Can You Spot DOOM In This Graffiti-Inspired Company Flow Video?
El-P joined forces with Killer Mike to produce his album R.A.P. Music in 2012, officially forming their group Run The Jewels the following year. They have since released three studio albums, rocked a few late night talk shows, made some bold political statements, toured extensively, inspired some amazing graffiti, landed a series of Marvel comics tribute covers and even crowd-sourced over $60,000 to create a remix album made entirely out of cat noises. Meow The Jewels featured an all-star lineup of producers and all of its profits and funds raised were donated to the families of two prominent police brutality victims, as well as the National Lawyers Guild’s Mass Defense Committee. Needless to say, the Jewel Runners have had incredible success in their collective careers — but each member individually boasts a rich history in the game, as well.
Having made his debut on Outkast’s multi-platinum Stankonia album in 2000, and winning a Grammy for their followup collaboration “The Whole World” soon after, Heads are probably already aware of Killer Mike’s emergence as a Dungeon Family affiliate. After the surprise Christmas Eve release of Run The Jewels 3, it seemed like a good opportunity to shed some light on El-Producto’s somewhat lesser-known origin story — which began with Company Flow, his seminal group with former partner-in-rhyme Bigg Jus and their DJ, Mr. Len, in the mid ’90s.
Not unlike R.T.J., the anti-establishment trio’s approach to making music was probably best characterized by their mantra “independent as fuck.” In fact, the ever-subversive El-P has been all about “bombing the system” since day one (Bomb The System being a 2002 graffiti-themed drama scored by the producer). To “bomb” is, of course, graff’ terminology for painting as many pieces or tags in an area as possible — which brings us to our point of interest: more graffiti-inspired visuals for Co Flow’s classic “End To End Burners” single, released on the legendary defunct label Rawkus Records in 1998.
Shot in the New York Transit Museum, “End To End Burners” is straight up Hip-Hop — combining all four of the elements traditionally attributed to the culture (rapping, turntablism, break-dancing and graffiti) in one video. According to legend, which El-P confirmed in a MySpace feature on Rawkus, a newly-minted MF DOOM even makes a brief cameo.
Furthermore, the vid’s production value is atypical for an independent Hip-Hop release, even by today’s standards. This was most likely made possible by Rawkus’ rumored bankroll. Ironically, the underground movement that sought to undermine mainstream Rap’s stronghold on American consciousness in the midst of the “shiny suit era,” promoting the kind of artists who verbally opposed the culture’s over-commodification, was funded by none other than plutocratic media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s son. Although primarily known for launching the careers of artists like Yasiin Bey (tka Mos Def), Talib Kweli and Pharoahe Monch, the label had originally signed Co Flow to establish credibility on the underground scene and tap into their cult following first. In ’97, they had released the group’s innovative Funcrusher Plus LP, successfully aligning the brand with the counterculture. “Company Flow [was] one of the primary groups [that gave] Rawkus their identity,” explained former label mate DJ Spinna in the MySpace interview. “They … helped push them further into the underground foray. When Company Flow got down with them, they validated the label…”
Although the label would later stray from Co Flow’s self-described “dusty but digital” sound, and El-P would leave to form his own successful indie label Definitive Jux, the group had a strong influence on Rawkus and underground Hip-Hop in general — which can be heard in the music of successors like Kweli, who referenced the clique on “Some Kind of Wonderful” off Train of Thought, his debut LP with Reflection Eternal group mate Hi-Tek: “It’s cool, I stay low key, keep a low pro / Come out crushin’ shit just for fun like Co Flow.”
Said Kweli on the aforementioned visuals, “The video in the subway, ‘End To End Burners,’ that was my shit!”
#BonusBeat: Check out this dope in-store performance of Company Flow’s “The Fire In Which You Burn” featuring Breeze Brewin’ of the Juggaknots and J-Treds, who are joined by The Jugg’s Queen Herawin, Wordsworth and Ill Bill of Non-Phixion in the ensuing cipher, at New York’s legendary Fat Beats record store.
For Heads who may not be aware, Co Flow, The Juggaknots and J-Treds formed a supergroup called the Indelible MC’s.