In 2014 the duo of Killer Mike and El-P put out RTJ2, the second album of their Run the Jewels partnership and quickly jumped to success and national critical acclaim. Now on their third release the duo up the ante for their protest rhymes, swaggering boasts and wide ranging beats; the album is a complete winner from beginning to end.
“Down” starts on a softer musical front allowing Killer Mike to introduce his wide ranging confident flow to the uninitiated. The track feels intentionally straight ahead with restrained music and direct rhymes from EL-P as well, then “Talk To Me” hits your eardrums. The track is classic RTJ as chaotic tense drums and electronic glitches raise the stakes as Mike discusses going to war with the devil who “wore a bad toupee and a spray tan” before the music explodes into a huge swelling bounce. A biblical quote splits the track and adds gravity before the boasts of El-P end things with the catchphrase, “We a good crew to fuck with/better to love”. There is a lot to love here.
The stakes are clearly raised and political culture seep in everywhere but at the end of the day all the protest and howling mean nothing if the music and rhymes don’t work; thank god they sure as hell work on 3. “Legend Has It” bangs out hard and fast with dance power and ferocious stanzas while “Stay Gold” finds both MC’s on top of their game over the powerful clanging. The crunching electric guitars and burping electronic funk color the grooving “Oh Mama” while “Call Ticketron” samples old school Ticketmaster commercials and will have the crowds at MSG and other huge venues chanting in unison on the next tour.
It should be mentioned that the production by El-P is simply world class. The disk manages to alternately sound futuristic and old school, sometimes from stanza to stanza. The constant experimentation and tonal shifts would be head spinning if they weren’t expertly stitched together and had the vocals/lyrics acting as a poetic glue.
The guests that join are once again well suited for the environment that the band have expertly created. Tunde Adebimpe adds a singing sense to “Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)” a track that deals with police brutality while Kamasi Washington’s horn colors “Thursday In The Danger Room”. Trina pops up for the contractually obligated sex boast jam “Panther Like a Panther (Miracle Mix)” while (less successfully) Danny Brown nasally closes out the banging “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”. Two old friends Boots (on the hot “2100”) and Zack de la Rocha return as Zack helps close things out with “A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters”.
Everything on Run The Jewels 3 just feels more important and vital, the album plays long for hip hop in 2017 but there is no filler, only banging track after banging track. The group has no problem mixing sex rhymes with their thoughts on politics/cultural events and that ease of transition keeps RTJ vital in the musical climate that can feel stagnant and too often not any fun. The duo are clearly having fun and are perfectly matched as they ride a creative high having put out two of the best hip hop albums of the last decade.