By Owen Hann
Run the Jewels are just doing what they do best: running the motherfucking jewels. The unlikely pair of Killer Mike and EL-P have made a name for themselves as “the jewels runners, top tag team for two summers” with their abrasive style and heavy flow, rapping about crime, sex, and conspiracy with a politically-charged fervor unmatched by any other rappers in the game right now. RTJ2 is a statement stronger than anything they’ve done before, both collectively and independently, and shows them to be in a league of their own within the hip-hop world. If Run the Jewels “proved that [they] was fuckin’ brutal,” on RTJ2 they have the authority to back it up, and the sharp-witted lyricism of songs like “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” maintains its punch even against EL-P’s hardest-hitting production to date.
The low synth-line of “Jeopardy” opens the album after an introduction by Killer Mike, whose bragging rhymes build into a solo-ing guitar riff and electronically modified horns. EL-P finally comes in after a washed-out break in the middle of the song, establishing two very different rapping voices from the outset, although they merge into one on the following track, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” when EL-P says “I do two things, I rap and fuck,” and Killer Mike picks up where he left off with “I fuckin’ rap.” RTJ2 is full of this interchange between its two main protagonists, “one black, one white,” but both “shoot[ing] to kill,” and Run the Jewels uses their dynamic to go straight for the jugular, taking down any and all systems of power in their wake.
Guest spots are filled judiciously: Rage Against the Machine’s Zach De La Rocha appears for a verse on “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck),” Travis Barker of Blink-182 drums on “All Due Respect,” and Gangsta Boo features on the sexually-overt-to-the-point-of-being-cringe-worthy “Love Again (Akinyele Back).” Beyonce-collaborator BOOTS takes the production to another level on “Early,” and Foxygen’s Diane Coffee adds to the slower vibe of “Crown.” “Angel Duster” ends the album with a trap-acid-jazz feel in a similar vein to Flying Lotus, jamming out on a jazzy keyboard line and a classic Run the Jewels repeated loop for the album’s final minute and a half.
The funny joke-turned-PR-stunt that has accrued so much of the hype for RTJ2 and its forthcoming Meow the Jewels remix album have only propelled Run the Jewels into new crossover territory; their latest announcement was for a project called ‘Tag the Jewels,’ for which graffiti artists all over the world have been enlisted to put up graffiti representations of the album’s cover. All of this shows that Run the Jewels know how to engage a modern audience. But there’s still a hell of a lot of darker social and political commentary running beneath the surface to be discovered.