Written by Jack Andrew Cribb
Run The Jewels have just released their third studio album, Run The Jewels 3. The hip-hop duo is made up of rappers Killer Mike and El-P, who first decided to make music together back in 2012 after touring together with the release of Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music and El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure. The previous two records RTJ1 and RTJ2 have been incredibly strong, garnering them much acclaim and an incredibly strong fanbase. It was the strength of their lyrics, notably a close attention to social issues such as systematic racism and capitalism, and a swift, punchy, garage-like approach to song-craft that has made them heavy-hitters within the hip-hop world.
RTJ3 is an enigma. Initially I was underwhelmed by the sound of it. With usual Run The Jewels work being so damn hard and in-your-face, on my first listening I was almost disappointed. RTJ2 had been a blinder, with tracks like Blockbuster Night Part 1, Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) feat. Zac De La Rocha, and Love Again (Akinyele Back) feat. Gangsta Boo (where Gangsta Boo’s verse totally stole the show) being so aggressive and upbeat, dripping in bravado and braggadocio, that you were left feeling like you had just been stuck with a needle loaded with adrenalin. With RTJ3 you don’t exactly get that, the album is definitely more restrained than any of their previous work. The album opens with Down feat. Joi, which is a fine little number, but doesn’t really pull you into the album, which is something that I know Run The Jewels fans will want. They’ll want to be dropped in the fire head first, and Down doesn’t do this.
You could say that the foundation of Run The Jewels is the pairing of Killer Mike and El-P, where Mike’s rap is the bread and El-P’s production is the butter, and goddamn do they go together well. Mike’s lyricism and delivery has always been better than that of El-P, whose flow has sometimes been problematic, but without El-P’s beats they would go unheard. RTJ3, the further you get into it, does bring out that classic RTJ vibe that we want, beautifully pairing the two like in their previous material, which I feel like the first few tracks don’t do. Yet the third track and third single from the album, Legend Has It, makes up for that weakness, being upbeat, soaked in attitude, and with strong flows from both rappers. Listen to this track loud is all I’m saying.
The thing that is apparent in this album is the amount they seem to be holding back, and upon further listening I would have to say it isn’t actually a bad thing like I first thought. The minimalist beats allow you to truly focus on their lyrics, and in RTJ3, we are given some of their best. The track Call Ticketron, which is classic hip-hop self promotion about Run The Jewels playing Madison Square Garden, gives us our first bit of sick flow from Killer Mike, which is a standout verse within the entire album, and even though it’s simple aggrandisement and not exactly the most profound of lyrics, it is a joy to listen to.
At 51 minutes long this album is the longest to date from Run The Jewels. What this seems to say is that much more time and care have been put into the recording of the songs, which is probably the reason for this album being the most restrained musically. The beats are crisp and clean, while still retaining some of that garage sound. Standout sounds on RTJ3 are the dub-like bass on Hey Kids (Bumaye) feat. Danny Brown (the verse from Brown is wonderful), the complex drumbeat on 2100 feat. BOOTS where they really hit at all the right points, and the saxophone line from Kamasi Washington in Thursday In The Danger Room feat. Kamasi Washington. Interestingly, Washington is the saxophonist who played on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, so naturally you’re in for something quite beautiful on this track. This penultimate track also marks a deviation from the norm in terms of the grandiose characters Killer Mike and El-P play in most of their work, as they bring out a really emotive performance on this song, which concerns itself with death.
All in all, this is a good album, with more hits than misses. Yet there are still misses, and they are noticeable. Thieves (Screamed The Ghost) feat. Tunde Adebimpe is a bit hard to get through, it doesn’t really offer much in terms of either down-tempo intricacy or up-tempo banger, lying not even in between the two, but somewhere on the sidelines, being a track you trudge through that kinda breaks up the album as it lies right in the middle. The track Oh Mama is damaged by it’s chorus, which isn’t that great, and detracts from the really great melody that we get throughout the track. Oh Mama shows us that El-P wasn’t really meant to carry the chorus.
Run The Jewels 3 is confusing, because I both like it and don’t like it. Truthfully, there are some great tracks, and some not so great, which could even be dropped from the record. We can see Run The Jewels at their best here, and it is incredibly evident that they are putting some real time and effort into their music (it’s been two years since they’re last album right?), but I think with some things they have over-analysed things. I think Run The Jewels find perfection in simplicity, and it’s possible with a few tracks on this piece they haven’t gotten it quite right. We have slow parts where we want fast parts, fast parts where we want slow parts, choruses that don’t compliment verses, and great verses that don’t come often enough. I have to say though, I do enjoy this album, but it may come to a point where I simply listen to my favourite tracks, and skip some others. It may be harsh, but a great album is one you can listen to in full.
The album ends on the track A Report To The Shareholders/Kill Your Masters, which features a verse from Zac De La Rocha, and is one of the tracks I really really really like. Listen to it here: