Everybody loves a good buddy-cop duo, it’s a well-established fact in our modern society — Starsky and Hutch, Riggs and Murtaugh, Turner and Hooch, you name it and the public eats it up. The allure of a dynamic pair of dudes kicking ass, taking names, and finishing each other’s sentences is difficult to overstate. El-P and Killer Mike capitalized beautifully on this fact when they banded together in 2013 to release their world and chest beating collaborative effort Run The Jewels, as Run The Jewels (a reference to an LL Cool J lyric, for the uninitiated).
On their first outing Run The Jewels made a statement, trampling over anyone in their respective paths with ultra-intelligent hardcore brag-rap, established themselves as the current rap duo to beat in the process. Now, with the creatively named follow-up Run The Jewels 2, their sound is reaching a bigger audience than ever before. They are pushing their content to even more wonderfully aggressive places, and along the way they find the time to include a little more of the social commentary that is so ever-present in their respective solo outputs.
As an important disclaimer, if you decide to walk down the street while listening to the new album from El-P and Killer Mike on headphones, it is vitally important that you exercise extreme caution – you WILL feel like you’re invincible, you WILL kick over multiple trash cans, and it’s entirely possible that you will storm your local government office and make loud and outlandish demands to anyone in earshot. Such is the unstoppable power of Run The Jewel’s ferociously tight bars, and production, courtesy of El-P, that sits somewhere in between an apocalyptic hellscape and the best party you’ve ever been to.
El-P has proven to anyone paying attention to his music throughout the years that he crafts some of the best hip-hop instrumentals out there, but on RTJ2 he truly outdoes himself. These beats thud and rattle you to you core – they feel fuller than those on the first Run The Jewels, with creative samples interspersed and a vast variety of brutal sounds incorporated. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” stands out as particularly relentless, as the beat transforms into a completely new monster partway through the song, throwing you into blissful disarray. In short, El is doing his worst to try and give you whiplash from banging your head, and it’s working.
Killer Mike declares that he’s “the closest representation to God you might see” and threatens to “punch you to a pulp (no fiction)”. El-P boasts that he’ll “teabag a piranha tank, heart barely beatin”, following it up by telling us he’s “a wild one, who’ll swim like directly after he’s eaten”, finally sending out an invitation that “you can run naked backwards through a field of DICKS.”
Mike and El earn the hell out of these wild, hilarious claims and then some, as outlandish as they may seem. The gruesome twosome are rapping so furiously and with such conviction it’s impossible to argue with them — they’re deeply engaged in a game of one-up-manship where neither best friend wants to let the other have the most resounding verse on any given track, and the listener is reaping the benefits. We would recommend pulling up the lyrics as you dive into tracks like “Lie, Cheat, Steal” so that you don’t get lost, because there is a lot of incredibly clever wordplay going on and listening to the album from start to finish can really take it out of you — there is no letting up for even one song.
On the standout song “Early,” Run The Jewels powerfully display the other, less braggadocios side of their music. Mike weaves a story on his verse where he is detained and brutalized for no reason in front of his wife and kids, a scenario that hits close to home in this time where police brutality is finally getting a portion of the media coverage that it warrants.
A strong distrust for the establishment permeates the whole rest of the record, even outside of “Early.” El-P gives his take on the legal system on the brilliantly titled “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck),” rapping “We out of order? Your honor, you out of order / This whole court is just unimportant, you fuckers are walking corpses”. It is worth mentioning as well that the track that lyric is from features an excellent guest verse from none other than Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine fame, which should tell you a little bit about who Run The Jewels consider their peers ideologically.
They don’t just talk the talk with their music, either – in the months leading up to the release of this album Mike has gone on CNN and given his very valuable and well-reasoned take on the recent events in Fergeson, and the duo decided that the $65,783 that was raised by a third party through Kickstarter and given to El so he would make a cat-sounds-only remix of RTJ2 called “Meow The Jewels” (yes, it’s really happening, date of release TBD) is all going to help the families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others who have been struck down by police.
Run The Jewels 2 is available through Mass Appeal as of 10/23, and Mike and El will be storming San Francisco’s Mezzanine November 14. Miss the bombastic, infectiously high-energy show at your own risk, but I wouldn’t want to get on their shit list if I were you.
Article by Logan Hansen