Album Review: Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2

Focused aggression. That is the most succinct way to describe Run The Jewels 2. The follow up to the critically successful, 2013 album by hip-hop duo, Run The Jewels. Dropped in the middle of the night on their own site, for free, RTJ2 hits harder than most other hip-hop albums out today. What really sets it apart from its contemporaries is the diliberate nature of it all. Every line, every beat, down to the sequencing is a clinic in artful efficiency. As if the artists behind it (Killer Mike and El-P), who are both pushing 40, knew not to waste any effort. Run The Jewels 2 has a ferocity and technical craft that begs to be repeated, and will test even the best sound systems low end.

Run The Jewels 2 feels like the exact opposite of Watch The Throne by Jay-Z and Kanye West. Where both are, in essence, the rebirth of the MC/DJ dynamic, WTT was more of a victory lap, two artists showcasing a particular section of their talent through the eyes of made men. Run The Jewels 2 comes at you with the anger and skill of a journeyman fighter who just hasn’t quite made it, but has the respect of all his peers. Killer Mike and El-P have both been around for some time, making a name for themselves and appearing with top tier artists like Outkast. The chip on their respective shoulders is evident in their “do it yourself” approach, but what comes through in the music is a mature outlook with youthful exuberance.

The opening track, “Jeopardy,” sets the tone perfectly. It acts almost as a warning, instead of lyrics, Killer Mike’s booming voice tells you his intentions for the beat and at that point you are at his mercy. The beat, expertly crafted by El-P, starts like an ’80’s movie score, slow and synthy. The horns and bass drum slowly build momentum and become more distorted as Mike lays down line after line, adding layer after layer of instrumentation which then culminates into a full stop, where it is then El’s turn to rip the song apart.

RTJ2 also has some of the best back and forth in hip-hop. The way Mike and El exchange lines and pick up on each others setups is masterful. This is especially obvious on “Blockbuster Night Part 1.” They flow in and out of each others lines with such precision and fluidity, it’s like they’re sharing one brain at times.

Another subtle aspect of RTJ2 is how they allow the listener to take in the production elements in a way that doesn’t come off as forced. All of the songs except one come in under four minutes, yet they still find a way to let the songs breathe. On “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” you hear almost every element of the beat before El-P starts his verse, and even then, he allows his first line to linger before going back in, dipping his toe into the pool before the cannonball.

Even the features fit almost perfectly. A rare appearance by Zack De La Rocha of Rage Against The Machine, proves that maybe Rage should have added some more break beats and 808’s to their arsenal. Not saying Zack is the most technical rapper, but his presence on “Close Your Eyes and Count to F**k” is strong. Travis Barker’s snares and fills on “All Due Respect” fit right in with the frantic sections that El-P laid down, and Gangsta Boo more than keeps up on the sexually explicit “Love Again.” At every turn, the features come out of left field, but make total sense after the first pass.

Run The Jewels 2 benefits greatly from repeat listens, picking up missed lines and connections. Which is great in some cases, but others are just a byproduct of a crowded bass line. It also has a perspective that could only be approached by older, more seasoned artists. Where you may have some reservations about a younger rapper talking about their interactions and anger with police, hearing the same lyrics from grown men who’ve live and had more run-ins with the law, these songs carry more weight. The partnership between Mike and EI-P seems long overdue as they truly bring out the best in one another, but maybe they’ve met at just the right time. Whatever the case may be, if you have a hip-hop bone in your body, you owe it to yourself to listen to this album. Otherwise, you’re missing the whole point.

Originally published (10/28/2014)


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