El-P from Run the Jewels tells Snacky Tunes about making music and bagels

The New York rap star looks back fondly on a time when he could only afford one meal per day
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Snacky Tunes and El-P. El-P photograph by Daniel Medhurst, courtesy of Run the Jewels
Snacky Tunes and El-P. El-P photograph by Daniel Medhurst, courtesy of Run the Jewels

Darin and Greg Bresnitz, authors of Snacky Tunes, a deep and delicious investigation of the musical and gastronomic arts, aren’t just great writers and editors. The brothers and business partners host the Snacky Tunes podcast of the same name; they used to DJ together; and between them they also oversee a bunch of other food and music concerns, including Dinner with the Band, a reality TV show mixing live musical performances and cookery. 

Over the years the Bresnitz brothers have managed to welcome many talented recording artists into the show’s open kitchen, including Jaime ‘El-P’ Meline from the hip-hop duo Run the Jewels. That appearance went so well that Darin and Greg invited Meline back, to contribute a foreword to the new Snacky Tunes book. This lovely piece of writing from El-P (reproduced below) recalls the golden years of independent hip-hop while also perhaps telling us something about the hard times many of us are facing today.

A spread from Snacky Tunes
A spread from Snacky Tunes

“In the mid ’90s, during the period of time that I was writing what would ultimately become my first full-length album, me and my best friend / roommate John were so broke that we made the unspoken decision to sleep until 5 p.m. every day. It was, I felt, an elegant solution to a clear problem. The longer we were awake, the more expensive it was, and between the two of us we had a post-rent per diem of just about ten bucks.

"Every day around 5:30 p.m. we would shuffle out of the building and over to a deli in our neighborhood to spend the first five bucks of our budget on our food for the day. The other half was allotted to the neighborhood weed dealer. He had pretty decent stuff, and his nickel bags were plump and always in stock. When you’re operating on a five-dollar food budget for two you really only have one shot to get it right. This was going to be our only meal of the ‘day’ (early evening), and it needed to hold us down all night. There was music to make, and ideas to write in the studio (a.k.a. my bedroom), and we literally couldn’t afford being bothered by hunger pangs. We had to carefully vet our choices and balance them perfectly between ‘under five bucks for two people,’ ‘filling enough to not eat again until tomorrow,’ and lastly: good. Sure, we were broke as hell, but that didn’t mean we were savages. Besides, if there is one thing New Yorkers know, it’s that eating well absolutely does not have to cost much. After a little experimentation, we ultimately settled on the only food that fit all our criteria, and at the local deli we would each order one toasted bagel with cream cheese, and a small cup of coffee. I took two sugars and cream, John drank it black, and as we sat on the neighboring stoop to silently devour our catch, the sun would set over Brooklyn, signaling that our day had begun. Perfect. The first traces of sound would start to dart around my consciousness . . . tonight I work.

A spread from Snacky Tunes
A spread from Snacky Tunes

“Time passed and I finished an album, and my career took off, and the world opened up to me. Years down the line while I was promoting my fourth studio album, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, I was asked to perform on a cable TV show called Dinner With The Band. The concept was pretty cool, I thought. I was not only going to be the musical guest on the show, but I was also going to cook something of my choosing with the host. The way it was put to me was that they wanted to know what I most missed when I was on the road . . . the food that meant more about home to me than anything else. Let’s make bagels, I told them. That feels right.”

For more from Darin, Greg and friends order a copy of the new Snacky Tunes book here.


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