Three men silently stalk an abandoned neighborhood. A train whistle sounds in the distance and suddenly, we see another man. He is panting, exhausted, dirty. Sun shines through open windows as he tries to catch his breath. Slowly, he looks up, and appears to have an epiphany. Music starts to play as the story starts to unfold: A white cop and a black man are caught in an equally matched, endless struggle against one another.
The latest music video from the hip-hop duo Run the Jewels presents a new perspective on racially-based police brutality. “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck),” features former Rage Against The Machine singer Zack De La Rocha, who joins Run The Jewels members El-P and Killer Mike in the beginning of the video. The song pairs an infectious beat with catchy, politically charged rhymes.
The video was directed by A.G. Rojas, known for his innovative commercials and videos for artists such as Jack White and Portugal. The Man. In a statement released with the video, Rojas said that he’d wanted to make “a film that would ignite a valuable and productive conversation about racially motivated violence in this country.” The characters’ struggle, he explained, is meant to be seen as a metaphor for the futility of violence.
El-P says he and Killer Mike instantly liked Rojas’ vision for the video. “He said to us, ‘Let’s not avoid the uncomfortableness of this whole thing,'” El-P says. “‘Let’s indulge in it. Let’s make it uncomfortable.’ And that is something that, with me and Mike—it just felt right.” Mike elaborates on the video’s imagery: “If you look at me, Zack, and El, we are kind of just like spirits of some sort, just walking through this barren thing. When AG described it to me, he said, ‘Mike, it is like purgatory.’ It is almost worst than a hellish existence because you don’t know if you are going up or down. You don’t know if you are going to make it or not. You don’t know which side you are on,” Mike says.
Run the Jewels has been outspoken on social justice issues before. Mike’s fiery speech from a St. Louis stage on the night of the Ferguson grand jury decision in November made headlines.
Mike admits that he’s gotten some negative feedback from people who think “Close Your Eyes” doesn’t show the power imbalance and overpolicing he had protested. But he explains that the video seeks to highlight a different aspect of the issue. “People are frustrated and tired, and that is what this video symbolizes. If you are a minority in this society, you carry this fight every, single, goddamn day,” he says. “If you are a cop, being the extension of tyranny in some cases, it has to be a tremendous weight on you, if you are a person of good moral character.”
“With art the job is not to be an accurate reporter of things that are happening. With art the job is to come up with a parable, a metaphor, or an idea about reality, and put it forward to hopefully affect some sort of thought about it,” El-P says. “That is what attracted us to this video. It effects a conversation.”
Called a “super-duo” by MTV, both Killer Mike and El-P had notable careers before they began collaborating, but in just two years as Run The Jewels they have already put out two albums to critical acclaim. Run the Jewels II, released last fall, was named the best rap album of the year by the LA Times and Rolling Stone. Consequence of Sound said the album had the potential to be “one of the best hip-hop records of our era,” and named them artist of the year.
By weaving riffs on socially relevant topics with shit talk and sexual innuendo, and pairing them with a layered and exhilarative sound, Run The Jewels has hit on a style that values discussion over diatribe. “We make songs,” El-P says. “So the idea is to make a dope song and to say something that means something.”