Dynamic duo El-P and Killer Mike are back in full force as Run The Jewels with an energetic and aggressive sequel to their 2013 self-titled debut. It’s already being dubbed the Empire Strikes Back of rap – back in full force with a darker twist.
I remember last summer after RTJ’s first album dropped. I, like many others, was uninitiated in the fantastic flows and beats of El-P. His last solo album, Cancer 4 Cure, released in 2012, was featured on several “Best-Of” lists at the end of the year. His alternative style of flows allow his bass-abusing, instrument-heavy, and (dare I say?) dope-ass beats to shine throughout. Killer Mike, who you may recognize from his 2012 solo album R.A.P. Music (entirely produced by El-P) or a few OutKast features from classics Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, has also been doing his thing for more than a decade. These guys are experienced, and their exports as Run The Jewels so far seem like a culmination of over 30 years of experience between them finally coming to fruition.
The video I would show to anyone who doubts RTJ’s dominance and energy would be their performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival last year, especially their performance of the song “Run the Jewels”. You can clearly see not only are both Killer Mike and El-P serious about what they’re doing, they’re buddies. They’ve been at this for a while, they’re raw, and their chemistry is undeniable.
On their latest, El-P’s beats continue to hammer harder than any other producer’s today. Creative use of synth and bass dot the various tracks, setting up a perfect base for him and his partner to utilize their flows to maximum effectiveness. Most songs operate in a sort of “Gotta Have It” style of Jay-Z and Kanye from Watch the Throne, where both rappers will drop in and out of each other’s verses. They bounce off of each other for punch lines, and they sting.
The whole album is pretty fast – short, 3-4 minute tracks is the average run time per track. The incredibly quick paced flows of both rappers helps this, too. There’s no letting up, and it seems like each song bumps harder than the last. The opening line of the entire album is Killer Mike yelling into his mic “I’m gonna bang this b***h the f**k out!” on opener “Jeopardy”. If that doesn’t set the tone, I don’t know what would. They seriously annihilate each track.
The craftsmanship and work that went into each song can be heard throughout. Each of El-P’s beats fit with each rapper’s respective performances. The topics they cover include politics, fatherhood, their place in the music world currently, and badassery in general. They don’t miss much – the songs range from crude to thoughtful, but all of them hit hard.
The features on this album make it dynamic and enhance their respective tracks, instead of overcrowding. Killer Mike and El-P both realize they’re the ones doing the heavy lifting, and effectively make use of their affiliates throughout. Rap isn’t really your thing? How about pop-punk, such as Blink-182? You’re in luck! Drummer/producer Travis Barker pops up on “All Due Respect,” a quick-flowing bravado-filled track, with awesome drums to boot, of course. And if you’re a 9th grader who just got grounded by his parents, you’re in luck too! On “Close Your Eyes (And Count to F**k)” former Rage Against the Machine frontman Zach De La Rocha closes out a flow-heavy song with possibly the best verse of his life.
If you think about the name alone, “running jewels” implies that El-P and Killer Mike are stealing the #1 position away from other rappers. This is definitely a heist – an armed robbery of your ear drums. If Run the Jewels 2 is RTJ’s application for the top spot in rap right now, it’s tough to deny them. The throne is theirs for the taking, and this album confirms that Run the Jewels is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. “A revolutionary banging on my adversaries” calls out Killer Mike on standout track “Lie, Cheat Steal,” and the knock is deafening.
“Close Your Eyes (And Count to F**k)”
“Lie, Cheat, Steal”
“Blockbuster Night Part 1”
“Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”