Every encounter with a new acquaintance has the potential to be life-changing.
The introduction of Killer Mike and El-P took place in 2011, setting off a chain reaction of events that eventually lead the two veteran microphone monsters to unite as Run The Jewels. What I believed to be a passion project hit the reset button on the careers of two artists ripe in age, but also in the prime of their artistry. With youth behind them, Run The Jewels never showed any care for growing within the state of rap, they set out to be more of a bulldozer running over all ideas and notions of what could be popular in this era of music.
Run The Jewels brought together Atlanta and Brooklyn—two cities that have always been polar opposites in hip-hop—but there’s an undeniable energy between the two that takes you back to the first time you heard Raekwon’s verse on “Skew It On The Bar-B.” Rae’s appearance on OutKast’s Aquemini proved in 1998 that the North and the South could create something special; Killer Mike and El-P carried that very idea into 2013, but on a much bigger scale. Grimy beats, hardcore lyrics, and an attitude that didn’t ask for acceptance. Run The Jewels were action heroes, beating up bandits and blowing things up for the greater good. They weren’t vying for records or reaching for recognition, just two artists who had been in the game for over 10 years and still had plenty to say.
Badass is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Run The Jewels. The music, their videos, and even El-P’s tweets ooze with a refreshing quality of rebellion. With middle fingers raised high, the duo is doing anything they want and could care less what anyone thinks. Calling them action heroes is misleading—heroes follow rules, Run The Jewels are more like vigilantes.
On Christmas Eve, Run The Jewels once again flexed the power of independence by releasing their highly anticipated Run The Jewels 3 album three weeks early. Not only was the surprise release unexpected, the album was also delivered for free. No artist signed to a major could pull this off, their executives would’ve laughed them straight to the shelf, but Run The Jewels don’t exist in that world. They are free, they are independent, and they are badass.
Run The Jewels 2 was a critically acclaimed spectacle that blew rap fans away and solidified RTJ as a powerful voice that was taking over rap’s underground. Despite all the success both Killer Mike and El-P have accomplished as solo artists, Run The Jewels put them on their highest platform yet. The two are at their most popular, their most applauded, and their most praised. With the bar set so high, RTJ3 has big shoes to fill.
It’s always good to have high expectations from two talents who truly care about the art of hip-hop and the craft of rapping. That’s the beauty of veterans: artists who have been in the game, who've exceeded their 10,000 hours and continue to sharpen their pens in hope of being better than who they were. Run The Jewels is a beautiful example of age being only a number, and that hip-hop still cares about quality music and quality lyrics. My gut tells me RTJ3 is going to be a powerful rap album, and I hope my gut is right.
1-Listen rules are the same—I can’t stop, rewind or fast-forward through the album. I must listen and write my gut reaction to each and every song. Let's blow some things up!
1. "Down" (ft. Joi Gilliam)
I’m loving the gold-plated gun and fist album cover, RTJ is keeping it golden, word to Tom. The slow build up, excitement. Killer Mike has arrived and he is hoping that he’ll never have to go back to dealing dope. We hope so too, Killa Killa. Such a great rapper voice. The beat drop is smooth. One time for freedom of speech. El-P's production is hitting harder than the 1998 Home Run Derby. So crazy that Atlanta and Brooklyn could come together and make something so raw and explosive, yet serene. El-P is spitting such a nasty flow. If I was in a bar fight, I would want El-P to be my partner-in-crime—he raps like he’ll break a stool over the head of our adversaries. A good intro, the boys still have the fire glowing.
2. "Talk To Me"
“Talk To Me” is already sounding much bigger than the intro. There’s an aggression to the build-up, an intimidating abrasiveness. The drums burst like firecrackers. WOOOOOO THE DROP! For such a heavy guy Killer Mike simply glides on beats. He has the flow of a man water-skiing. “Militant Michael might go psycho.” El-P just got tagged in, sounds like he’s going to kick down the door. “I told you suckers!” Killer Mike is going off, he is not here for the sleeper. WOOOO THIS BREAKDOWN AT THE END, like a drunk robot krumping. Drunk robot krumping should be a music genre.
