First Impressions: Run The Jewels 2

Back by popular demand, El-P and Killer Mike reunite to once again Run The Jewels…

run-the-jewels-2by: Michael Shields

Jaime and Michael are it again.

In 2013, an unlikely duo took hip-hop and the music world by storm. This may be a cliched way of singing their praises, but I assure you it’s a phrase most fervently apropos. With a collaboration album entitled Run the Jewels given away as a free download, El-P (Jaime Meline) and Killer Mike (Michael Render) made their domineering presence felt. The collaboration between these two performers was poignant and powerful, as Killer Mike’s lyrics soared flawlessly overtop El-P’s frantic, dystopian beats, whilst El-P sounded re-invigorated, working alongside a sage wordsmith in Killer Mike who shared his unadulterated passion for the artform. The album went on to garner an impressive amount of attention and to receive a plethora of just-due accolades. Run the Jewels was a success, and appeared on every single Album of The Year list that was worth a damn.

With that sort of success and critical acclaim, El-P and Killer Mike had to run it back. Their fans would settle for nothing short of a Run the Jewels 2, which in a pleasant turn of events was released this week three days prior to the set release date as a gift for their fans onslaught of support. Due to the surprising success of the first Run the Jewels album, the duo’s follow-up was released on Nas’s Mass Appeal label, guaranteeing that their sophomore effort would reach an even wider audience. And with twelve more tracks under their belt, all as impassioned and in many regards grittier and more viscous than the original Run the Jewels’ album, El-P and Killer Mike have, simply put, done it again.

It is important to know when dealing with Run the Jewels ((Named for a line in LL Cool J’s “Cheesy Rat Blues.”)), that this is battle-rap first and foremost. Sure, there will be poignant moments where El-P and Killer Mike delve into the fucked up world in which we live, discussing the thick film of corruption and injustice we all wade through on the daily. But more often than not they are going to let you know their malicious plans for you, for the rap game, and for the world. El- P said that “for the most part, what’s on our mind is coming up with the funniest way to say, ’Fuck you.’” And Run The Jewels 2 commences in this vein, with an angry Killer Mike fervidly seething that he’s going to “bang this bitch (album) out!’ Thus commences “Jeopardy,” RTJ2’s opening track whose sludgy, ominous bass line welcomes us back into Mike and Jaime’s psyche, a deranged an enthralling habitat to dwell within. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” (featuring Michael Winslow, as in Michael Winslow from Police Academy!), one of the few tracks that El-P leads off on, picks up the pace some, and with this increased tempo we are reminded how talented this duo is lyrically, as they spit frantically like a machine gun all over track. Oftentimes alternating within verses, doubling the impact, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” is menacing. It’s a warning, a striking sign that Run The Jewels has more than just arrived, but that they aren’t leaving either.

While the album is in full swing at this point, it is here in the dawning moments of “Blockbuster Part 1,” where RTJ2 truly catches fire. Killer Mike jumps forcefully on the bombastic beat, spitting “Bunches and bunches, punches is thrown until you’re frontless. Oodles and noodles, bang bullets at suckas noodles. Last album voodoo, proved that we were fucking brutal!” It’s in-your-face rap at its most fierce. “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” (Best song title of the year? Easily.) featuring Zach de la Rocha is arguably the best track on the album, and features meticulously constructed and reflective verses from both Killer Mike and El-P, followed by Zach de la Rocha ferociously hissing over a beat that samples his own voice (shit is meta, and totally mind-blowing). Zach de la Rocha sounds as adrenalized as ever, and when the track comes to its close you’re left yearning, once again, for a new Rage Against the Machine album, produced by El-P of course.

“All My Life” reels us back in with a more introspective feeling and hook. Sleekly volleying about a bevy of crisps rhymes, Killer Mike and El- P drive home the point that they have been doing this (absolutely killing it) for years now, whether you’ve been paying attention or not. “Lie. Cheat. Steal” acts as the “DDFH” (Do Dope Fuck Hope) of the sequel, both serving as the most political and pessimistic tracks on their respective albums. An absolute banger of a hook, in direct contrast to the thoughtful verses, anchors the track as “Lie. Cheat. Steal.” not only exists as an anthem, but as a call to action. (“A revolutionary banging on my adversaries / And I love Dr. King but violence may be necessary”)

“Early’s” disjointed, futuristic beat lay the groundwork for Killer Mike to recount a story of getting arrested in front of his family, an unjust moment that changed his life forevermore. El-P follows Killer Mike with his tightest verse of the album, one where he discusses a similar scene, the type of fucked up moment in life that lingers with a person. “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” is a raunchy sexual jaunt that features one of Killer Mike’s longtime friends, Gangsta Boo, whose femininity and tales of sexual conquest perfectly balances out Killer Mike and El-P brandishing their sexual adventures.

“Crown” is deep on many levels, easily the most gut-wrenching track on the album. In it Mike implicates himself in selling crack to a pregnant woman in his younger days. “I’m guilty, I reckon, cuz I hear that good shit can hurt baby’s brains / Heard he was normal till three and then he stopped talking, since then ain’t nothin been the same,” Mike admits throughout this most visceral of tracks. Mike lets on that he found this woman later in life, and she is at peace with God and herself and urges Mike to search for that same repose. Because you can’t succeed in live (“Can’t hold no crown”), while shackled by the regrets of our former transgressions (“holding, what’s holding you down.”). “Crown” is about facing your demons, and rising above them on route to becoming a better person.

And then, “Angel Duster” closes the album with ferocity. A defiant track, highlighting the distrust of the system that Run The Jewels has built its budding dynasty upon. “You say you want to be my leader, I think you want to be my god. You say you’re on the side of the righteous, I say I’m gonna hang with the wrong,” El-P spews over the gritty, industrial landscape he produced. A fitting close to the album, one final barbed “Fuck You!” to those that Killer Mike and El-P agree deserve it the most, the establishment ((The album also includes a Bonus Track entitled “Blockbuster Night Pt.2” which features long-time El-P collaborator Despot. If Run the Jewels were ever thinking of expanding into a trio, Despot proves he would easily fill the bill.)).

Run the Jewels 2 is as mean and aggressive as its predecessor. Like the original, RTJ2 glides from beginning to end without a miscue, featuring an assortment of calamitous shit-talking set to some of the finest beats El-P has ever produced. It’s truly a beautiful thing bearing witness to this duo’s ascension, a gangster rapper from the streets of Atlanta and the backpack rapper from Brooklyn enjoying a renaissance at the cusp of 40. El-P stated on his twitter account immediately on the heels of RTJ2’s unexpected late-night release, “So, general consensus seems to be that we probably aren’t wasting our time with this whole Run The Jewels thing. Phew!” Yeah, I guess you could say that.

Next up for the Run The Jewels crew is a project known as “Meow The Jewels,” a novelty project that began as a joke where El-P promised to remix Run The Jewels 2 entirely with cat noises. That is, until one industrious fan launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the $40,000 project. Recently, that goal was met and with it a slew of talented producers  (Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, Zola Jesus, Bauuer, Boots, Just Blaze, the Alchemist, Skywlkr, Dan The Automator, Prince Paul, and Nick Hook) attached themselves to the project whose proceeds will go to charity ((They’re donating it to the families of Eric Garner and Mike Brown who were killed by police officers last summer.)). And hopefully following that, we can begin to look forward to a Run the Jewels 3! There is no reason at all to stop now.

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