Killer Mike and El-P Keep Their Rebellious Spirit Alive on ‘Run The Jewels 3′
There's no doubt that both Killer Mike and El-P are masters at their respective hip-hop crafts -- Mike handling most of the rapping while El-P brings the beats with a few bars of his own -- so when the two joined forces back in 2013, as Run The Jewels to release a true hip-hop stroke of genius with their self-titled release, it was clear that their chemistry was palpable. Their brash, cognizant rap attack flows and stalwart production pegged the duo as rap’s rebels with a cause.
To confirm their skill even further, RTJ2 bested the first installment and steadily gained the group a hefty cult following; a following so strong that they even crowdfunded a remix album dubbed with cat sounds. While the fists and gun fingers on the cover point towards Run The Jewels 3 being their crown jewel, the project travels across familiar territory but not to its detriment.
If anything, RTJ3 is just as good as its two predecessors which proves two things. First, it confirms how consistent these two artists are as a unit, which is a rare occurrence in today’s game. Secondly though, it proves that really great rap music doesn't always need to change its course to be accepted.
Killer Mike’s coherently expressive mind and El-P’s gifted kinetic beat-making are always appreciated but ultimately expected at this point. A lot of the same song structures found on RTJ and RTJ2 are used and sadly abused. Their opener almost always serves as a warning to those willing to stand in their way and “Down” is no exception. Mike remains on the humble tip but El-P goes for the throat with “You're gonna need a bigger boat, boys, you're in trouble/Aye, gonna need a little hope, boys, on the double/Aye, you muckin' with a G here, see, talk to me/Or maybe listen to the man that barely dodged his own lobotomy.”
The first couple tracks are more lyrical exercises than anything especially “Call Ticketron," on which Killer Mike delivers some of the most show-stopping verses of 2016. Their back and forth is even quite dazzling with Mike ending their MSG dreams with “I'm the sama lama doo ma lama danger dick'll do your mama/Skeeter with the peeter, never eat her, tell her see ya later/Holla 'bout tomorrow, baby, I ain't got to holler/My Impala pop a pussy, pop a collar/Pop a pill then chill, no Bill, no Cosby.”
After those first handful of cuts confirming they can still rhyme with the best of them, they hammer home their well-documented sentiments of rebellion. Although it’s a strong topic to rap about, the message can get a tad redundant across three albums. “Hey Kids” is pretty much their primary rebel anthem with Mike kicking off their mission statement: “Say hello to the masters, on behalf of the classless masses/We showed up, ski masks, picks, and axes to murder asses/Lift up our glasses and watch your palaces burn to ashes/Fucking fascists, who the fuck are you to give 50 lashes.” Danny Brown also throws in a verse that is nothing short of an anarchist’s delight.
After playing RTJ3 in full, it’s clear that this is an album with a message. El-P’s beats alone are so abrasive that those without a trained ear might be tempted to smash that stop button. Crackling synths and electronic baselines are impressive by creation but are far from a relaxed soundscape. On top of that, there are many instances of such high level rap sophistication that the casual listener won’t be able to follow along without feeling like they have a dismal IQ. For example “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)” is a four-minute sci-fi epic where a ghost from the future reveals certainties about tragedies of the past all of which ends up being a meta-criticism of modern day racism. This type of songwriting and rapping is what makes RTJ such a notable talent but by the same token, the subject matter may go over the heads of some newer fans.
The remainder of the album plugs away at the same notion that topline governance is ruining the human experience and how RTJ is here to right the wrongs. There is no doubt that RTJ3 is a well-oiled machine that should be and will be appreciated by hardcore hip-hop lovers. In the grand scheme of rap music, Killer Mike and El-P get more and more niche with each project they release together and this new album is no different. If this dynamic duo can keep their rebellious spirit alive without beating it to death, they'll continue to thrive.
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