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Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels 2 Joe Sweeney , November 5th, 2014 13:34

I'm not one to decry the materialistic nature of mainstream hip hop. When delivered with appropriate energy and flair – like on Drake's 'All Me', or Migos' 'Versace' – it can provide an exhilarating contact high of self-esteem, an egomania-by-proxy that tingles the spine. But when listening to this incredible second effort from the indie-rap two-headed dragon Run The Jewels, I do mourn something that has taken a back seat in the genre ever since Puff Daddy started recording songs that were about how recording songs was all about money.

Run The Jewels 2 has the crackling spirit of emcees that are firmly in our rearview, from KRS-One to Muhammad Ali. Members Killer Mike and El-P are braggarts and assholes for sure, but their hubris is all about how talented they are on the mic and in the sack, not how many Bentleys they bought last week. It's old-fashioned egomania, the kind that's contained within a persona, with no queasy co-signs on income inequality. You could make the argument that Rick Ross and Ayn Rand are philosophical soulmates. Not so here.

And just in case you weren't sure how fired up these two chronically underappreciated dudes were to continue the most successful project of their careers, the first thing we hear is this jet-fuel-spraying rant from Killer Mike: "I'm gonna bang this bitch the FUCK out! You better, you might wanna record all the way you feel like history being made in this motherfucker put a mirror on the goddamn screen! Let's GO, El-P!"

It doesn't matter if you don't know what he's talking about. The man is more psyched to record than a kid at a candy store that's next to an amusement park with 24-hour fireworks. By the time the opening track 'Jeopardy' kicks in, you're right there with him, ready to run through walls and scream f-bombs from mountaintops. Yet El-P's production tantalisingly plays against that emotion – he cranks down the BPM, favouring a dark, lurching synth and guitar figure that slowly builds during Mike's opening verse. Then the drums burst in, right as he's peaking: "You know your favourite rapper ain't shit/And me, I might be/The closest representation to god you might see/Pay honors like your mama, young son/And take a right knee."

The chemistry between these two was thrillingly apparent on last year's debut Run The Jewels, which didn't try to be much more than a document of two talented, wise-ass artists having fun. This second volume represents Run The Jewels as a primary career focus for both. The beats are richer and rangier; more attention is paid to sequencing, and all of that boasting comes from pride and momentum rather than just the desire to blow off steam. That said, part of their secret still has to be catharsis. Killer Mike is a legend of the Atlanta underground, whose most famous moments remain guest verses on Outkast tracks, even though his solo work rivals that of his hometown peers – 2012's R.A.P. Music is right up there in my album of the decade conversation at least. El-P is a candidate for indie-rap Mount Rushmore, thanks to his work as a member of Company Flow and as the founder/house producer of Definitive Jux records, but he's never sniffed the mainstream. Run The Jewels 2 is a great listen because of the artistry on display, but it's the pent-up frustration that takes it into the stratosphere, that makes you want to hug your loved ones and thank god for each breath while you set fire to the neighborhood.

'Blockbuster Part 1' is likely the quintessential track here, with El's thumping two-chord loop sounding like Andre The Giant playing the 12-string guitar, and Mike referencing Oodles Of Noodles as he describes how other rappers are, you know, shitty. Also, "Top of the mornin"/"My fist to your face is fucking Folgers."

I'm doing nothing but quoting Mike here, because he's the better rapper and lyricist, but Run The Jewels 2 gives us an uncharacteristically comfortable performance on the mic from El-P as well. Last time around, he struggled to keep up with his foil, his lack of natural cadence struggling to do justice to his ideas. Here, he smartly scales back, getting so comfortable with his role as second fiddle that he's pretty much a virtuoso. After Mike leaves us quivering on 'Jeopardy,' El's first line is "I never been much of shit/By most measurements don't exist". The way he spits it, it's not a complaint, but a badge of honour. What once were coffee grounds in your cup is now a welcome shot of Jameson.

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