Release Date: January 13, 2017
Record Label: Run the Jewels, Inc.
Just over a year removed from their incendiary second offering RTJ2, an album that cemented production demigod El-P and lyrical acrobat Killer Mike as not just fortuitous, but heroic partners; Run the Jewels are back. And lest you forget, they’re doper than you. The product of two purveyors of no-holds-barred hip-hop capable of arresting even the ficklest attention spans, RTJ3 is living proof that this dynamic duo is here to unite and conquer until the four horsemen shut them down. Battle tested by three-plus years of relentless touring, creation, and political activism El-P and Killer Mike have deftly avoided the many pitfalls of an endangered industry and established their own standard for rap game domination. Assured in every sense, from the magnificent cover art to the minuscule mix details, Run the Jewels 3 sets them apart even further from any possible challengers than I previously thought possible.
The myth-building inherent in these songs is evident, with both rappers seeming like larger-than-life cartoon heroes coming to rescue you from the throes of full-on technological mediation and spiritual depravity. The beats are stronger than ever, often making standard car speakers tremble in horror. The lyrics run the gamut from playful stoner humour to intense soul-searching. And they have access to a whole plethora of side men and women more than willing to fight injustice alongside them, among them super producer BOOTS, future rap legend Danny Brown and jazz bohemian Kamasi Washington. Take “Panther Like a Panther.” Underneath a layer of playful comedic subversion Mike, El and guest Trina take apart one of the record’s most unabashed beats one by one and, in so doing, drum up a supreme anthem of self-confidence. “I’m the shit, bitch!” boast all three in unison, and you can just see two dudes who fought for years to get the recognition they deserve smiling ear-to-ear, relishing the moment, knowing they’re entitled to their place among the best.
“Call Ticketron” reimagines the group as stadium-sized world beaters (a goal I hope the two achieve within this year) with unanimous fandom befitting of their skill level. A fiery, unbroken flow links the formidable one-two-three of “Legend Has It,” “Call Ticketron” and “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” and unsurprisingly, RTJ3 never breaks stride. Aside from a handful of lyrically goofy yet still enjoyable tracks, the bulk of the album lends a sharp, dedicated focus to our gravely serious political climate and personifies the evil we all feel stirring beneath a surface of technologically-aided apathy and white privilege. Killer Mike’s opening verse on the shockingly concise “Talk to Me” ranks among his best, building insane momentum in a few lines flat as he weaves together a highly personal story about racial profiling that gives way to an ominous vocal sample and a mind-bending dropout: “RTJ3 MOTHERFUCKERS.” Zac de La Rocha’s glorious return feature on “Kill Your Masters” ties up the record in dizzying fashion, somehow breaking up the tight fabric of an already apocalyptic track. Across thirty-two elite bars, De la spells out an utter refusal to play the victim that speaks to the level of kinship he feels with Mike and El as fellow resistors of false idols.
RTJ3 is as strong a third release as one could expect from two of the most deserving stars in modern music. It’s addictive, energetic, funny and endlessly listenable. The duo’s take-no-prisoners attitude towards rapping and beat making still feels remarkably fresh, with both bombastic, ear-splitting bass and small aesthetic treats each taken care of in spades. With overflowing motivation and a plaintive gift for breaking down limitations, Run the Jewels rage against bigotry, senseless violence and ignorance by way of some serious creative dexterity, and the visceral impact of their music is enough to incite real, meaningful action. Even as imperfect human beings with hopes, fears, insecurities and a shaken sense of pride, Mike and El have created their own perfect, self-contained world within RTJ3 where just one perfect verse can make the walls of oppression crumble.