Review: Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

Run The Jewels was never going to be a bad idea. El-P and Killer Mike‘s creative partnership has already grown from a chance production spot from one of indie hip-hop’s most esoteric and uncompromising label heads – RIP Def Jux – on an album from one of the South’s most direct, hard-working and incendiary individuals to the critical adulation, sold-out shows and impact neither of them could have imagined having individually, making for a compelling story and an even more compelling record.

A great deal of run time on the first Run The Jewels record was spent letting listeners know exactly who they’re dealing with, revisiting the most notable flows and most laboured-over sounds of their two 2012 solo records. RTJ2 however doesn’t aim to be much more than the most belligerent and thrilling celebration of unbridled aggression in hip hop since Waka Flocka threw his first Grove Street Party.

Playing a game of spot the difference between the two records is inevitable, and like its slightly sharper, bloodier and more threatening cover, RTJ2 itself is a more aesthetically striking, elaborate and punishing listen, thankfully eschewing some of El’s more questionably cheesy hooks in favour of unforgettable breaks. These wordless passages serve as pauses for breath, certainly for listeners’ benefit, between Beastie Boys-style 4-bar trade-offs; nobody would doubt that Mike and El could do this all day.

Mike’s never rapped with such purpose before, with his all-powerful chopper flows rewriting the Ice Cube/Bomb Squad sonic models to which both artists are so clearly indebted for a post-Bombs Over Baghdad audience.

El-P puts down a characteristically pitch-perfect job behind the boards for the record, deftly marking each kick, snare and sample with the kind of sonic levity lost on a lot artists working in similar spheres; the super-serious Yeezus now sounds lacking without the sound of one of the Pac-Man ghosts evaporating (a perfect drop-off for the stunning wordplay on ‘Early’), and what the latest Death Grips LP certainly needed was a guest spot from the sound effects guy from Police Academy, finessing Oh My Darling Don’t Cry’s stunning thump with a great vocoder impression.

Positing such fiercely non-Rap Game elements as these against their own perfectly-executed and traditionally-accomplished material, RTJ2 is a constantly invigorating listen, with Three Six Mafia’s Gangsta Boo putting down a verse just as showstopping and dirty as anything off her recent tape with BeatKing and fitting curiously well next to Zach De La Rocha, whose Shmoney-ready contrbution being for me (and surely many other listeners) the first verse with any kind of impact from the Rage Aginst the Machine vocalist in a lifetime.

El’s twofold achievements with the mic and the beats in no way make Run The Jewels an inbalanced creative relationship, however. Killer Mike’s never rapped with such purpose before, with his all-powerful chopper flows all over All Due Respect and Blockbuster Night, rewriting the Ice Cube/Bomb Squad sonic models to which both artists are so clearly indebted for a decidedly postmodern, post-Bombs Over Baghdad and, crucially, post-internet audience.

It’s easy to get caught up in the extraneous media elements to Run The Jewels; the meme-able Meow The Jewels remix album due next month, the ‘leaking’ of the record or Killer Mike’s inspiring and eloquent TV concerning events in Ferguson don’t change the fact that this pair of middle-aged media-savvy individuals are ready to out-rap anyone that dares challenge their bars. Bars that are at times ludicrous, at times gut-wrenching but consistently impressive.

Words: Emmett Cruddas

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