It started as a chance meeting, New York veteran rapper/producer El-P was introduced to Southern Rapper Killer Mike by Adult Swim’s Jason Demarco. The two struck it off, and El-P went on to produce Killer Mike’s fantastic album ‘RAP Music’. The two decided to go a step further and make a collaborative album under the name Run The Jewels, and now three albums later there are some having conversations as to where they rank among the greatest ever rap duos.
Part of the beauty behind RTJ has been the fact that two people from two completely different places who on the surface have little in common can strike such a fantastic balance. El-P has been part of the underground for years with his now defunct but influential label, Definitive Jux. And Killer Mike has been releasing tapes and appearing on brilliant Southern artists’ albums such as Outkast for many years, never getting the props he deserves. Aside from them being able to spit their asses off, the different perspectives that El-P and Killer Mike offer up on a subject is so much of the appeal behind them, and they do both these things in shed loads of RTJ3.
The first two Run The Jewels albums were both none stop lyrical attacks both braggadocios and political behind incredible production from El-P, yet RTJ3 is all of these things and much more. The RTJ universe feels expanded this time round; the brags are funnier, the production is bigger, the politics are heavier, and this time round they’ve played around with the structures of their songs.
As always El-Producto lives up to his name on RTJ3 and there simply isn’t a wasted second. As the first half of this album plays through, El-P puts forward the case for why an influence from Rock music isn’t always something to be shunned in Hip-Hop. Some guitars play at different points throughout the album such as the incredible ‘Legend Has It’ – a song that much like the entire first half of the album has El-P and Killer Mike trading bars with brilliant braggadocio with strong political undertones. A proper dissection of their chest pounding bars on the first half of the album deserves an essay in itself so here’s some personal favourites instead.
“It’s the Mensch, the myth/I do push ups nude on the edge of cliffs’, ‘Rap terrorist, terrorise, tear it up/Brought gas and the matches to flare it up/Militant Michael might go psycho/On any ally or rival.”
A cleverly placed feature from Danny Brown appears on this half of the album on the track ‘Hey Kids’ where he opens with the line “Word architect, when I arch the tech, I’ll part ya’ neck/Got bars on deck, that Xanax flow, make you nod your head.” Regarding battle-rap on an album, the first half of this album is pretty much perfection.
The second half sidesteps away both sonically and lyrically away from the first half into much more personal and political territory. On the tracks ‘Don’t Get Captured’ and ‘Thieves!’ Killer Mike and El-P speak of the crooked systems that are currently in place to keep the poor staying poor and actively casts minorities aside as second class citizens. Killer Mike and El-P reel off heavy bars on how to revolt against the powers that be with compelling metaphors of how the dead will rise. These are two separate American perspectives from two people who’ve been speaking out for what they believe in on record for many years now, and they work side by side seamlessly.
These themes come to a head on the final track on the album, where Zach De La Rocha (who should be the unofficial third member) gives a brilliant verse to close off the album showing the passion that he’d hinted at on Run The Jewels 2.
Killer Mike comes into his own in the second half of the album. The perspective he offers on topics of race and revolution are entertaining just listening to him talk, let alone when he’s screaming them at you on a track.
Even though there’s a massive tonal shift for the second half of the album El-P never misses a beat in terms of production. ‘Thursday In The Danger Room,’ a song that is clearly very personal for El-P as he talks about the death of a friend, features saxophone playing from the brilliant Kamasi Washington. There are consistent beat switches within songs that show how much these two are comfortable with each other and devoted to developing their songs past simply rapping over a beat.
At this point the conversations are way past who is the better MC out of the two members of Run The Jewels, the conversation is now who if anyone can rival these two as a duo. So late on in their careers they have set a bar so high and consistently lifted it higher, and higher with each release. They’re setting a fantastic example of how two people should come together to grow as artists and all we can do hope the younger generation follows suit.