Run The Jewels stormed their way into critical acclaim at the back end of 2014, delivering the abrasive and aptly named Run the Jewels 2. Comprised of New York emcee El-P and Atlanta-based Killer Mike, the two have been collaborating since 2013 under the Run The Jewels banner. They already had a tick of approval on their solo careers from the underground scene, but Run The Jewels 2 drives them into mainstream recognition as well. Their second studio effort is break-neck, both for the tempo it’s set, and their hard-nosed mindset. Their raw aggression and ruthless production is reminiscent of Kanye West’s concept album Yeezus (although, much grittier). Recognition has come most notably from Pitchfork where they landed Album of The Year, as well as the #1 spot in Rolling Stone’s Rap Albums of the year. Even for listeners distant to the heavy rap scene, it is hard to not be drawn in by the flawless, no-bullshit delivery of this record.
Embracing everything gritty and raw, their sound traverses gangsta rap and metal rap. Their verses prove a constant riddle for the listener trying to determine whether they are the heroes or villains. They bounce off each other in an interchangeable good-cop, bad-cop routine, flaunting an unreal chemistry and mutual respect for the other. This is the only respect seen in the album though, as they adopt a Biggie Smalls “fuck the world” approach. They impart socialist views, tearing shreds off ‘liars and politicians’, promoting the challenging of authority. In terms of production, they draw more from rock and heavy metal than hip-hop, with a distinct lack of any synthetic sounds throughout the whole rip-roaring, 39-minute effort. They insistently remind the listener who they are listening to, tying in “run the jewels” into their verses (which is their jargon for stealing). They let up slightly on tracks like ‘Crown’ and ‘Love Again’ towards the end of the record, compromising their double time rapping for slower jams.
The lead single ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)’ is a well-timed piece of social commentary, providing a backdrop to the Ferguson shooting in the US. They instill their frustration on the situation, with their particular call to action, “we killing them for freedom, cos they tortured us for boredom” sitting with the listener. They go deeper than a psychopathic violence, using their experience to justify their violent disposition. They don’t truly believe they will inspire revolution, they just instill frustration at the injustice of their system. They feature Rage Against The Machine frontman Zach De La Rocha as one of only a handful of guests to appear on the album. He delivers the looped “run them jewels fast” sample as a foundation of the beat before spitting a monster verse three minutes in.
‘Blockbuster Night Part 1’ is a punchy track, with grungy guitar crunching a tight kick line. The lyrical content lends more to their gangsta side, with references to their ski-mask-swag and how on their last album they proved how brutal they were.
In short, Run The Jewels 2 is a scintillating nod to hip-hop as well as being an articulate, unsettling, and above all a middle-fingered salute.
Run The Jewels 2 is out via Mass Appeal Records.