Tag Archives: run the jewels

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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The Best Hip-Hop Albums/Mixtapes of 2013 (So Far)

Kool+Herc+Fertile+Crescent

By: Daniel Hodgman

We have now reached the halfway point of 2013, and like any other critic obsessed with rankings and arbitrary lists, I’ve decided to share some of my favorite hip-hop albums and mixtapes of the year (so far). Admittedly, I didn’t think 2013 would provide as well as it has, but with a plethora of diverse works and records already out and six more months of music to add, this is going to be a good year for hip-hop. It already has been.

So without further ado, here are my favorite hip-hop albums/mixtapes of 2013 so far.

DFD- Old Boy Jon

Let me just say that Duke Westlake nailed the production on this mixtape. To be completely honest, I’m not a big fan of glossy and clean-cut production like this, but Westlake completely works with Dumbfoundead’s style. Although DFD finds himself searching for content throughout this album, it’s his ability to turn this album into a visual party that makes this worth the listen.

Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge- Twelve Reasons to Die

I’ll say it right now: I think Ghostface Killah is the most consistent Wu-Tang member when it comes to solo work. With the exception of the mediocre Ghostdini, all of Ghost’s work profiles the best while bringing in something new and unique. I can gladly say that Twelve Reasons to Die follows suit. Here Adrian Younge takes control of the production and layer cakes this record with a cleverly crafted sandbox of haunting sound that gives the sword-wielding and fist bashing lyrics a deeper meaning. I would argue that this record would be better if it was cut shorter, but there’s no denying how sweet it is to listen to such chemistry.

Homeboy Sandman- Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent EP

Homeboy Sandman is an MC from New York City and is signed with Stones Throw Records, a West Coast production company. Not that this really matters or anything, but if you follow Stones Throw (think Madlib, Guilty Simpson, J Dilla), then you know their unique underground hip-hop sound. With Kool Herc, you’re basically getting another Stones Throw, Adult Swim-esque record, but it carries itself well without this label. “Dag, Philly Too” sounds like a smarter Das Racist cut, “Lonely People” mirrors Quasimoto and crafts its own shape, and “Men Are Mortal” rattles your head lyrically, but in a good way (“I been the infamous since drinking infant milk / Whomever want to cause an incident I be like “It’s a deal” / I’m not interested in spending an instant with the infidels / Can tell I used to read Fidel and rock Big L”).

Joey Bada$$- Summer Knights

I’ve always been impressed with Joey Bada$$ because of his seemingly effortless flow, his respect of 90s hip-hop and the mere fact that he’s only 18 years old. After his 1999 mixtape hit the interwebs last year, I knew we had something special. Now that his second solo mixtape, Summer Knights, is out, I now realize Joey Bada$$ may be the second-coming of something. See, I can’t quite equate him to someone comparable, but maybe that’s why he’s so appealing. He is quite literally a new-age rapper with a 90s Golden Age mind. With that being said, he’s so much more than that. His flow is confident and smart, and yet he still carries his youth with him—which is probably why fans of all eras of hip-hop find this kid mystifying. On Summer Knights, Bada weaves stories of youth (“Trap Door”) with lessons to live by (“Word Is Bond”) while flooding the speakers with crisp cadence and guest appearances by Alchemist, Smoke DZA, DJ Premier and more.

Kid Tsunami- The Chase

Australian producer Kid Tsunami is one for nostalgia on The Chase. His beats sway easily, leaving a lot to the MC on the track, but don’t confuse this with simplicity. On “What It Was”, the construction of the song consists of a tumbling bass and Gang Starr-like horns, and although guest J-Live is the center, it’s too hard for him to conceal the contents of Tsunami’s beat. Elsewhere, KRS-One runs on “These Are the Facts”, a swift track that could accompany a car chase scene, and “Ar Toxic” a lounge-like song with guitar twangs and Kool Keith’s recognizable bars.

