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If you caught J-Zone’s recent article, Can We Finally Bury The Word “Hater?”, one of the takeaways from it was that hip-hop has completely lost its edge. Everyone is so afraid to hurt their “brand,” that rap music is no longer “scary” in his words, and never challenges the status quo. Sure, there’s plenty of quality stuff still being made, but nobody is pushing the envelope. On the major label side of things, you have a handful of artists chasing whatever the hot sound is, releasing albums that sound like compilations, while the underground has been largely making better music, but still stuck using the same styles of production.

Enter Run The Jewels, the dynamic duo of Dungeon Family alum, Killer Mike, and Def Jux founder El-P. Last year, they dropped all jaws to the floor with their self-titled debut album for A-Trak’s Fool’s Gold imprint, earning a perfect 5 @ rating via this site, with a top-to-bottom LP that rewrote the rules of rap, with the most unlikely of pairings. A year later, they announced the sequel, RTJ2, which again would be free for fans to download, and very quickly owned the hearts of rap fans, even making the front page of Reddit.

RTJ2 may have actually got more press for its unique pre-order packages, one of which offered that the band would remix the album using “cat sounds,” for $40,000. This of course went viral on the internet, leading to a currently in production, fan-funded, for charity project that will find the album remixed with feline noises, by names like Dan The Automator, The Alchemist, Just Blaze, and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, among others. But that’s later.

That accidental stunt may have been just what they needed to get people to pay attention, and most who have heard RTJ2 in its current, original form will tell you that this record is well worth your time. Very much a “b-side” to the first volume, RTJ2 picks up right where the first volume left off, yet raises the bar on all fronts, in lyrics, production, song concept, and song structure. Killer Mike sets the tone from the jump, hollering “Let’s go El-P!” at the start of the record in his trademark Southern drawl, fully confident in what they are about to unleash unto the world.

The album combines the best of the two artists’ styles into a unique sound that we’ve seldom heard elsewhere. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” for instance, finds El’s bass-heavy, vocal-stuttered, subterranean production juxtaposed (no pun intended) with Mike’s Southern bounce style of rhyming. El employs it with his cadence as well, as the two get down to their most base of past times each chanting “I do two things, I rap and fuck!” This overabundant, punch-you-in-the-face bravado comes through all over the record, especially on “Love Again (Akineyle Back),” a Sam Kinison-by-way-of-Run-DMC inspired sex rap, which is evened out by an equally carnal verse from Gangsta Boo. The pugnaciousness of tracks like “Blockbuster Night Part 1″, “All Due Respect,” “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” (feat. Zack De La Rocha) quickly reminds you of what’s been missing from hip-hop over the last decade: attitude, aggression, energy, and an envelope that’s being pushed to the limit.

Yet its not all dicks-out-middle-fingers-up the whole time. True to their catalog, Mike and El-P use their platform to make statements and speak on touchy topics. The 808 driven “Lie, Cheat, Steal” is an incredibly produced track that takes an unpredictable turn when the hook comes in, making you second guess all of your life’s choices. Things get heavy on the beautifully descriptive “Early,” where Mike pleads with a police officer not to let things get violent in front of his family, before delving into a rock-tinged hook from BOOTS. Later on the brooding “Crown,” El rhymes from the perspective of a shadowy government official, suggesting the listener follow orders and not ask questions. Shit is deep.

RTJ2 is another record that gets consecutively better with each listen. It’s so far removed from what major labels have been pushing on us for the last few years, yet it sons them all with a smart, progressive, politically minded, and musically dope album that challenges the status quo, and reminds us why we still love hip-hop after all these years. Well done, gents.


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19 Responses to "Run The Jewels (Killer Mike + El-P) – “RTJ2″ – @@@@@ [Review]"
  • Rich says:

    Lol Gangsta Boo stole the show on that “Love Again” track. They originally made/released the song without her, but they re-released it with her on it, because they had to have her on the track, giving a female perspective, and they loved it. So do I! Great choice!

  • Rick says:

    Excellent review and I agree wholeheartedly. As you said, this album gets consecutively better with every listen and may get crowned a classic. I listened to “Crown” repeatedly yesterday after it suddenly clicked on a deeper level. I have owned this album since its release weeks ago. These guys with whoever helped them on this album were clearly inspired when they developed their lyrics, music with all of its nuances, and rap patterns. A lot of MCs need to study the way these veterans vary their voices and inflections.

  • I mean, and Pizzo can back me up, this LP is on that Drake ‘Thank Me Later’ type classic shit. Straight up, real hip hop going on here. Wonderful review from someone who hasn’t sold the fuck out and stayed true over the years.

  • Battlehound says:

    Drake and RTJ in the same sentence!!! King ‘Tut Tut’

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