Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2
Mass Appeal: 2014
The world is going to shit. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the news recently. With resurging wars abroad and the continuous struggle for an equal slice of the American pie at home, it’s not a particularly cheery time to be alive. Many see this as an opportunity to find beauty in the chaos. Others find an avenue to showcase their outrage — and outright rage. If Kendrick Lamar is singing “I love myself,” El-P and Killer Mike are re-arranging the tilt on their hats and stating simply, “We all dead. Fuck it.” If the world is going to burn, let’s light it up for real.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way early: Run The Jewels 2 is excellent. El-P’s devastating production will relentlessly rattle bones as the duo performs these bangers live. Killer Mike sounds ferocious and furious. For someone who feeds on furor, injustice and cartoons to turn out raps, today’s society is practically an all-you-can-eat buffet. The record exceeds its predecessor in small but notable ways. They rely less on reiterating their mission statement of destroying fuckboys, in turn shifting sights to larger targets. Backed by warmer, deeper and stranger production, the pair goes harder, faster and stronger, laying waste to everything around them and leaving listeners with what’s shaping up to be the best rap record of the year.
The album opens with Killer Mike shouting he’s about to “bang this bitch the fuck out!” and the record rarely lets up from there. Over a warm, brooding bass, Mike sounds sinister as he’s “putting pistols in faces at random places./Like bitch, give it up or stand adjacent to Satan.” By contrast, El-P provides a bit of perspective to emphasize their nihilistic annihilation: “I’ve never been much of shit, by most measurements don’t exist,” he opens. “On the radar a little blip in the shadow of motherships.” Later, he considers having nothing to lose as “a step up”, so it’s all there for the taking. Atop a troubling trumpet, he’s telling monsters to fellate them while throwing away the key to whack rappers’ jail cell (“Every bar of the bitch shit you spit is your fucking prison”). The tandem have a taste for blood and they’re back for more.
On the album’s riotous top half, Killer Mike and El-P are marauders, plunderers, ransacking sacred topics like organized religion (“Close Your Eyes (And Count Down to Fuck),” featuring a resurrected Zach De La Rocha), the country’s unrestrained military and prison complexes, and the notion that despite a democratic government, people actually have very little to say in how their country is run and how most of our life-altering decisions are made (“Lie, Cheat, Steal”). Forget a parental advisory sticker, the record should come with a “Wake Up Sheeple” warning label. But if the notion that the pair has grown overly serious is troubling, they are still cracking wise, winning one-liners. El-P is willing to “tea bag a piranha tank” when he’s not wearing sweatpants to funerals and bringing guns to lunch. Mike brags he will still “smell like a pound” when they bury him.
Despite its wide-angle scopes, RTJ2 reaches its highest point when the topic is personalized. Killer Mike delivers one of the year’s most impactful verses on “Early,” the album’s centerpiece. Here listeners are taken on an eye-witness account of Mike’s arrest on marijuana charges. While this is not newfound territory for the rapper (“DDFH,” “Don’t Die,” etc.), given the turmoil over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, it feels as relevant as ever. It’s personal and powerful. For his part, El picks up some of the the treads of Mike’s verse and helps weave another vantage point of the crime scene. Intertwined is a brilliant chorus from Boots, the rising producer who counts Beyonce in his credits. Together they form one of the most affecting songs in recent memory. Naturally, the pair go back to their relentless shit-talking on the album’s next track, “All Due Respect.”
Run The Jewels came together as a sort of victory lap after the pair’s banner 2012. The duo formed a pseudo-superhero group of guardians, a devastating tag team combination that only seems to be gaining momentum. No disrespect to its members’ storied solo careers, but Run the Jewels is a supreme use of both of their respective talents, at moments forming something larger than the sum of their individual parts. Whether they knew it at the time, they have created something special in the lab, turning their own stars inward to create a sort of all-consuming black hole, capable of bending and re-shaping the world around them, even if that world happens to be going to hell. Enjoy it before it’s destroyed.
5 out of 5
You can purchase RTJ2 on Amazon.