A Conversation with Sly Jones, the Man Behind the Meow the Jewels Kickstarter

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Run the Jewels had announced its second album with an email parodying Kickstarter. For $40,000, it joked, the dynamic hip-hop duo that is New York’s El-P and Atlanta’s Killer Mike would re-record Run the Jewels 2 using only cat sounds as music.

Enter Sly Jones, a Nike call center employee in Phoenix. This past year or so, he started a medical marijuana business, landed in county jail for weed possession and then went home to find that his business partner cleaned out his place and stole $30,000. So when Jones saw that email, he launched an actual Kickstarter for Meow the Jewels. He figured he had nothing to lose, and besides, the thought of “El-P, frustrated over an MPC or his mixing board, trying to fine-tune a meow” made him laugh. Two days later, fans donated $10,000.

By Oct. 15, the project was fully funded. El-P will create Meow the Jewels with help from 11 producers, including Prince Paul and Just Blaze. Plus, as El-P and Jones decided early on, the profits will benefit the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Paste caught up with Jones to talk about how Meow the Jewels is becoming a reality.

Paste : Do you have a cat?
Sly Jones: Can I be honest? I don’t have a cat. Growing up, my sister had cats, so I have nothing against cats at all, but I actually developed a really bad allergy to cats. I have three dogs, though. I’m pretty big on helping animals, so all three of my dogs are rescues and whenever I get a chance I donate to the local shelter.

Paste : What are the names and breeds of your dogs?
Jones: There’s Steven, he’s a pitbull. There’s Kevin, he’s a chihuahua. I actually just found a poodle named Stephanie. Stephanie is her pending name.

Paste : Did you just get Stephanie?
Jones: Well, I almost hit her with a car. I saw her and grabbed her. I didn’t realize how little she was, because her hair had grown out, and it was completely matted. She had doggie dreadlocks, basically. I took her home and gave her food and water. I grabbed the scissors and gave her a haircut myself. She actually had a bunch of ticks, so I went and got the tick shampoo and sat there for three hours picking each and every single tick off of her. Now she’s in love with me.

Paste : Why help the families of Eric Garner and Mike Brown?
Jones: When I made [the Kickstarter], I thought to start a non-profit to help these families out. As we talked more, he said, “I feel strongly about the Eric Garner situation and the Mike Brown situation.” I was like, “If this thing picks up, I feel like we can help more people, not just one family. We could start a non-profit or victim’s fund.” He was like, “Let’s just focus and get this first goal knocked out, but I love the ideas.” Like I said, we were all on the same page.

Paste : How do you feel about how the Eric Garner and Mike Brown situations played out?
Jones: If I’m walking down the street and I shoot somebody seven times, you better believe I’m getting arrested and being held in county jail until my trial next year. For somebody to get away with murder and then get paid administration leave, I feel it’s not right. It’s not about a black kid getting shot. It’s about an American citizen getting killed in the street and somebody getting away with it. Why are unarmed citizens being killed and police being militarized?

I was raised in the thick of racism. There’s a video of a dude near Columbia, South Carolina that got shot by a cop for grabbing his ID. Meow the Jewels proves that race doesn’t matter. You got a black dude from Atlanta, a white dude from New York and a mixed kid from South Carolina. We came together to show people what’s wrong right now and what we can do to change that.

Paste : What’s been the most bizarre response that you’ve seen to Meow the Jewels?
Jones: I wouldn’t say “bizarre,” but I would say “passionate.” There’s been a couple of guys that have been there since day one. They were making artwork and GIFs. When we plateaued and I got discouraged, they were hitting me up. But I mean, people love cats. I’ve heard every cat pun you can imagine. We even did #CatRapNames.

Paste : What #CatRapNames have you seen?
Jones: Someone did Leaders of the Neutered School. We have Garfield Mob, Royce da 5’9 Lives, CatNipsey Hussle. Anytime I said “now,” people would be like “You mean ‘meow’?” I feel blessed that Mike and Jaime allowed me to be part of this. I still talk to Jaime all the time; it’s crazy what a one-sentence text can do. When El-P texts you an emoji, you’ve made it.

Paste : What were you doing when the Kickstarter was funded?
Jones: I actually had just gotten off work. I picked up my phone, I opened Twitter, and I had a thousand notifications. I had just checked [the Kickstarter] two hours before and we were at $42,000. I go outside, and we’re at $52,000. I went inside, bought a soda, sat down and was like, “Holy shit.”

I’ve had a lot of bad luck or bad decisions—business ideas that didn’t pan out, business partners who robbed me, literally. I always have these doubts in the back of my mind, because I never accomplished anything fully. I’m embarrassed to even admit that, but I never finished anything. College? Nope. Business? Nope. So for something to finally pan out, it meant the world to me.

I texted El: “We made it.” He was like, “Congratulations, man.” I was like, “This is your project. You’re telling me congratulations and thank you? I’ve failed at so many things in life. This makes up for all of that.” He said, “Well, you definitely didn’t fail at this.” I was done. I went into the bathroom and cried like a girl.

Paste : What’s next?
Jones: Growing up, they told us that we were going to be dead, in jail or in the military by the time we were 25. So I’ve never planned ahead. I’m just going to keep working hard, trying to help people and trying to make a change. That’s the only goal I have right now.

As far as the project, we’re just waiting on El and Mike to get off tour. I believe they’re going to put it on January. I’ve been in contact with Mass Appeal’s marketing rep to not let people forget why they donated. Donating the money to those families—I can’t wait for that. It’s still really messed up in Ferguson, but a lot of people don’t care, so I just want to let them know that we do care.

I’m ready for whatever comes next. I don’t think I’ll be able to top Meow the Jewels, but whatever is next, I hope it’s fucking cool.