead of the innovative music that they’ve brought into the world.
I won’t lie. I loved the idea of Meow the Jewels at first but mostly because it had this odd novelty factor about it (and as a lover of both Run The Jewels and cats, it initially seemed like a combination made in heaven). Thinking about it more, though, Meow the Jewels fills me with the same level of dread and disillusionment as El-P is no doubt feeling and expressing in his many tweets.
At the end of the official trailer for Meow the Jewels (yes, they actually have an official trailer), a cat launches completely unscathed into the air as the environment behind him completely blows up (apparently, cool cats don’t look at explosions). Surely this is a bit of a knowing wink from RTJ: the cats have claimed them and are destroying everything in their path. They know that they’ll, sadly, never be able to compete with the viral popularity of cats and so have succumbed to their feline charms, even if it might eventually destroy them.
They came for the milkmen, now they’ve come for the rappers.