Killer Mike & El-P- Run the Jewels 

If R.A.P. Music hadn’t been released the same year as good kid, m.A.A.d city, it would have been “album of the year.” That’s because Killer Mike and El-P constructed a package so unique and revealing that it almost threw us all a curve. Their 2013 project is different stylistically, but just as rewarding. Run the Jewels is a harsh listen, and might even be a turnoff for those not familiar with El-P’s production (especially his work with Company Flow), however it’s harsh for all the right reasons. El-P mixes each song with choppy blips, buzzing, choppy guitars, cymbal smacking and dark and heavy synths that stab and smother. What’s most notable about Run the Jewels is that El-P retains his rapping skills and compliments Killer Mike in every way. Since R.A.P. Music didn’t grab “album of the year” in 2012, I have no problem with Run the Jewels capturing 2013.

Sadistik- Flowers For My Father

If you can get past the initial skepticism behind this project (the quirky flow at times, the album art), Flowers For My Father will truly move you. The title and subject matter of the record are telling, which, for the most part, covers the death of Sadistik’s father and the depression that ensued from the event. But sleeping beneath this cover is an MC with content that is as crippling on the ears as it is on the brain. This isn’t a bad thing either; this is an album chocked with emotion and sincerity. Flowers For My Father is built off of crumbling facades: the death of his father, holding onto hope, loss and the death of Minnesota legend Eyedea. On “Micheal”, Sadistik puts everything on the table: “With you Mike I wish that I could hug you again / It’s getting harder to pretend and I can’t undo what’s been / Thank for being someone I could come to, a friend / I hope I make you proud, I love you, the end.”

Statik Selektah- Extended Play

Not only does every track on Extended Play standout with Statik Selektah’s timeless East Coast boom-bap production, but every track also features emcees of all eras coming in and showing off. There are 38 guests in total ranging from Action Bronson and Black Thought to Prodigy and Smif-n-Wessun, and while at times this record has a mixtape-like feel with disheveled content and parity, there’s no denying Stat’s ability to construct a solid record from top to bottom. The variation within the album is there too. On “Game Break”, an airy track with skinny piano chords, backing synth coos and a SWV sample, Lecrae, Posdnuos and Termanology talk about the game making them better men (“Get something man, cultivate a creation / Don’t blame it on your lack of education”). Comparatively, “Pinky Ring” sees Prodigy spitting over a funk-driven track with eerie background squeaks and loose percussion swells. See, Extended Play might not be as cohesive as other albums, but it successfully melds different sounds and eras into one of the most listenable records of the year.

Styles P- Float

Styles P has always been one of the most respected MCs out of New York City because of his strict attention to detail and consistency. With Float, P continues to tread along this blueprint while at the same time throwing in some curveball experimental sound; “Hater Love” sounds like a thrashing epic from a mafia movie, “Red Eye” hops like a dark-disco beat that could fit in the Roll Bounce soundtrack and “Shoot You Down” plays like any other big city anthem with light horns, soaring vocal samples and sample interludes within the contents of the track. Lyrically, P is dominating in every aspect. On the eerie “Manson Murder,” he puts it all on the table: “Basically, hit you with the hard nigga recipe / Fuck you! If you ain’t with me, you’re next to me / I ain’t one for the small talk / Goes to get it in it like Nucky on Boardwalk.”

Ugly Heroes- Ugly Heroes

From an outsider’s standpoint, Ugly Heroes is a concept album that covers everything from class structure to human emotion, but once you delve into the record it becomes apparent that it’s an anthem for hip-hop as a whole. Though most of the record is negative and downtrodden in content, songs like “Just Relax” and “Push” gives Ugly Heroes a light of confidence that only strengthens it as a whole. Red Pill and Verbal Kent are sincere and bold throughout, and Apollo Brown’s lush sample-heavy production provides the two MCs a beat to march to. Even with all of the hype surrounding this project, Ugly Heroes exceeded expectations in almost every category.

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