14 July, 2013@2:50 pm
Last year, El-P broke the mold forged by his legendary Def Jux imprint, by travelling slightly outside of his comfort zone. Rather than working with another one of his like-minded subterranean labelmates, he opted to go for a more street level artist, producing an entire LP for loose-knit Outkast / Purple Ribbon Allstars affiliate, Killer Mike. The end result was R.A.P. Music, which topped many year-end lists (including ours), coupled with his own solo LP, Cancer 4 Cure, which also saw great critical acclaim.
So how do Killer Mike and El-P top their 2012 achievments? By taking it a step further and collaborating on a second project, Run The Jewels, which would find them trading mics like Erick & Parrish, Red & Meth, Tip & Phife, and other classic hip-hop duos. Oh, and by giving it away for free via A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold Records.
This bold approach of giving away such a high profile underground release – one that could sell just fine on its own – mirrors that of its commercial counterpart, Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail (of which this is, like, two degrees of separation away from, with A-Trak being Kanye’s old DJ, and Mike appearing on The Blueprint 2‘s “Poppin’ Tags” in 2002). But this LP is clearly the antithesis of either album from Jay or Kanye, and arguably the kind of thing that they both fell short of achieving in their lush lifestyles of fame and fortune. Mike is aware of his greatness, and playfully jabs at the duo on “Sea Legs”:
“There will be no respect for The Thrones / No master mastered these bones / Your idols all are my rivals / I rival all of your idols / I stand on towers like Eiffel, I rifle down all your idols / Niggas will perish in Paris, niggas is nothing but parrots / I write for the writers that write for the liars that impress you and your parents.”
So for as much as Kanye wanted to go against the grain with Yeezus, El has done so effortlessly with Run The Jewels. Whereas Kanye’s album pleased some, pissed off others, El and Mike have mastered bridging the underground-to-street-level gap, without appearing like they’re trying too hard to do so.
A concise LP that clocks in at under 40 minutes, and an Illmatic length tracklist of 10 songs, there’s little room for error here, and not a moment is wasted. El’s beats are the perfect backdrop for their back-and-forth lyrical barbs, as the drums hark back to the classic sounds of groups like BDP (“36 Chain”), with atmospheric overtones that make it sound like the work of no other producer. In short, this is the alternate universe answer to what 80′s hip-hop could have evolved into.
Lyrically, the two are in top form, as they constantly bombard the listener with boastful braggadocio and ridiculous insults, bringing out the best in one another. El has taken his Ghostface-esque vocabulary groceries down a notch for easier consumption, without sacrificing his poetic integrity. Standout lines like “Riverdance cleats on your face for the finisher” and “The company of women with opinions and fat asses” are plastered all over the album.
“Banana Clipper” finds the duo trading lines every few bars, including a bonus verse from Outkast’s Big Boi. But Mike comes with perhaps the most poignant line on the record, “Producer gave me a beat / said it’s the beat of the year / I said El-P didn’t do it / so get the fuck out of here!”.
The bar has been raised.
Both “DDFH (Do Dope Fuck Hope)” and “Job Well Done” (feat. Until The Ribbon Breaks) are two of the album’s most fully realized songs, with strong hooks that will have you singing right along. The same can be said for “No Come Down”, a smoked out fantasy, which finds Mike weaving the illest of tales, which we won’t spoil here.
It’s almost impossible to pinpoint or single out the album’s greatest moments, as it just keeps hitting you and hitting you; left jab, right cross, left hook, right uppercut. Doing so in such a short period of time, yet still maintaining a healthy 10 track playlist is an amazing feat that will have listeners begging for more. Amazingly, Run The Jewels is an uncompromising, encore performance to last year’s two course meal of R.A.P. Music and Cancer 4 Cure, and the crowd goes wild.
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