Artist: Run the Jewels
Release Date: October 27, 2014
Label: Mass Appeal
When veteran MC Killer Mike first worked with rapper/producer extraordinaire El-P on 2012’s R.A.P. Music, he knew, “I was supposed to be rapping on El-P beats for the rest of my career.”
The fiery chemistry present in those first sessions didn’t immediately result in the partnership of the lethal aggro-rap kingpins we know today as Run the Jewels. In the following weeks, Mike found himself calling El-P every day, refusing to let go of the sound he’d been chasing his entire decade-plus long career. Thank the based god he picked up. With their unapologetic, take-no-prisoners, bullshit allergic approach, two years later Mike and El stand atop the rap landscape, having burned down every festival stage in their path without looking back.
After such an assured and wholeheartedly dope debut, the only place for the Jewels to go was somewhere else, and while RTJ2 undoubtedly has the same spirit as its predecessor, make no mistake, this is anything but a re-hash. Run the Jewels was a playful, ongoing game of lyrical tag-team, but without missing a step, RTJ2 goes deeper and darker, letting El-P’s truly artistic beats shine, at least after the first four dizzyingly hard-nosed tracks leave you gasping for air. Just listen to the mammoth instrumental break that closes “Angel Duster.” It’s precise, wall rattling and emotive all at once.
However easy it is to sit back and get enveloped by the beats, Mike and El are again on top of their lyrical game, relying less heavily on braggadocio and expletive for their own sakes (thought there’s plenty of that, with side-busting results). With Halloween approaching, they remind us that unchecked police brutality, government surveillance and facing your past are infinitely scarier than any big budget horror flick. On “Crown,” Mike laments having sold drugs to a pregnant woman when strapped for cash. Elsewhere, on “Early,” he gets cuffed in front of his wife and son for having weed. These moments are sandwiched in between Run the Jewels’ trademarked action movie narratives and are all the more poignant because of it. It’s almost as if they’ve transformed the almighty quest for the turnup into a socially conscious art form. The harder the beat bangs, the louder their message is.
However attention-commanding and clever both rappers are in their own right, what matters more than lyrical nuance and big name features (Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha and Blink-182’s Travis Barker, namely) is the spirit and intention behind these tracks; how easy it is to imagine the fun Mike and El have in the studio together, playing out their rap-game-Laurel-and-Hardy sketch amid a righteous air of blunt smoke. What matters is that without batting an eye, hundreds of sweaty kids at a Run the Jewels show in a club or thousands at a festival will lose their shit to these tunes amidst a sea of limbs and ubiquitous hand signs. Breathing is optional. Moshing isn’t. You are in the presence of legends. You are now listening to Run the Jewels 2.
Check out Run the Jewels live when they play UCSD’s Porter’s Pub on November 11.