There was a point in 2012 when the hip-hop higher-ups decided it was in our best interest to experience a collaboration between longtime hip-hop pioneer El-P and Grind Time Atlanta legend Killer Mike.
Oh what a collaboration that was.
Killer Mike’s 2012 release R.A.P. Music was more than just a release. With El-P behind the 1’s and 2’s, Killer Mike was able to command a record that provided him the necessary tools as one of hip-hop’s elder spokesmen. On the flip side, R.A.P. Music gave El-P another notch on his belt as one of hip-hop’s most versatile artists. Long story short, both of them benefited from the collaboration, and both artists worked together like smooth butter over the perfect piece of toast.
In 2013, the two came together again–this time under the moniker Run the Jewels–to release a joint mixtape of sorts called, well, Run the Jewels. At 10 tracks deep, Run the Jewels is an exhilarating rush that’s innovative without sacrificing energy or suffering from hip-hop cliches. With Killer Mike’s baritone Atlanta cadence and El-P’s futuristic and intimidating delivery (both lyrically and production wise), Run the Jewels is a record that raises standards and snatches your jewelry all in one listen.
This year, they released their follow-up, Run the Jewels 2. As an official album release, this record feels more like an album than its predecessor. It’s distinctly split into two operating halves, and the production is cleaner without losing any of its gritty spit-in-your-face attitude. The opener, “Jeopardy,” starts off on that classic El-P space buzz–something that’ll throw you back into the Cold Vein days–and as Killer Mike cuts in, he makes it clear that nothing has changed. “Bad man chillin’, the villains is here,” he chucks. “No Jesuses here, I hear the demons in my ear.”
On Run the Jewels 2, El-P carries his own on every track. Although his flow has never been questioned (and why should it be?), there have been times throughout his career where critics treat him like second fiddle. With a very dense and metaphorical delivery about space and far-reaching fantasy stories, El-P is undoubtedly one of the most unique and talented MCs EVER. I would argue that Run the Jewels 2 isn’t one of the top examples you should use for this claim, but his moments come in bunches that clearly prove how smart he is as an artist. On “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” a haunting track that slowly jaunts like a Southern club banger, El-P opens it up: “Authorities have spoken, demanded your pure devotion/ Get magnetized to the ground while the falcons of murder close in/ I chose to go guano, yall know kinda bat shit/ The bright lights of fuckery stuck in me automatic.” Later in the verse, El-P explodes with double and triple flow bars, something he’s been doing since his Company Flow days (mind you, this is way before K-Dot’s time).
Elsewhere on the record, Run The Jewels stamp their brand all over the place. “Angel Duster” closes the album, and it moves like a trap beat that’s accompanying the Death Star. Slow boasting horns carry the flow, and in-and-out mechanics such as synths and chorus “oohs” help make the whole picture darker. With the Travis Barker-assisted “All Due Respect,” the harsh buzzes and spacey feels run parallel with a percussion mix that goes off on many vectors. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” follows “Jeopardy” and serves as the perfect “go HAM in your car” song that would make the predictable Diplo fancy a smile. Changing the scene a bit, if only momentarily, is “All My Life,” a track that starts with optimistic humming. The mood here is a bit more playful, with a dose of electronic organ notes that carry more of a “I could be friends with these dudes” vibe than a “holy shit they’re going to kill me” vibe.
What Run the Jewels 2 provides lyrically is intensity, maybe even more so than the debut. The downside here is that unlike their first record, there are very few instances where you see the two artists intertwining their bars in one verse, but that’s such a minute detail compared to the large picture. El-P’s characteristics are still here, and Killer Mike’s intricate methods of operation are ever present. If anything, this record provides more of a follow-up for Mike’s R.A.P. Music than Run the Jewels. On the aforementioned “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” he continues to put critics to rest:
“A revolutionary bangin’ on my adversaries/ And I love Dr. King but violence might be necessary/ Cause when you live on MLK it gets very scary/ You might have to pull your AK, send one to the cemetery/ We overworked, underpaid, and we underprivileged/ They love us, they love us (why?), because we feed the village/ You really made it or just became a prisoner of privilege?/ You willing to share that information that you’ve been given?”
If you’ve given Run The Jewels the credit they deserve, but haven’t yet picked up their second album, maybe you should get to your local music store and grab a copy of this. If you’re new to these guys, then start with their debut record–because who likes starting things out of order? All in all, everyone at some point should spin Run the Jewels 2, which is the perfect compliment to its older sibling that hits harder, gets darker and showcases hip-hop in a light where very little light is given.