Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Run the Jewels 2 bangs. The word “bangs” perfectly encompasses everything Run the Jewels is and what they are trying to be.
It all started in 2012, when legendary hip-hop producer and rapper El-P (If Cannibal Ox, Fantastic Damage, or Funcrusher Plus ring any bells you know why he’s a big deal) united with aggressive spitter Killer Mike for the jaw-dropping R.A.P Music. Shortly thereafter, the two developed a friendship strong enough to make them a tag team force, and since then they’ve been putting out heavy-handed hip-hop with an emphasis on aggressively bassy beats and aggressively bossy bars.
Run the Jewels 2 is their sophomore effort, and it carries on this tradition with even more conviction than its predecessor. “Jeopardy” introduces the album with a sinister bass line, a beat with a rising sense of tension, and a furious verse from Killer Mike that tosses any notion of humble rhymes through the stained glass window when he declares “Me, I might be the closest representation of god that you might see”. This explosive opener followed up my “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”, creating one of the best one-two punches in recent rap memory. Oh My Darling’s glitchy vocal sampling gives way to a nasty bass rotation that demands to be blasted from car speakers. As much as I’d love to give a track-by-track of all RTJ2’s of accolades, I’ll have to stick to the highlights so this review stays under 20 pages: “All Due Respect” follows a sliced screaming lead into a wailing monstrosity of an instrumental, “Close Your Eyes (And Count To F**k)” injects itself with the energy of an infectious Zach De La Rocha sample (and guest verse), and “Blockbuster Night Part 1” relies on the duo’s trading of fiery verses like dangerously hot potatoes.
Speaking of hot potatoes (and fiery verses), there is a whole lot of fantastic rapping on this record. El-P and Killer Mike are no strangers to dropping bars, but the surprising regularity of top-tier quotable and “D*MN!” eliciting punchlines still manage to stun. It’s difficult to listen through the third track without making some sort of noise at “Top of the mornin’, my fist to your face is f***in’ folgers”, and I’d be lying if I said my blood pressure wasn’t abnormally high the first time I heard El-P descend upon “Jeopardy”’s beat like a bitter vulture. The duo even takes some time in the second half of the album to address some meaningful topics, such as the way Killer Mike learned to cope with his regret for selling cocaine to a pregnant woman or El-P showing his indigence for the military mentality. The reoccuring theme of challenging the American power structure permeates the whole album, and it is most strong on “Close Your Eyes”, where Killer Mike talks about waterboarding prison wardens and killing guards. He doesn’t hold back, either; “Even if some good ones die, f**k it the lord’ll sort ‘em.” Yeesh.
Despite my constant gushing for RTJ2, I will admit that it is not yet the perfection of the RTJ formula that I was hoping for. It runs into the same problem that its predecessor did; it starts off with a rapid-fire sequence of incredible singles, then devolves into a middle part that plays it too safe. “All My Life” and “Lie, Cheat, Steal” are good songs in their own right, but they are garden gnomes when compared to the monolithic behemoths that precede and follow them. El-P and Killer Mike seem content to exhaust their back-to-back running time by playing out the old tired verse-chorus-verse structure over beats that don’t punch as hard as the rest and contain few standout features. This comes only from a place of love and a desire to see the duo improve, but it would be nice to see some of the emotional variety found on songs like “Early” and “Crown” injected into the center of the album for some more excitement. These songs are just too middling.
Run the Jewels 2 is so close to hip-hop perfection, but it’s not quite there yet. We’ll have to wait for Run the Jewels 3 to be our true lord and savior.
Recommended Tracks: 3, 11
FCC Violations: 1, 2, 4, 8, 10 (Even though the album is “clean”, some implications still violate FCC rules)
Reccommended If You Like: Killer Mike, El-P, Despot, Danny Brown, Mr. Muthaf***in Exquire