3. "Legend Has It"
A HEAD BANGER. THE AGGRESSION. This is the music you play right before drop-kicking your rivals in the chest. My eardrums feel like they're being hit by Mike Tyson haymakers in his prime. “We are the murderous pair." That they are, and they are the new PB&J. El-P letting out the Ric Flair "WOOO" and now I wish RTJ was a WWE tag team. This is easily one of the hardest beats I’ve heard all year. No real hook, there are a few moments allowing the beat to breath, but the song is mostly Killa Kill and El-P passing the beat back and forth like a cherry bomb on the verge of exploding. I have to hear this song live where I can let out a blood-chilling "woo.." Love how El’s electronic production surges like it’s been struck by lightning. A nasty Godfather reference.
4. "Call Ticketron"
This bassline feels schizophrenic. Nah, This song is truly tweaking. I feel like I'm on some very hard drugs. Drugs you can only get when you attend music festivals. What makes Run The Jewels so impressive is how they take the most unorthodox production and rap as if it’s not stranger than a little girl eating frozen Eggos. Love how they chopped up the “Live From The Garden” vocals. Nah, this third verse of Killer Mike is NASTY. This flow is water-walking impressive. The delivery. Killer Mike has to be one of the best rappers rapping in all of 2016. El-P's not slacking, though—these two aren’t racing, but running on treadmills. Always neck and neck. What a duo.
5. "Hey Kids (Bumaye)" (ft. Danny Brown)
This song is called “Hey Kids” but when the beat drops I don’t know any kids who would even relate to this. This isn’t for kids, a parental advisory sticker should be on this song. THE BASSLINE SOUNDS LIKE PURE EVIL. This is the kind of beat that would steal Christmas. It hits you like a shotgun blast, wearing a vest is recommended. This sounds like world domination. If we ever overthrow the government this is the song to play. Killer Mike sounds like he’s ready to burn down the establishment. Not just the establishment, but everything. El-P splitting! He makes it sound so effortless. Rappers who are able to get better over time are the best kind. This beat is perfect for Danny Brown. Giving me XXX feelings. His voice is so bizarre hahaha. I’m so happy he’s on this album because he is the right amount of emcee and weird to make a great song with RTJ. “You made my ears bleed.”
6. "Stay Gold"
Killer Mike talking to his son, “stay gold.” Always dope hearing rappers bring their family into the album. Production just came in, another heavy song, thick as a stripper climbing the pole at Magic City. This might be the first rap album I heard all year that didn’t have any singing, melodies or Auto-Tune. I love how this feels like a pure rap album. RTJ found the formula and have been using the most aggressive electronic beats and abusing them with lyrical missiles. A Greenbriar shoutout. The back-and-forth is like hearing the rap equivalent of synchronized swimming.
7. "Don't Get Captured"
Seven songs in and the album has yet to drop the energy, each song just picks up where the last one left off like a string of robberies. BANG! Killer Mike rapping about gentrification, he sounds fed up. Killer Mike could lead the revolution and I’d be right behind with my fist high. Who is doing the DJ cuts on this? It’s done incredibly on the hook. Man, every beat sounds like some kind of monster escaping the underworld. This is perfect run-from-the-police music, especially if you have five stars on Grand Theft Auto. "Don’t Get Captured" is the new motto for 2017. Run Forest run.
8. "Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)" (ft. Tunde Adebimpe)
A sample playing as the beat builds up. The drop wasn’t the explosion I thought it would be, this one is a slow burner, but it’s creating an ambiance that is downright frightening. Killer Mike sounds like he’s narrating a world cloaked in darkness. El-P's storytelling is like a man slowly losing touch with reality, or who has a very clear vision of the world we live in. “Thieves” is a horror film. Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals sound great. He has the perfect tone for the vibe that they’re setting. The energy this record has is perfect for the world of today. Martin Luther King outro. This is a favorite. Definitely.
9. "2100" (ft. BOOTS)
Another slow build up. Chords. Killer Mike... holy shit at the end of his short verse the song completely entered a new dimension. You might get launched from your chair if you aren’t prepared. Okay, Mike mixed it up with a little melodic switch-up. I love how outspoken Killer Mike and El-P are about America and politics, kicking knowledge without sounding like they're preaching. BOOTS killed the hook.
