Run the Jewels are a breath of fresh air in the current hip-hop climate. Here we have two veteran MCs at the top of their game, thriving in each other’s company, delivering powerful and witty statements, all the while having the most fun in their entire career. Their sound is explosive, authoritative, and, due to the villainous tone of the instrumentals, often very humorous. Their influences are apparent, sometimes brash, but ultimately, there is nothing else quite like Run the Jewels.
Their finest release so far, Run the Jewels 2 is a no nonsense, bullshit-free record. The hooks are simple and the beats are grimy, yet the end result is totally infectious and utterly absorbing. The working relationship between El-P and Killer Mike is captivating, and effortlessly natural. Their chemistry is wonderful, bouncing off each other without any threat of competition or conflict. Their delivery and tone compliment the other to great effect — during its greatest moments you don’t even think about which of the two you’re listening listening to, you just know you’re experiencing the wonderful unification that is Run the Jewels.
The sense of alliance is boosted even further with its featured artists, each one slotting in naturally, seamlessly complementing the album’s concept. Gangsta Boo delivers one of the most memorable verses on “Love Again”, Travis Barker channels his inner Zach Hill on “All Due Respect”, and BOOTS offers the album’s greatest, most memorable hook on “Early”. Everyone who makes an appearance sounds right at home.
Whilst RTJ2 is certainly cohesive, momentum is lost in the final few tracks. The beats turn slightly sluggish, favouring sheer velocity over instrumental power, and there seems to be less room for both artists to manoeuvre as a result. Fortunately, the overall intensity is largely retained through the duo’s stellar wordplay and delivery, but it remains a key qualm of the record. It gets desperately close to being spectacular, only to slightly stumble at the finish.
Nonetheless, RTJ2 is one of the finest hip-hop records of the 2010s, and with the duo showing no signs of slowing down, there may be another level to them yet.
8 out of 10
Run the Jewels 2’s majesty as a sequel is rooted in its stronger sense of cohesion, forming a sound that is unique and bizarrely synergistic. Its fine-tuned core, bottled rage with boundless charm, is intoxicating and incredibly entertaining. El-P’s layered brand of production, guttural, energetic, and evil in tone, reaches new heights on this record. The heavy, growling beats, echoing synths, and dark use of space lend themselves well to the cadence of his and Killer Mike’s delivery: severe, angry, and macho, but also intrinsically light-hearted and quick to generate grins amongst the intimidation.
The pair’s lyricism addresses serious and multifaceted topics with sensitivity whilst simultaneously injecting humour, clever wordplay, and an omnipresent sense of fun. ‘Teabag a piranha tank’, ‘I deal in dirty work, do the deed and then dash’, ‘I chose to go guano, y’all know, kinda bat shit’; El-P’s humour and wit, alongside inspired and expressive use of plosives, is addictively energising. The depth to Killer Mike’s lyrics is more evident, with his verses containing more to unpack, but El-P compensates with crisper delivery and more frequent demonstrations of complex, rapid flows. They’re tirelessly symbiotic, bouncing between and riding each other’s momentums, and only ever competing for fun.
Among myriad talented and appropriate features, the shining external input comes from BOOTS. His style of production on “Early” merges nicely with El-P’s, and his vocals are beautiful and haunting. Gangsta Boo’s verse on “Love Again”, commanding and hilarious, ties the track together to form a rounded attitude to sexual objectification that’s very refreshing. Zach De La Rocha’s looped hook and surprisingly funny verse on “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” sonically matches the other features in its synergy with the sound Run the Jewels have put together. Nothing else sounds like RTJ2, much like nobody sounds like Killer Mike or El-P. The fact that their uniqueness has combined to create something distinct from themselves, transcending their laudable quality on prior projects, is as much baffling as it is glorious.
9 out of 10
Having already thoroughly enjoyed Run the Jewels 3, their previous release faced stiff competition. Thankfully, I’ve had a tremendous time with Run the Jewels 2, and it has become one of the few albums that I’ve had the urge to instantly replay as it comes to an end.
It’s hard to find cruft in this tracklist, with each song remaining distinctive and fresh, regularly switching up the entire sound midway through. There’s an abrasive, industrial style that runs throughout the record that confidently holds the listener’s attention. It certainly shares a lot of features with the output of Death Grips, but with a little more sanity.
“Blockbuster Night Part 1” is a star example of a track made of a strong, intense instrumental, paired with vocals that flow and handoff between the duo effortlessly. “Lie, Cheat, Steal” is another sure favourite with a sweet twist in the chorus, and is one of many that comes equipped with a killer hook. The tracks with features also work extremely well, particularly BOOTS on “Early” and Gangsta Boo on “Love Again”, where both artists have clearly influenced the track’s flavour without interfering with the rest of the album.
Combined as a tracklist of perfect length, RTJ2 makes for addictive listening and difficult critiquing, as I can only see a slight lull appearing in the final couple of tracks. This will certainly fall into my list of essential listening, and I can only see it improving with age.
9 out of 10