Release Date: Dec 25, 2016
Record label: Mass Appeal / RED Music Solutions
“Run The Jewels live at the Garden”. Four years ago Run The Jewels didn’t even exist. Now this is a chorus on their third album; they’ve already opened for Jack White at Madison Square Garden and are set to play three NY shows in February alone. While it wasn’t obvious that cult rappers El-P and Killer Mike would band together and go on to finally put the ‘super’ back into supergroup, the talent pulsing at the heart of what became Run The Jewels was undeniable.
'I told ya suckas on RTJ1, then I told you again on RTJ2,' yells Killer Mike at the close of Run The Jewels 3's lead single Talk To Me, 'and you still ain’t believe me, so here we go. ' After 2016’s unique cosmic buffet, ranging from the previously unthinkable to the depressingly familiar, Michael Render and Jaime Meline are back with a set of tracks that blend big-time bravado with some truly eye-opening takes on modern life. This is a duo who have spent large parts of their careers taking on inequality, surveillance, corruption, racism and police brutality, but Run The Jewels 3 doesn’t merely throw out complaints about the situation we find ourselves in.
Goddammit Run The Jewels, you couldn't wait seven days could you? Now you've gone and compromised the integrity of every 2016 Best Of list going. As every single tweet that day agreed, RTJ3 was the best Christmas present we never knew we asked for, and - with my body clock still running on office hours - the perfect pre-theatre before my dog performed the traditional Christmas Day Opening Ceremony by bounding into my childhood bedroom and munching a sock. As I lay in bed at half-eight that morning, awash in muted darkness, protest bars and hulking beats, I couldn't but realise that Santa's woke as fuck.
“For the most part, what’s on our mind is coming up with the funniest way to say, ‘Fuck you,’ ” El-P told Stereogum in 2014 during a press run for Run the Jewels 2. At that point the group’s main priority was shifting from unbridled, irreverent fun to something more purposeful. The group’s first record was a blitzkrieg of one-upmanship, flurries of barbs, bars and punches being thrown with anarchic glee.
â€œWe dropped a classic today!â€ Killer Mike exclaims on the third track of Run the Jewels 3. On Christmas Eve 2016, Run the Jewels, the collaborative hip-hip project between Mike and El-P, surprise released their new album weeks ahead of schedule, once again for free. What a way to end the year!Or, alternatively, RTJ3 and its theme of rebellion may very well be the soundtrack to 2017.
When El-P released his debut solo record, Fantastic Damage, it was widely misinterpreted as a treatise on 9/11. It was an easy mistake to make; this was May of 2002, and the album was awash with a brooding paranoia that tapped uncannily into the mood of a nation having its civil liberties torn asunder by the PATRIOT Act. In actual fact, though, Fantastic Damage was already largely complete by September 2001, with critics projecting their own contextual ideas onto it thereafter.
Titanic rap duo Run the Jewels returned with their third self-titled effort on Christmas Eve 2016. Bestowing the gift of Run the Jewels 3 weeks earlier than expected, El-P and Killer Mike managed to deliver a collection even more satisfying than 2015's sophomore installment. Whereas RTJ2 was the sound of multiple slugs to the chest, RTJ3 is as streamlined and focused as a laser blast between the eyes.
If "bloody," "urgent," "enraged" and "heartening" were enough description to sum up El-P and Killer Mike's latest Run the Jewels album, this review could end here. But they aren't; this late 2016 LP, along with the duo's various collaborative tracks with several DJs and rappers all year, have officially placed RTJ high on the shelf of the "hard to describe" category. Run the Jewels 3 is a rap armoury for hard times, a hip-hop bullhorn that afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.
On 2006’s “That’s Life,” Killer Mike boasted “You’d be hard-pressed to find another rapper smart as me,” opening up about Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, poverty, respectability politics, and civil rights, before taking on both Bush Administrations (“George Bush don’t like blacks … and his daddy CIA had flooded the hood with rock”). A few months later, El-P was waging war with the same enemy in the 9/11 conspiracy theory thriller “Run the Numbers,” concluding that “it always comes back to a Bush. ” The two songs sounded very little alike, but the music (and the rappers) shared a similar fire and presence: confident, conspiratorial, no-holds-barred, and razor-sharp.
Having originally been billed for a mundane mid-January release, Run The Jewels – i.e. titanic superduo Killer Mike and El-P – surprisingly decided to bring the release of the much anticipated RTJ3 three weeks forward to none other than Christmas Day. A Christmas Fucking Mircale, indeed. However, there’s no time for festivities - Run the Jewels mean business as usual.
Run the Jewels :: Run the Jewels 3Run the Jewels Inc./Mass AppealAuthor: Steve 'Flash' JuonThe narrative that 2016 was a horrible year that we're all glad is over seems to have already been written and accepted as fact in the mainstream consciousness. Frankly I have to assume this is a product of the social media era that we now live in, where bad things happen in real time, and the ability to transmit word of them seems to travel even faster. Between you and me I wouldn't have wanted to be alive in 1863 or 1945.
