“I TOLD y’all suckers!” We’re less than two tracks into the third studio effort from the dynamic duo of backpack-rap kings El-P and Killer Mike – known collectively as Run the Jewels – before the latter bursts through your speakers of choice in a fit of defiant self-believe and conviction. The saying normally goes that one hates to say they told you so. In striking, knowing and entirely effective contrast, Mike sounds as though he’s never loved anything more.
By this stage, as perhaps the most celebrated duo in contemporary hip-hop, one would consider a record like Run the Jewels 3 as a victory lap of some sorts. The truth, both El and Mike have been running for a long, long time – even before their paths originally crossed on Killer Mike’s career-defining R.A.P. Music. Even as relative veterans of the genre in their late 30s, neither MC is resting on their laurels or taking a backseat on any aspect of their music – not then, not now and potentially not ever, if they keep up this level of momentum.
There is a key sense of urgency to what the duo are doing on RTJ3 – which makes sense contextually, given that the album was pushed forward several weeks in its release on their personal insistence; surprising listeners globally this Christmas past. It should be stressed, however, that this should not be mistaken for rushing or hurrying the process – everything here is as focused and finely-crafted as either of the previous RTJ records. Of course, there are bangers aplenty – the big-swinging ‘Hey Kids’, which sports a sprightly Danny Brown cameo; as well as ‘Talk to Me’, which is some classic rhyme-trading between our two chief MCs. Even so, as famed musicologist Tom Haverford would have us believe, there is a distinct science to making these types of songs – one that practically makes Run the Jewels professors in this analogy.
In a clever juxtaposition, the album’s hardest and heaviest moments often go in tandem with their most thoughtful, pensive compositions to date. ‘Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)’ features vocals from TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe; and his day job’s swirling, avant-garde approach to music is reflected in El-P’s eerie, swaying beat. There’s also an overriding tension to ‘Everybody Stay Calm’, all submarine blips and queasy sub-bass that carry a glitchy sample of a voice, entirely unsuccessfully, telling listeners to “take it easy.” Perhaps the album’s finest moment comes, however, in which the duo’s yin-and-yang sensibilities come to a head on the album’s two-part finale, ‘A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters’. Emerging from whirring ambience and leaving its listeners with a baptism by fire, this six-minute riot beautifully demonstrates the resonance and the power of what Run the Jewels do. There’s also an uncredited verse/cameo from one of the true show-stealers of RTJ2 – the surprise won’t be ruined here, but let’s just say their inclusion here really does evoke the phrase “calm like a bomb.”
“We a good crew to fuck with/Better to love,” El-P philosophises on ‘Talk to Me’. He’s not half-wrong, you know – after years and years in the game, there has never been a better time to be a fan of both himself and Killer Mike. They’re nigh-on untouchable at this stage – and don’t let them tell y’all suckers again, y’hear?
‘Run the Jewels 3’ is out now