Killer Mike And El-P Are Relentless On New Album ‘Run The Jewels 2′
Anyone searching for some deep, hidden meaning behind Killer Mike and El-P's new Run The Jewels 2 album is trying too hard; just over a minute into album opener "Jeopardy," Mike spells it out as plainly as he can. "So fuck you fuckboys forever / Hope I said it politely / And that's about the psyche of Jamie and Mikey / You meet another pair better, highly unlikely / And if I can't rap it, maggot, fuck, then fight me," he raps as the track's intensity builds. And builds. And builds. There's a reason that, when asked how to describe the album in an interview with XXL in August, El-P called it "relentless." Once these two get going, they try to push the pedal through the floor.
For people looking for soulful, melodic hip-hop, this is not the album to pick up. Neither is it one for the kids who just want to repeat two words over and over again and call it a hook while jumping up and down and punching the air repeatedly. When listening to RTJ 2, those feelings are translated into punches aimed at faces instead of spaces, and they always connect. The beats are grimy—typical of an El-P-produced project—and add even more grit to an album that doesn't ooze confidence so much as shoves you in the chest with it. Mike and El go against every acknowledged trend in hip-hop today and in that way have created their own lane, within which they have no peers. They both even manage to rap harder than former Rage Against The Machine frontman Zach De La Rocha—making a guest appearance on "Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)"—which would have been unimaginable for anyone to pull off 15 years ago.
The success of the first Run The Jewels album was in Mike and El's combination of raw, uncompromising raps with slick bars that mix blunt force fury with tongue-in-cheek punch lines delivered with a wink to those who catch them. But the brash aggression on RTJ 2 comes from an underlying theme of political and social disillusionment. "We overworked, underpaid and underprivileged," Mike raps on "Lie, Cheat Steal," summing up a feeling shared by large sections of the American public, particularly after a summer like this past one. "Early" comes as a direct attack on the systems and prejudices that led to the riots in Ferguson in August following the killing of Michael Brown, with both rappers spitting stories of police abuses of power. If their first album acted as the duo's thesis statement, the two MCs laying out the blueprint to what they wanted to accomplish, then this second is a laser-focused execution of that idea, of never letting up and never sugar-coating their sound to fit into any particular lane. There won't be another album that comes out this year that sounds anything like this one.
So, what does it all mean, really? Just that in a hip-hop landscape where the likes of OutKast, UGK, 8Ball & MJG and Mobb Deep are either defunct or on the reunion/anniversary circuit, Killer Mike and El-P have emerged as the most cohesive and consistent duo in rap right now. And it's a title that, truthfully, they've held for two years now, as they themselves point out on the album. Now the only question that remains is, how much more aggressive will they be on their Meow The Jewels remix album? And are we even ready for it?—Dan Rys