Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

RTJ2

Run the Jewels certainly isn’t the first group to use the internet to great effect, or to reap the benefits of the often fleeting, but invariably passionate brand of following it can generate. Certainly, it’s now commonplace for artists to give music away for free and there aren’t too many modern musicians who don’t maintain a solid social media presence for fear of being passed over for the latest shiny act.

What makes Run the Jewels different is that, with the help of the internet, the group has become a vehicle for relaunching—or at least reinvigorating—the careers of two well-established (dare I say middle-aged?) rappers, both of whom have enjoyed individual critical acclaim, but never widespread recognition.

Brooklyn’s El-P (Jaime Meline) and Atlanta’s Killer Mike (Michael Render) had more than proved their credentials before they got together to form Jewels in 2013. El-P cut his teeth as a member of renowned 90s underground hip-hop act, Company Flow, before embarking as a solo rapper and producer. His 2002 solo debut, Fantastic Damage, is a classic of alternative hip-hop. In 2012, he produced Killer Mike’s sixth album, the brilliant R.A.P. Music, shortly thereafter enlisting Mike on his own Cancer 4 Cure LP. For his part, Killer Mike has been a stalwart of the ATL scene for more than a decade, occasionally gaining traction with wider audiences with features on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 2 and Outkast’s Stankonia.

Run the Jewels’ self-titled debut immediately struck a chord with people beyond their existing fanbases. The album’s release as a free download might have been a gimmick, or maybe an indication that the project was as much for their own amusement as it was intended to make sales. Either way, it was clear that the pair had stumbled onto a good thing, with El’s bombastic space-rap production and wordy rhymes providing the perfect foil to Mike’s southern style.

Aside from the quality of the music, a large part of the first album’s appeal is the obvious and easy chemistry between the two rappers. They are clearly two friends having a fucking blast and they are more than happy to share it with anyone who’s down. Despite the aggressive rhymes and assaulting beats, there’s a cheeky side to it all (check out the meme-laden clip for ‘A Christmas Fucking Miracle’).

source: Run the Jewels

Barely a year after their first release, the pair have dropped Run the Jewels 2 as another free download, and once again its value can’t be measured by its RRP. The obvious fear for fans of the first album—which seemed to come like a shot from the blue—was that the pair wouldn’t be able to recapture the same engaging, energetic sound. Happily, they’ve managed to hone their sound and deliver a more balanced, serious album, whilst maintaining their vital essence.

On RtJ2, El-P, genius producer that he is, steps it up again. As a whole, the beats are incredibly intricate, melodic and dynamic, relentlessly driving the songs forward, but allowing enough space for the back-and-forth verses of the pair to hit home. Lyrically, the overall tone is aggressively violent, often to the point of comic hyperbole, but there’s a political seriousness to a lot of their stuff, with police brutality, institutional racism and economic desperation appearing as common themes.

One of the strongest tracks, Early, is a simple but affecting story of helplessness in the face of unchecked police power that doesn’t need to rely on macho grandstanding to make its point. Crown is a deeply personal study of the guilt Mike feels over selling cocaine to a pregnant woman before he cracked the music business. When the rhymes do approach the ridiculously confrontational it doesn’t feel hollow, partly because you feel that they have something to say on top—and outside—of their bangers.

On this album, Run the Jewels have clearly settled confidently into their own sound and identity. Their judicious use of guests, including star feature, Zach De La Rocha on anti-prison system gem Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck), as well as Travis Barker and Boots, amongst others, suggests they’re comfortable enough not to lean too heavily on others.

Mike and Jaime have already confirmed plans for Run the Jewels 3, and if they can keep up the pace, it is sure to be anticipated with bated breath.

RtJ2 is available now, here.

Check out Run the Jewels in January with Joey Bada$$

Wednesday, January 7 – The Hi Fi, Sydney

Thursday, January 8 – The Forum, Melbourne

Tickets available here.

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