Before I start. If you have a slight interest in Hip Hop, you haven’t heard Run The Jewels and you have an email address and access to the internet you can download this album for free from their website http://www.runthejewels.net/ and if you like it buy it you have no excuse!
For those who already have heard it or need more persuading ill continue.
RTJ2 continues the sound and extreme views of rappers Killer Mike and El-P found on RTJ1. Heavy Beats, harsh synths and hard sampling underpins often angry lyrics about Sex, Drugs and Violence but with a rapier wit and strong agenda. Positions of power and influence are cut down with sharp tongues. The police, other rappers, religions, billionaires and politicians are shown the back of a hand and occasionally the barrel of a gun.
But it’s not just pure rage, both rappers are in their late 30’s and this maturity also comes across in the lyrics with a deeper understanding of their issues with the system they are so against. They aren’t rebells without a cause trying to take it down, They are people who want to change it.
This can conflict with some of their other lyrics, they manage to blend the ridiculous the dumb and the intelligent with and attitude that says you just have to deal with it. A perfect example would be the El-p line on track lie, cheat, steal:
“I’ll tea bag a piranha tank, heart barely beatin’
A wild one who’ll swim like directly after he’s eaten
While holding a toaster oven that’s plugged with a fork in it
Cause death by electrocution’s like life in New York, isn’t it?”
In four lines we get a pompous claim and striking visual image mixed with an aggressive swagger rounded up by witty social commentary. It’s challenging, clever and offensive all at the same time and before you can digest it, the next verse is coming at you. Killer Mike also follows these lines but on occasion strips away the bravado that you hear on the majority of the album and gets down to the personal. On tracks Early and Crown we get honest and heartfelt issues covering both his past and examples of why he is angry with the police.
A main reason this challenging mix of ideas works is the interplay between Killer Mike and El-P. On a fundamental level their voices and accents complement each other perfectly And their views are both clearly defined, which can provide counterpoints within a track but also unify to pack a heavy punch.
That leads us to the production, El-p has gotten together some powerhouses of music to provide lyrics and instrumentation on the album but they never stray from his style of production. Heavy Kick drums with lots of base punctuate synths and chopped up samples heard on their previous work. But some areas have developed. The use of saxophones, trumpets and strings are mixed into the fray but the music beds never encroach on the vocals which prominently have space in the mix to run amok.
The overall flow of the album works incredibly well. At 40 minutes long all the fat has been trimmed from it. We’re left with an album that hits on all levels. Transitions between tracks can either come think and fast leaving little time to breathe or poignantly finish on something to take in before the album continues.
I can understand why the album is getting to the top of many american lists for the year. Ferguson was a turning point from anger to action, people are mad and feel that the system has gone too far. This album not only summarises those feelings it sizzles, cracks and spits them. It’s an anthem of rebellion, a soundtrack to revolution and riots. Outside of America my perspective is slightly different but this doesn’t stop the album being something special. Powerfully produced, with strong beliefs to back it up. it shows a mirror to 2014 whilst punching it in the gut and clawing its way onto my top 5 list.