Run the Jewels albums
Run the Jewels – (5 / 5)+
El-P and Killer Mike’s Run the Jewels debut is as close to a perfect rap album as the decade has produced. They make it seem effortless and fun on every song, which is harder to do than it might seem. It is seriously one of the most “alive” records I have ever heard in my life; it bursts with the joy of music with opener “Run the Jewels”, displaying their vulgar but vibrant sound. They make fun of fake rappers with their mocking “36 Inch Chain” and kill you with their flow on the hard rocking “Judgment” and “No Come Down”. Tracks like “Sea Legs” blend all of this together in a cathartic release, and if I haven’t mentioned it before, both El-p and Killer Mike rap on each song EQUALLY making this a true rap team. The guest stars are not very frequent but when they are there (Big Boi on “Banana Clip” or Prince Paul on “Twin Hype”) they blend in to the overall flow.
There is almost no pause, it’s a nonstop hardcore hip-hop thrill ride, but it does ebb and flow very well between flat out rockers and more relaxed tracks, all the way to closer “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”, a flat-out perfect M.C. duet full of more passion and knowledge than most rappers have in their entire careers. The fact that El-P and Killer Mike both had really good releases just the year before this is something to take note of (Cancer for the Cure and R.A.P. Muic, respectively) and their idea to collaborate created one of the best rap duo records since Tribe Called Quest or Black Star. I can only hope the future leads to more flawless collaborations like this, but they only will if we keep celebrating the ones they give us and raise them far above the other albums of their time. El-P keep on making those alien beats and Killer Mike keep killin’ those microphones.
Best Tracks: A Christmas Fucking Miracle, Run the Jewels, Sea Legs, Get It
RTJ2 – (5 / 5)
There are very few instant classics released these days, but it’s pretty safe to say that within the first month RTJ2 came out it went to instant classic status very fast. Improving on a lot of the rough edges of the debut and gaining a wider variety of sounds, RTJ2 showed how to expand upon their sound without losing an inch. The points they make are grand: believe in yourself, prisons are the worst, sex is hilarious, we are great MC’s. The beats they rock are inspired: alien noises in the background (the 1969 Joe Byrd and the Metaphysical Circus sampling “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” (yeah I researched that one), and the moving ballad “Early”), huge bass ( the pounding “Blockbuster Night”, the jovial “All My Life”), doom and gloom (“Crown” which is one of their most poignant songs ever, as is Zack De La Rocka’s cameo and repeating verse on “Close Your Eyes” which has to be heard to be truly experienced).
Some tracks are acquired tastes, such as the crude but funny “Love Again”, and the spaced out opener “Jeopardy” which is probably my least favorite song. Still, it all blends very well together, and while it may not be as consistent as the debut album, the fact that it is more diverse in styles and more ambitious plays in its favor when compared to other hip hop releases of the year. El-P earns his mantle in my opinion as the Brian Eno of Hip Hop, with mind blowing producer skills. It’s an evil little stew and everywhere you look and listen you hear genius lyrics slammed down by El-P on “All My Life” (“sharp like knife/bet a buck i’m stuck in the guts of the night”) and Killer Mike on “Lie Cheat Steal” (“like who really run this? Like who really run who say they run this?”), proving without a doubt that this is an act that will last the test of time. It’s easy to talk a bunch about a record that works on so many levels, and hopefully the rest of hip hop can take notice.
Best Tracks: Crown, Close Your Eyes, Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, All My Life
Run the Jewels 3 – (4.5 / 5)
Just because a band is repetitive in what they do doesn’t mean they can’t be consistently great. Killer Mike and El-p’s RTJ attempted to branch out of their hardcore hip-hop shell with their third album, expanded everything from production quality (“Hey Kids” with a Danny Brown cameo, “Thursday in the Danger Room” which harks back to El-P’s 2007’s record I’ll Sleep When Your Dead with its emotional presence) to the length of the record at fifteen songs, the themes and topics they covered (the last song is actually two songs in one). Even if the lyrics are not quite as personal as the previous two attempts, RTJ still use the considerable influenced they have to entertain while being topical (“Don’t Get Captured”, “Talk To Me”).
The idea mostly worked, though I think everyone who loves this album will find themselves skipping around from song to song more then on previous records. For me, “Oh Mama” and “A Report to Shareholders” are pretty irrelevant. Still, “Stay Gold” is the most accessible thing that they have done, “Legend Has It” and “Down” are easily new classics, and “Call Ticketron” and “Thieves” are songs that point to a very interesting future. What matters is the things we have come to expect from Run the Jewels – hard hitting deliveries, deep-space background beats, universal appeal, juvenile humor, and innovative rapping wordsmithery – is still present on the bands third record. How many other Rap duo’s around can say the same thing?
Best Tracks: Legend Has It, Stay Gold, Thursday in the Danger Room, Down