All-star rap duo Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and rapper/producer El-P) return with their third in a series of albums that continue to deliver. While the form is still largely the same, they once again deviate in content here. Their chemistry has already put them among the great rap duos and groups of all time and they use it primarily here, like many other artists have, to speak on the world in the wake of the US Election and Killer Mike’s diehard support of candidate Bernie Sanders. Run The Jewels has always had an element of this biting political edge, but it rises completely to the forefront here with new personal anecdotes of how it has affected them personally that extend past Mike’s chilling imagined scenario of police brutality on RTJ2’s “Early”. Of course, El-P’s beats are still as creative and mindblowing as ever, and their technical skill and interplay is unmatched in rap’s current landscape. You start to wonder if this match made in heaven will ever slow down.
The formula is basically the same as before, but the same is never truly the same with RTJ. The album is loud and abrasive, featuring rapid-fire flows, edgy lyrics containing biting satire and hilarious punchlines, and interesting and dynamic beats with an industrial sound — all the aspects that we’ve come to love and expect from the duo at this point. However, instead of building themselves – and each other – up as they usually do, they turn away from each other and face forward to unleash a full-out attack on the nonsense and evils of the world.
The collaborators, some old and some new, are all perfectly chosen. These are the kind of insane beats that Danny Brown can get behind and he serves as a great contrast on “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”. Master saxophonist Kamasi Washington of To Pimp A Butterfly fame just adds another level of insanity to El-P’s grinding beat. Zack De La Rocha, former frontman of Rage Against the Machine, shows up once again on the closing and most political track “A Report To The Shareholders/Kill Your Masters”, and shows just how well RTJ is carrying on the legacy of bands like his. The pure energy and revolutionary potential of De La Rocha yelling “F**k you I won’t do what you tell me!” repeatedly over roaring guitars on the band’s biggest hit has been captured and spread over a trilogy of albums.
El-P dubs himself the “Son of Rick Rubin” on “Talk To Me”, and he’s not wrong. Like Rubin, who was a prominent producer in hip-hop but was very successful in other genres as well, all of El-P’s sounds are stadium sized and come from all over the musical map – not the typical hip-hop instrumental. And yet, he makes hip-hop beats that hit harder than any other. “Call Ticketron”, featuring a woozy synth line and rapid-fire hi-hats, is something else.
Their lyricism is frequently amazing is well, both when they’re talking about politics and when they’re coming up with increasingly ridiculous ways to describe how awesome they are.These guys can knowingly be blissfully immature and come across as hilarious on the lighter tracks — El-P opening “Everybody Stay Calm” with a blunt “Excusez-moi, b*tches” genuinely made me laugh out loud — and then drop truth bombs justifying their rage like “You talk clean and bomb hospitals/So I speak with the foulest mouth possible” (“Shareholders/Masters”). Killer Mike uses a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. to openly call for a riot on “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost” and means it when he calls for the assassination of billionaires.
Speaking of Mike, I feel like I haven’t been talking about him nearly enough – his technical ability is absolutely spectacular on the project, completely unapologetic as he harnesses El-P’s out-of-control beats. His final verse on “Call Ticketron” deservedly set the Internet ablaze. In fact, for the first time on a Run The Jewels project I’d even say that El-P’s verses are weaker overall across the entire project for the first time, as they are usually on an equal playing field. This isn’t a case of El-P getting worse, he might have even gotten better. Mike just steps his game up to another level entirely here.
Another small criticism is that the hooks are a little underdeveloped and underwritten, but that’s never really been what Run The Jewels is about. We’re here for the beats that shake us senseless and the bars that make us ask “Did they just say that?” before realizing their truth. Sometimes, a chorus of children screaming “Bumaye!” (“Kill him!”) is effective enough as a hook.
The same song, “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”, begins with a child proclaiming in a high-pitched voice “This is so crazy!” He concludes the track, “You made my eardrums bleed”. This is basically how I feel about this album. Run The Jewels have been out for blood since the beginning, and while the music may not hit quite as hard as the full-blown assault on the senses that was RTJ2, their words are what do the taking this time.
Favourite Tracks: Call Ticketron, Legend Has It, Everybody Stay Calm, Hey Kids (Bumaye), Talk To Me
Least Favourite Track: Oh Mama