Review Summary: We a good crew to fuck with; better to love. The third release in a simultaneously fresh yet familiar series kicks off with Killer Mike ruminating, “I hope with the highest of hopes/That I never have to go back to the trap and my days of dealing with dope”. That opening verse speaks at once to the quintessential Cheshire Cat spirit of his collaboration with El-P while tacitly acknowledging that the entire project has ended up being far, far more successful than either of them had ever imagined.
“When I started this band, didn’t see no plans,” says El-P on this album’s double-headed closer. “Just run with the craft, have a couple of laughs, make a buck and dash.” That isn’t how it turned out for the 41-year-old New Yorker and his Atlantan partner Killer Mike. Rather than a side project for two rappers with a shared interest in lyrical exuberance, Run the Jewels has become its own branch of alternative hip-hop.
Run the Jewels 2 was the rare sequel that topped the original, as the skull-busting tag team of Atlanta street intellectual Killer Mike and Brooklyn indie-rap veteran El-P synchronized their punches with the aggro precision of a brilliantly choreographed superhero fight sequence. The third installment, which dropped digitally weeks ahead of schedule on Christmas Eve, thrums with similar urgency, but a lot's changed since 2014. Mike spent the summer bro'ing down with Bernie Sanders, moonlighting as a CNN talking head, and his no-nonsense anti-racism is increasingly the language of black activism.
Run the Jewels happened to land on the right tectonic plate in the earthquake, which doesn’t mean they didn’t earn it. Rap fans already liked Killer Mike and El-P plenty; both were longtime bigger-label castoffs (Columbia and Rawkus, respectively) who found their own paths preaching to a jaded, slightly older version of the hip-hop faithful. But in 2011, Cartoon Network executive Jason DeMarco introduced them, launching a string of collaborations (a tour, El-P producing Mike’s 2012 critical success R.A.P.
Rap has always been an essentially political genre, founded on the basis of marginalized voices shaping their own narratives, conducting fresh dialogues and speaking truth to power. It seems likely that these qualities will gain even more emphasis with the rise of Donald Trump, a figure of effortlessly lampoonable villainy who's already inspired a few direct diss tracks (YG & Nipsey Hussle's strident “FDT,” most prominent among them). The first salvo of rap's new political era might have been Run the Jewels 3, yet for all the passion behind them, the album's statements end up feeling underwhelming, especially in today's contentious cultural climate.
‘RTJ3’ is purpose-built to inspire and soundtrack insurrection over the coming months and years – as El-P scowls on ‘Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)’, “Fear’s been the law for so long rage feels like therapy”. Not that you’re ever at risk of enduring a worthy, hectoring lecture. There’s tonnes of fun to be had from absorbing the duo’s fury, and El-P’s sci-fi beats are as thrillingly big ‘n’ bad as ever.
Killer Mike, left, and EI-P perform with their group Run the Jewels at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park in Chicago Sunday, July 19, 2015. For hip-hop veterans El-P and Killer Mike, their collaboration in Run the Jewels has outgrown its boisterous, blow-off-some-steam origins. The self-released “Run the Jewels 3” is an album that megaphones its restlessness while retaining its wicked sense of fun.
“You’re getting used to me doing no wrong,” El-P says midway through Run The Jewels 3’s first single “Legend Has It,” and he’s not kidding. Over the course of two decades, El’s been a sort of gravitational force for good in hip-hop, his industrial production seemingly refusing to age and his verses getting sharper with each passing year. He doesn’t evolve anymore; he clarifies, paring away extraneous elements and ideas with each passing release, sounding only more like himself.
Sometimes I think I’m one of the only persons in the world who thinks that Killer Mike and El-P’s unlikeliest of friendships together hit its zenith in R.A.P. Music and Cancer 4 Cure. In the great year for hip-hop that was 2012, what, with Kendrick Lamar’s excellent good kid, m.A.A.d. city, one of Nas’ best albums seemingly out of nowhere, and strong efforts from ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Big K.R.I.T.
There’s an internet meme making the rounds right now called “HIP-HOP BY THE YEAR 2020.” The accompanying clip is of a Russian pop singer in a tight onesie, making high-pitched, staccato sounds to dance music. It’s funny because it’s so not hip-hop, and thus pokes fun at rappers like Lil Yachty, whose sing-song sound has old heads groaning and – fairly or not – yearning for “the real hip-hop.” Run the Jewels are an antidote to those new-wave rappers, eschewing simplistic hooks and everything trendy while maintaining the fresh, frenetic sound established on RTJ 1 and RTJ 2. The mood here is fed up, fraught and unapologetic.
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.
In the decade or so — roughly the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s — when the independent hip-hop underground was at its peak, it served several purposes, many of them antagonistic. Just as rap music at its glossiest was piercing the American pop mainstream, a purist wing emerged, initially as a rejoinder. But it ultimately developed its own rule book that prized complexity and abrasion.
“No struggle feels futile to the one who’s struggling,” musician Tunde Olaniran wrote in his 2015 sci-fi short story “Little Brown Mouse.” Describing a mouse drowning in a container slowly filling with water, Olaniran used the bleak sentiment to show how no amount of scurrying could stave off the animal’s death. Like the best science fiction, Olaniran’s writing presaged a fraught political reality unfolding in new, horrific ways with every day. Forget the protests and the so-called truth—the country will be in the hands of a man who believes nuclear threats are playthings.