Published on November 11th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
Run the Jewels 2
With Run the Jewels 2, Killer Mike and El-P have released another powerhouse rap album that defies expectations and builds on foundations they’ve laid out.
I was on a Polaris Music Prize salon panel this year, and we came to a discussion about a couple of hip hop albums on the short list, Drake and Shad. After trying to pretend I had something smart to say about either of these artists, all I could do was break down and admit that it was hard to believe we were calling this stuff rap at all in a post Run the Jewels world. Run the Jewels was a game changer for me; to paraphrase Killer Mike in ‘Blockbuster Night Part I,’ the “last album’s voodoo proved that they was fucking brutal.” While there’s all shades of hip hop out there for many different types of fans, it’s Run the Jewels that rings so much more true for me.
I have listened to the first Run the Jewels album so much since it was unleashed that I have to hide it from my wife now. It’s the fault of my obsessiveness, not any fault of hers, but she’s so fucking sick of hearing it. I have to listen to it in the car or the shower when she’s not around, and that includes my El-P and Killer Mike albums. I swear she sighed so hard she almost died when I came busting in the door a couple of weeks ago to announce that they had sneak dropped their second effort, ‘Run the Jewels 2’ [RTJ2].
‘RTJ2’ finds El-P and Killer Mike once again in fine flow, continuing to build on what they’ve been growing, first on each other’s records, then as a duo. El-P’s production is the launch pad for another tight record, featuring dark beats and a militant vibe that would have been at home on a Public Enemy or N.W.A. record. But even with that pounding attack, El-P’s never afraid to let the tone slip into a beautiful bridge or chorus, or a fun little break, amidst the ticking 808s and grave digging bass.
Besides a couple of classics, I’ve never been one for gansta rap records, but ‘RTJ2’ gleans some of the meanest lyrics around and I’m hooked. I’m sure I look like David Herman in Office Space, driving in his car blasting Scarface and madly rapping lines like, “I’ve got my pistol pawn cocked, ready to lick shots non-stop, until I see your monkey-ass drop.” I’m in my Honda ruining the neighborhood with Run the Jewels instead of Scarface, but I’m sure it looks about the same.
Run the Jewels is a product of an age where comedians bring more of the truth to our doorsteps than the media. I am a pasty white dude living in the frozen prairie of Canada, and in high school, Public Enemy taught me things about racism in America that TV and school weren’t revealing. In a post-Ferguson world, Run the Jewels continues that tradition, dragging America into the light, articulating the rage of powerless citizens with their necks firmly under the grinding feet of a police state.
Is it part of the appeal that these guys are pushing 40? I’m in that range myself, and while I’m far from enlightened, I’m looking at the world with a bit more understanding than I did when I was 17. Mike and El-P are old enough to recognize the patterns in the bullshit. Pop stars, police brutality, the Catholic Church, and politicians, name your poison — Run the Jewels puts liars and scumbags on blast.
That being said, things slide into uncomfortable places, sometimes weirdly misogynistic and sexually charged (See: ‘Love Again,’ which features the lyric, “Still got my dick in her mouth all day.” Gangsta Boo pops in at the end to give the female POV, though some might argue that her contribution is a bit of male wish fulfillment). The weird thing is, and I hope I’m not just justifyin’ here, is that these harsher lyrics, as on the first album, still feel tongue in cheek to me.
When they’re being smart, they’re so fucking clever that it’s hard to believe they’re being serious when being misogynistic. Hard to believe that their favourite insult, ‘fuck boys,’ is meant to be homophobic. Subversive is a buzz word that threatens to lose all meaning in music writing these days, but when Run the Jewels’ socially conscious lyrics are like a punch to the groin, it’s hard to believe they’d be so ignorant about the rest of the world, that they’re not being subversive and satirical. But who knows? Maybe they’re jammed full of some Axl Rose need for stunted male cathartic release, spamming rage at everything and everyone. Interviews I’ve read seem to show the guys talking about women in hugely positive light, so I’m guessing it’s meant to be ironic. Either way, they go from funny and weird to hardcore and angry in a few short steps. It may not be for everyone, but you can never argue that it comes from the gut.
I don’t know if there’s a better run on the new album than the ‘Abbey Road’ style tracks on the last half of the first one, but one thing is certain — El-P and Mike are still honing their shit. They’re figuring out what works and growing those tendrils, both musically and lyrically. They’re going for the throat. Even nearing 40, they’re in their absolute prime. They’re running the fucking jewels.
After this review was posted, The Feedback Society got a tweet from none other than Killer Mike himself (we’re never washing our Twitter handle now, even when it gets all weird and smelly!). Mike addressed some of the questions we asked in our review, about misogyny and homophobia.
@FeedbackSociety solid read but “Love again” is T&C not meant to be for real at all & “Fuck Boy” means Sucker u added the Homophobia ya self
— Killer Mike (@KillerMikeGTO) November 12, 2014
@FeedbackSociety thanks & salutes
— Killer Mike (@KillerMikeGTO) November 12, 2014