Killer Mike and El-P essentially outdid Santa this year when they suddenly released their long-awaited third album, Run the Jewels 3, for free on Christmas morning, rather than three weeks later as planned. And even after the initial thrill of their “Christmas f***ing miracle” was swept away with the pine needles and paper, fans were left with a sleek, hardworking rap record that’s sharply reflective of the times; brimming with unrestrained censure of the harsh realities we’ve come to meet in 2016.
In the same vein as Run the Jewels 2 (deemed one of the strongest rap albums of 2014), their new LP is rich with thoughtful collaborations, cleanly integrating the distinctive stylings of Joi, Danny Brown, Boots, and Kamasi Washington, among others. Interestingly, their acknowledgements in the lyric booklet include such figures as Zack de la Rocha, for some stealthy musical contributions (namely “Kill Your Masters,” on which he guests and is quietly credited as a co-writer); Senator Bernie Sanders, whom Killer Mike supported extensively during the Democratic primaries this past election; and “anyone else we may have idiotically forgotten because we are stoned.”
It’s that upfront attitude, so valued by the still-niche fanbase of jewel runners, that gives Killer Mike and El-P the confidence to drop a massive studio album for free – or recreate one entirely out of cat noises for charity, as we witnessed with Meow the Jewels last year (yes, that masterpiece really happened). But while you can’t go wrong with harmonized kitties, or RTJ2’s many unconventional lyrical gems (i.e. “Top of the morning, my fist to your face is fucking Folgers”) RTJ3 stands on its own as a little less fun and flashy; both sonically and lyrically. They still have their droll moments – “I got banana dick, your bitch go ape shit if she hit it,” Mike cracks with an audible smirk on “Panther Like A Panther” – but buried in the duo’s razor-sharp delivery is a sense of urgency that’s more serious, and shrewdly of-the-moment. Less party music; more get-shit-done music.
In case there was any doubt, El-P comes right out and says it on the penultimate closing song, “A Report to the Shareholders,” with a pyretic verse that sheds light on their new intentions: “It’s all jokes and smoke till the truth start scheming / can’t contain the disdain for y’all demons / you talk clean and bomb hospitals / so I speak with the foulest mouth possible.” Killer Mike follows it up with a similar message, and a prescient warning: “Probably play the score for the world war / at the apocalypse play the encore / turn around see El and I smile / hell coming and we got about a mile / until it’s over I remain hostile.”
While the subject matter is grave enough to get us into apocalypse territory, that’s not to say you won’t be sucked into a deep groove throughout RTJ3, which collectively sounds as tight and polished as ever. The very first track, “Down,” is loaded with underdog swagger and swiftly-building chords; Mike’s opening lines delivered in a formidable triplet rhythm that skates right to the edge of each downbeat. All that momentum explodes on track two, “Talk To Me,” which features illuminative quips from Mike (“My job is to fight for survival in spite of these ‘all lives matter’ ass white folk”) and a climactic tirade of “I told ya suckers!” – delivered over a scratch-heavy breakdown that tears the track wide open.
Mike and El, who are both producers with a capital P, also meld a number of unique audio samples throughout the record, which dually act as a time machine and lend to its authentic sound. Some clips sound fresh and current, like the crowd audio of fans screaming “RTJ” on “Legend Has It,” or the “live from the Garden!” announcer on “Call Ticketron” (teasing a future show at Madison Square Garden? New Yorkers can’t unhear it either way). Other samples are more dystopian and futuristic, like the Rod Serling narration from “The Obsolete Man” episode of The Twilight Zone, which appears in the beginning of “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)”: “You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future; not a future that will be, but one that might be,” purrs Serling. “This is not a new world: It is simply an extension of what began in the old one” – a fitting description, in fact, of the racial climate in America today.
The rest of the samples take us back in time, like the Martin Luther King Jr. speech woven into the ending of the same track. “A riot,” urges King, “is the language of the unheard.” And perhaps the true purpose of the album is spelled out right there. As 2017 approaches, we’re all part of a new riot. Run The Jewels are prepared to speak up for those who cannot.
Pre-order Run The Jewels 3 vinyl or get the download HERE
Article: Olivia Isenhart