By: Lucas Kowalik
On their third record, Run the Jewels pulls through with their most conceptual and lyrically dense project yet.
The duo consists of politically charged Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, and legendary New York producer and rapper El-P. El laces the record with his signature boom bap meets Blade Runner production style, all the while making each track stand out. The cover art sports the usual fist and gun except this time with a twist – the infamous chain is now gone and the hands are scarred and gold. The album serves as a celebration of their victory, a tribute to their dead homies, and a warning not to try this at home.
On the opening track, “Down,” Mike doesn’t want to go back to selling drugs because he knows it could kill him – this album is do or die. On “Talk to Me”, Mike captures the zeitgeist of America during the height of the election while El recounts his resiliency through past struggles.
Mike and El trade a fleet of braggadocio bars on “Legend Has It,” painting themselves as folklore legends with a bevy of pop culture references from Con Air to Pulp Fiction. “Call Ticketron” has the most unique productionon the album, and envisions the pair performing at Madison Square Garden.
The next track “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”, featuring nasally Detroit rapper Danny Brown, is about showing the youth how to rebel, but also attempts to scare away those who are too weak. Similarly, Danny attempts to scare away the listener via his unorthodox style.
The low moment of the album is the strip club anthem “Stay Gold.” It fits thematically but sounds like a throw away track. “Don’t Get Captured” is a solid track with fantastic production but I just don’t find myself coming back to it as much as others.
The album picks up again with the incredibly eerie track “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost).” It plays out like a Twilight Zone episode, even sampling the classic sci-fi show, and touches on police brutality in America. “2100” features a haunting chorus from long-time collaborator Boots, vivid imagery of a not too distant future, and some soulful singing from Killer Mike.
“Panther like a Panther” is chockfull of lewd bars and is all about flaunting your success. “Everybody Stay Calm” has the pair goofing off but they assure the listener that they have everything under control. On “Oh Mama” they scare the older generation with their revolutionary antics, even causing their own mothers to worry about their do or die lifestyles.
“Thursday in the Danger Room” is the emotional climax and my favorite song on the album. El’s verse has him at his most vulnerable and is dedicated to his deceased contemporary Camu Tao. In Mike’s verse he addresses his friend’s killer who he hopes will learn from his mistake so his “homies’ name will mean something more than a n**** got killed for a chain.” The chain may have been omitted from the cover to pay tribute to Mike’s friend.
“Report to the Shareholders” is the first part of the closing track featuring the most conservative production on the album. The pair are upset by the inevitable apocalypse but assure us they will be here until the end. The second half, “Kill Your Masters,” juxtaposes the first with futuristic, distorted production. They warn the listener of a grim future—with the help of Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine—and tell them they must change the past to ensure it does come to fruition.
Run The Jewels 3 is a challenging project and shows incredible growth in Killer Mike and El-P. It features some the best hip-hop production to date and is full of complex lyrics listeners won’t fully appreciate until the umpteenth listen. This is my favorite album from the pair yet and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
“Legend Has It”
“Everybody Stay Calm”
“Thursday in the Danger Room”
(Featured image: Run the Jewels 3, Run the Jewels Inc.)