“Run the Jewels 2”: Album Review
Jimmy Kemper | Tuesday, October 28, 2014
If there was ever a moment that could capture what “Run The Jewels 2” is, this opening rant by Killer Mike on opening track “Jeopardy” would be it. Aggressive, explosive and straight to the point, “RTJ2” throws you to the floor from the very start and relentlessly drags you kicking and screaming through 39 minutes of one of the best rap albums of the year. Brag tracks like this make Run the Jewels members El-P and Killer Mike’s point very clear: we’re going to do whatever the heck we want, and you’re absolutely going to love it.
And love it, we do. Everything about “RTJ2” is a giant leap forward from the dynamic duo’s already excellent 2013 breakout album “Run the Jewels.” The production is tighter, the comradery is superior and the social commentary is even more brutal.
Immediately noticeable from the start of this album is just how solid the production is. El-P has always been a solid producer, but with “RTJ2” he has pulled out all the stops and given us some of the finest beats this year. The backing tracks are not just basic, repetitive beats for Killer Mike and El-P to show off their rapping skills over, but rather complex, expansive, multi-layered works that enhance the mood set by the tone and the lyrics. The bass lines “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” escalate exponentially until everything absolutely erupts in “Blockbuster Night Part 1.” Almost all of the songs flow right into each other like this, giving listeners absolutely no time to breathe before Run the Jewels forces them under and drowns them in intensity all over again.
El-P’s production reaches its apex on closer “Angel Duster.” The intro sets a dark, futuristic dense tone that continues through the whole track. It features an alien-sounding piano breakdown, a string quartet outro and the ever-present repetition of “RTJ” so that it’s absolutely clear to the listener who’s in charge.
This assertion of dominance by these two industry veterans is a thematic cornerstone of “RTJ2,” and allows for some of the biggest and best brags, disses and rants we’ve ever seen from them. Tracks such as “Blockbuster Night Part 1,” “Lie, Cheat, Steal” and “All Due Respect” constantly escalate the tension and back and forth trash-talking to levels we never reached in the original “Run the Jewels.”
This time around, El-P seems to have a more defined voice and a bigger presence than last year’s album. This is immediately apparent in “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” where El-P opens up with some lackadaisical lyrics that slowly snake into some of the New Yorker’s more tongue-twisting contributions to this project. His expertise also lies in putting together subtle, genius, witty wordplay in tracks like “All My Life” where he mentions that he’s “so high you a hobbit” and that his enemies are “better off dead like Paul is, your name don’t ring, go starr-less.”
This isn’t to say that Killer Mike’s work on “Run the Jewels 2” isn’t comparable; rather, his work this time is absolutely excellent. His violent, brutal and sometimes just plain terrifying Atlanta tone is a perfect complement to the sharper, snarkier New York dialect of El-P. This brutality seeps into the ridiculous number of one-liners he has on the album. Firing shots like “Top of the morning, my fist to your face is [expletive] Folgers” on “Blockbuster Night Part 1”and “I’ll beat you to a pulp no fiction, Tarantino flows, new Jules and Vincent” on “All Due Respect” show that there is absolutely no end to the brutal genius that is Killer Mike. The tag team efforts of Killer Mike and El-P work to make Mike inexplicably terrifying and lovable on every single track.
Even though Run the Jewels could have absolutely pulled off an incredible album all on their own, they decided to call on some friends, which had huge payoffs. Zack de la Rocha delivers my personal favorite guest track on “Close Your Eyes (And Count to [expletive]).” Hearing the infamous Rage Against the Machine frontman pour his angsty, revolutionary heart out all over El-P’s lethal-bladed production is an absolute blast. “RTJ2” also features Blink-182’s Travis Barker, Foxygen’s Diane Coffee, mysterious producer Boots and the slimily-seductive Gangsta Boo, whose performances are the sprinkles on the mind-blowing bowl of ice cream that is “RTJ2.” But just as with last year’s record, the tracks are dominated by El and Mike, and that’s the only way it should ever be on a Run the Jewels record.
This record also features an insane amount of sharp, poignant social commentary on all aspects of the modern world. Run the Jewels leaves no stone untouched, blasting governments, the social elite and religious institutions with critical, suspicious lyrics. A highlight among these was “Early,” which depicts a brutal, horrifying family encounter with zealous police officers.
Overall, “Run the Jewels 2” is an outstanding rap album. Each element, from the guest verses to the comradery to the social criticism, crash together to create an explosively energetic, incredibly fun record that is sure to be a contender for album of the year.