10. "Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix)" (ft. Trina)
I can’t see the word "panther" on a rap album without thinking about the time Slim Thug and Beyoncé collaborated. Good times. El-P starting things off with a swift flow, mid-verse he stopped to the sound of snaps like he was at a poetry slam. Man, wooooooooooo!!!!!! He’s skiing on molten lava. Nah, El went complete Ape Shit. Trina on the hook—a strange, but interesting collaboration. I don’t know if she’s needed but I won’t ever complain about Trina being back in the rap game. The rhythm, this beat has swing. Killer Mike picked up where El left off, the rapid flow is so smooth. The beat sounds like it’s on the verge of collapsing. Love that El can brag about holding doors open for grandmothers, we need more upstanding rapper citizens. Only Killer Mike can rap about selling pounds of weed and reparations in the same breath. This is a monstrous record, a true goliath.
11. "Everybody Stay Calm"
I didn’t think Run The Jewels could make a song with “Calm” in the title. Compared to all the other monsters, this production is far more tame. Less fire-breathing dragon, more roaring lion. “I’m the Nelson Mandela of Atlanta dope sellers.”The change of pace is a big difference from the previous track, but the raps are still raw as ever. The quotes all over this album are enough to keep you coming back again and again. I like this one, I think the placement is just a rough position. Take it easy.
12. "Oh Mama"
Woooooo the riff that’s playing is otherworldly. Sounds like the making of fight music. Electronic funk. Wordplay has been consistent every song. This is going to be another huge festival knocker. The song screams "lose your mind." It runs through your eardrums and there’s no way you can resist. RTJ is making a conversation with your mother sound like entering a war zone. I laugh thinking about how Drake’s song about his mother is the polar opposite. I’m a fan of how this album doesn’t overdo it. The song lengths are rather short, but each minute is packed with atomic bombs. It’s like the trailer of a blockbuster movie, all the explosions and none of the dullness.
13. "Thursday In The Danger Room" (ft. Kamasi Washington)
The first few seconds indicate this one is going to be another soul-puncturing banger. It’s a hard hitter, El’s honest verse is captivating. He’s giving a perspective on the act of watching a friend waste away. Mourning a friend who left is a hard pill to swallow. Love the point of view. The loop puts you right in the danger room. Killer Mike talks about a friend who landed on hard times. A heavy verse. Reminds me of J. Cole’s album concept but told in one verse. Kamasi Washington adding a bit of jazz to the apocalyptic soundscape.
14. "A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters"
The outro brings the bounce. Confessional El-P. He has a way of rapping that you feel. Killer Mike has the same quality to his verses. You can hear in this verse his inner turmoil with all the issues that are happening with black people. Killer just mentioned the uterus comments that erupted while he was on the campaign trail. Now that’s a middle finger response. He’s snapping. Both delivered rather introspective verses. “Kill Your Masters” is a line Killer has said a few times on the album. The beat switch is HARD. It’s knocking. I don’t know what’s better, the first or second half, sheesh. This flow reminds me of Yelawolf—well the old Yelawolf, I don’t know who he is now. Is this even still El-P? His vocals seemed pitched higher. [Editor's note: That is not El-P, it's Zack de la Rocha.] He’s going the hell off. Kill your masters.
What an album. I feel juiced up, like I took an adrenaline shot while downing a gallon of Red Bull.
The entire project bombards listeners from beginning to end, each song hitting harder than the last. I’m reminded of what I love so much about Killer and El, the rawness of two emcees who take you completely into their rugged world. You can feel the intensity of their music, a compelling attribute that has been ingrained into their sound. The duo might be at the height of their success, but they are still fueled by what’s happening outside of their music.
If DJ Khaled suffered from success, Run The Jewels is suffering from an unjust world, and they will rage against this machine no matter how big they become.
This is the music that makes you want to fight in a bar, riot in the streets, challenge the establishment, and behead your oppressor. If you don’t feel compelled to at least flip over a table, then you aren’t getting the full experience. Run The Jewels 3 picks up where 1 and 2 left off, following the same formula but with an even more explosive execution.
Run The Jewels have delivered one of the most impressive trilogies in all of rap—a streak of great music that speaks volumes on how the artists are still finding ways to move above and beyond their limits.
By Yoh, aka Yoh The Jewels, aka @Yoh31.