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Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels

Similar Artists: Non-Phixion, Organized Konfusion, Del tha Funkee Homosapian

Genre: Hip-hop

Label: Fool’s Gold Records

I don’t see any need to beat around the bush, so I’m just gonna say it: I feel hip-hop is going through a very interesting phase right now, and I’m saying this as a fan that’s spent countless hours of research and observation on the culture. As I went to college during the latter part of the 2000s, I consistently listened to 90s hip-hop groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy, and finding most recent mainstream artists sorely lacking the introspection that the old-school ones did. Still, it was a bit disheartening to see this genre I love continue to dissolve into dance music, with little concern for lyrics and flow cadence, which made me think that future generations would grow up not knowing anything about the foundations of hip-hop. Fortunately though, the cultural lexicon seems to deem that a decade must reach 20 for it to be considered cool again, and in that sense logically the 90s are at the forefront of the 2010s. Perhaps beginning with the much publicized hip-hop ensemble group OFWGKTA, a group that’s style and rap delivery was very much owed to the Wu-Tang Clan, I began to notice that the raw-yet-polished sound of hip-hop’s golden period had become both commercially viable and hugely relevant again. Since then I’ve seen plenty other high notes from hip-hop newcomers, such as Kendrick Lamaar and Danny Brown, who are really able to successfully reinvent the 90s sound of hip-hop for the ringtone age.

That said, there are plenty of hardcore hip-hop heads that are very particular on what “real” hip-hop really is, and a lot of today’s new guys just don’t cut it for them. They desire a sound that is more rugged and unfiltered, free of jingles as much as possible…people that really appreciate that Killer Mike and El-P hooked up to make some dope-ass shit. For those of you that heard last year’s critically lauded R.A.P. Music, one can certainly attest that Killer Mike made one of the ballsiest album decisions a dirty south rapper has made in a long time. Enlisting the legendary Brooklyn-based beatmaker El-P to completely produce the album for him, R.A.P. Music intentionally disregarded most of the mainstream leanings of Killer Mike’s previous records, and instead used a sound that invoked the more experimental work of El-P’s career. Thing is the two turned out to be a match made in hip-hop heaven, as Killer Mike’s angry southern raps perfectly synched with the neo-boom-bap of El-P’s music, and it was possibly the first hip-hop album since early Ice Cube that was able to find the right ratio between gangsta posturing and social outrage. Now, a year after that glorious album, El-P and Killer Mike have teamed up once again as a rap duo called Run the Jewels, with an album that’s free to download off their website. Once again, it’s a very formidable case of contemporary hip-hop.

First off, this album isn’t trying to break new ground musically or lyrically from their past ventures. The two emcees haven’t updated their style at all from last year, and El-P’s production is still the industrial-esque future sound that’s made him such a hop-hop anomaly for nearly two decades now. What the album is trying to do is expand their scope in a new format, and I’ll be first to admit that I’ve always been a big fan of hip-hop duos. While projects from solo artists always tend to be more personal and thematically concise, I always have liked the dynamics of hearing two skilled rappers work together, trading off each other’s flows (i.e. Method Man and Redman), and yes both El-P and Killer Mike are great emcees, albeit very different ones as well. Killer Mike is the more generally good rapper of the two, as his gruff vocals and Southern drawl are evocative of his mentor Big Boi, and his lyrical content focuses on the essential gangsta rap motifs. El-P, however, proves to be a very vital counter-point, as he’s just as angry as Killer Mike, and his lyrical prowess almost matches his talent as a producer. His words are often abstract, paranoid, and always towering. Some of his lines wouldn’t feel out of place in a David Foster Wallace book either (“Slow water drip to the Annotate temple to live in a prison. When the walls don’t appear to your vision/One floor down from that mall’s that prison. Where shower stalls get all y’all missin”). In some ways both these artists represent different areas of the hip-hop spectrum, with Killer Mike being the venerable African-American southern rapper with a background in drug dealing, while El-P is the middle-class white man who has turned his love of science-fiction and music into a career. Never before, however, has the line between those two points been so blurry.

The songwriting here is exceptionally strong too, even if this album doesn’t include a track that’s quite as brilliant as the R.A.P. Music standout (Reagan). If anything though, this album is a bit trippier than their previous work though, such as on the song No Come Down which features a chorus that acts as a more hazy version of Three Six Mafia’s 2005 hit single Stay Fly, and a verse from Killer Mike that involves a sex-ploit while on hallucinogenics. Of course, the sound is overall very abrasive, perhaps most evident on Banana Clipper, which uses a BDP-esque beat, and features a great appearance from Killer Mike’s most famous collaborate, Outkast’s Big Boi. Still, there is always a good sense of humor from Run the Jewels that keeps it from being too self-serious, as can be seen on their sex rhyme Twin Hype Back. Here the two go back and forth on their nastiest lyrics (“I’m fat but I dress nice, and bitches finesse Mike/They suck the dick and squeeze on my belly like bagpipes”), but the biggest surprise on this track is the inclusion of fan-favorite rapper/producer Prince Paul. Playing as his sex-fiend Chest Rockwell alter-ego, he makes some hilarious creepy monologues that give Rick Ross’ controversial date rape lyrics a run for their money (albeit in a much more tongue-in-cheek nature). Closing out the album is A Christmas Fucking Miracle, which is the album’s most epic track (it’s the only song on the album that runs over four minutes), and finds El-P and Killer Mike finally getting political again, as they shout about America, societal upbringing, and personal growth. A really banging closer for this half-hour of highly addicting music.

Run the Jewels is pure no bullshit hip-hop delivered with a real love for the old-school mentality. While other mainstream artists like Kanye West and Jay-Z have been consistently trying to push the boundaries on what their take of what commercial hip-hop can really sound like, Killer Mike and El-P only wish to carry on the sound that drew people to the genre in the first place. Despite the fact that El-P’s beats have an industrial-cum-electronic feel to them, and that this album is being released exclusively as a free download, Run the Jewels comes a lot closer to an old-school favorite (I.E. Criminal Minded), than one of these new-fangled records (i.e. Yeezus). If you’re a hardcore hip-hop head who values a hard sound, weird beats, and lyrics that are as intelligent as they are tough…then why haven’t you heard this already?!

Track Listing:

1) Run the Jewels

2) Banana Clipper*

3) 36′ Chain

4) DDFH

5) Sea Legs

6) Job Well Done

7) No Come Down

8) Get It*

9) Twin Hype Back*

10) A Christmas Fucking Miracle*

Album Highlight*