El-P

El-P of Company Flow performs April 15 during Day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field in Indio, Calif. (Getty Images / July 3, 2012)

El-P, as might be expected for a guy whose resume includes performing as part of the widely beloved New York rap group Company Flow, running the underground label Def Jux, and making acclaimed music of his own, has been busy lately.

In recent months he's released a solo album, "Cancer for Cure," and produced an album for Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, "R.A.P. Music"--both of which stand among the year's most riveting hip-hop releases--while still finding time to collaborate with buzzed-about artists like Mr. MFN eXquire and Das Racist.

On Friday, he brings a roster of these friends to Bottom Lounge. We recently caught up with the hip-hop icon to talk politics, Real Hip-hop, and hovercars.

Post-Def Jux you've still surrounded yourself with a lot of interesting artists. You're touring with Killer Mike, Despot, Mr. MFN eXquire. What is it that's drawn you to those artists?
I like all of those guys. I love all their music. Just all, individually, we have a mutual respect for each other. That's all ... I've always sort of been that way, reaching out to people that I liked. We're all in our own zone, we're not doing the same thing, and I think that's what's cool about it.

You and Killer Mike both make music that's political at a time when political hip-hop and political music in general is kind of unfashionable. What draws you to talking about politics?
I don't talk too directly about politics themselves. I think that I put a personal perspective on it, and I think that's one of the things that makes it a little bit different. I'm not lecturing anybody. I don't really think I know anything or have the answers to anything. I'm just making music about what's going on in my head, and if you tune into that, there's no way you're not going to touch on some of the [bleep] that's going on around you. Because it affects everyone.

I really am not interested in making political music, per se. I'm making personal records, but at the same time I'm very much aware of my surroundings. And those surroundings, what's going on in the larger picture, affects my everyday life and affects the way that I think. You see that [bleep] bleed into my music. But people know when they listen to my music they're not going to hear some guy lecturing them about politics. I don't know anything more than anyone else.

Why do you think the idea of political music turns people off?
I think that sometimes you just don't want to stress out about that [bleep]! Sometimes people don't want--that's not what they're looking for in music. And I'm not necessarily looking for that either. I think what [Killer] Mike does, and what I try to do, is less about politics and more about truth. Truth is something far bigger than politics. You don't have to really know anything about the specifics of what's going on in the world to understand basic truth. And it's important when you're making music, I think, not to make people feel like you're talking at them, but to make them feel like they're there with you in your head, having a dialogue that they're a part of ... But I also totally respect the idea that some people just don't want to be confronted with those types of ideas when they're listening to music. It may be too much. Maybe they're just trying to unwind.

Def Jux and Company Flow have kind of become punching bags for this conservative idea of Real Hip-hop, which is more lyrically driven. What do you think of this debate about Real Hip-hop?
All that [bleep] about "real" versus "fake," man, honestly I'm just too far along in my music career to really be thinking about that [bleep]. I don't think that anyone has the right to dictate what's real and what's not real to anybody ... I get repulsed a little bit by all of the arguments of people trying to figure out what it means, people choosing one type of song or another type of song, or people trying to argue that there's a particular thing happening or a right way or wrong way to do [bleep]. I could have talked to you about that for an hour straight when I was in my twenties. But now I don't really give a [bleep].

You rap about the future a lot, so I have two questions about the future. First of all, do you think there is any technology we need to be wary of, and second, how far away do you think we are from having hovercars?
I think that the technology that we have to be worried about is very old. The technology of prisons, the technology of prison bars, the technology of clubs and bullets. Everything that we really need to worry about right now is already here. Sure, maybe someone will come up with some sort of amazing totalitarian invention, but I think they've got a lot of it covered already. There's a lot going on right now that was invented way before the hovercar will ever be invented. And the hovercar; I'm pretty sure that we, as a culture, are not going to get there for a while.

Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor.


El-P with Killer Mike, Despot, Mr. MFN eXquire
8 p.m. July 6 at Bottom Lounge