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Album of the Week: “Run the Jewels 2” by Run The Jewels

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Daniel’s Thought

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.

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Album of the Week: “Deadringer” by RJD2

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RJD2
Deadringer
Definitive Jux, 2002

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Album of the Week: “R.A.P. Music” by Killer Mike

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Gus’ Thought:

Last year Killer Mike joined forces with Brooklyn producer El-P and released the much-anticipated R.A.P. Music. Killer Mike’s sixth studio album encompasses the in your face, fearless and dubious persona audiences have come to expect from the Atlanta MC. Without intros, skits or interludes, this album runs for about forty-six minutes and is packed to the brim with Killer Mike’s unique perspective on the south, city life, politics, religion and the transformation of music throughout history. Hip-hop, like any musical genre, is ever changing. As we usher in a new decade with innovative sounds and concepts, R.A.P. Music merges classic hip-hop with newer production techniques.

The first track, “Big Beast,” is that forceful, fast paced banger with finger snaps, snare drums, and intense bass lines featuring Bun B, T.I., and Trouble.  These southern giants take turns on this posse cut, delivering memorable lines such as, “Listen to my Kimber .45 go bang / Bang, bang, Grindtime, rap game/ We the readers of the books and the leaders of the crooks.” Right off the bat, Killer Mike and El-P welcome the listener into what promises to be a wild ride of dope rhymes, phat beats and controversial topics.

While Killer Mike has politically charged lyrics, it is difficult to align him with a particular political ideology. As with his past albums, Killer Mike takes more of an apolitical stance, providing thoughtful anecdotes on our past, present and future.  This could not be more apparent on the sixth song entitled “Reagan.” In the first verse, Killer Mike focuses on “Reaganomics” and the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s. In the second verse Killer Mike brings these issues to a present day context. His apolitical position is unmistakable as he explains, “Ronald Reagan was an actor, not at all a factor / Just an employee of the country’s real masters / Just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama.”  Killer Mike is getting at an important reality that we must recognize; the President of the United States, regardless of their party affiliation will fall victim to the status quo. This is true throughout history if you check the stats.

By the end of R.A.P Music, Killer Mike appears to be deep in thought. On the title track, he talks about how he sees hip-hop as a religion; his form of worship.  His second verse is comprised of shot outs to well-known musicians that came before him such as Muddy Waters, James Brown, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone and Outkast. Something even more important happens on the final track. This song is important because it is an example of how hip-hop is a way of life, a way of being. Muddy Waters and Miles Davis might not be classified as hip-hop by ITunes, Spotify or Pandora. However, as Killer Mike makes clear, these artists are hip-hop because they changed the game in their respective eras. The best part about R.A.P. Music is the fact that in forty-six minutes, Killer Mike and El-P are able to take the listener to the far reaches of the hip-hop universe, and then bring you back in one piece.

Daniel’s Thought:

The first time I heard Killer Mike I was actually in elementary school. My friend Andrew, who had introduced albums like Ludacris’ Word of Mouf to the group, played “The Whole World” by OutKast, and smacked in the song was a verse by Killer Mike. I was too young at the time to actually remember the name Killer Mike, or the record that “The Whole World” was featured on (Big Boi and Dre Present…OutKast), but lines like “Flisten, glisten, floss, gloss / Catch the beat running like Randy Moss” stuck with me until my knowledge would grow. Several mixtapes and albums later, I look at Killer Mike not only has a talented wordsmith, but also as an MC with something to say.

On the infallible R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike and producer El-P join forces to showcase an album that not only runs fluidly under one producer, but also appoints specific breaks for rare guest spot appearances. The structure of the album is dense and to a point, and conceptually it runs on a blueprint. As far as content, the album features the most soul and sincerity Mike has ever put-out, and songs like “Reagan” and “Anywhere But Here” run with this as they cover governmental corruption and problems with trickle-down economics. Elsewhere, Killer Mike goes off on the being and state of hip-hop (“R.A.P. Music”), abusive law enforcement (“Don’t Die”) and relationships (“Untitled”).

What’s important to note with these takes is that Killer Mike’s political stance and morals aren’t driven by over-blown conspiracy theories or pure hatred. In a way, he’s stringing along moderate beliefs to further the album as a whole. On R.A.P. Music it isn’t about the individual cuts, but rather the big picture, and this is a message that is often overlooked by artists when making a conceptual piece. Without a complete track, the message gets muffled, but in a full circle it’s too clear not to miss.

Must-Listens:
“Big Beast”
“Reagan”
“Don’t Die”

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