Killer Mike and El-Producto made an, on the surface, unlikely yet powerful pairing last year through the Adult Swim network. Through that pairing they managed to respectively make, arguably (not really), the best two hip-hop albums last year.
With such impressive quality they gather overwhelming admiration and support for their craft. Fans all over have been anxiously anticipating their next move before it was even announced. Once Run the Jewels dropped, all of hip-hop’s eyes were on El and Mike.
Run the Jewels is an album of socio-political consciousness, [educated] villainy, and raw spittin’. And this theme carries throughout the whole album, giving it that same vibe throughout the whole thing. El and Mike master this somewhat comical villainy, talking about blasting poodles and riverdancing on people’s face with cleats. It’s almost as if they made this to represent how well they fit in with Adult Swim, as many of the characters on those shows are whimsically evil as well. Lines like “Actin’ brave and courageous ain’t advantageous for health and safety,” and, “try to save grace, get a face full of staples” make you feel like these are the most heartless people who spawned into existence. These lyrics depict them as villainous instead of them saying “hey guys I’m evil!”
Despite this air of devilishness they both take time to warn you about the evils of the system, which is a recurring strength of Mike’s; and it shows in his verses on “DDFH” and his last in “Get It”. On “DDFH” Mike opens strong with his thoughts of institutional corruption with the line:
“Cops in the ghetto, they move like the Gestapo,
drunk off their power and greed, they’re often hostile”
And then in “Get It” he comments on the “corporation slavery” off entertainers saying, “they corporation slaves, indentured to all the lenders, so even if you got seven figures, you’re still a n***.” Of course this isn’t exclusive to Mike, and El often speaks of similar concepts in his songs, and they do a good job of both supporting a concept when there is a concept.
A minor gripe with this album is that there aren’t any strong concepts to the songs. Some of them are loose like the aforementioned “DDFH” and “A Christmas F** Miracle”, but other than that it’s just general rapping. The lack of conceptual songs isn’t reeeeally a big deal, but as a fan of both these artists, one would know they’re perfectly capable and furthermore proficient at such.
As far as the spittin’ well they both go IN on the majority of the songs. Many of them use a back and forth tag-team style to overwhelm your ears with ridiculous rappin’. The two have an oddly fitting chemistry. The dynamic duo use cross-referencing (“Mike’s a villain”/“You know I get gone, I’m a goner”), among other techniques to make their styles, which are actually very different, fit together on these tracks. El’s stanzas a stock full of exciting quotables like, “you want a hand, bring your throat, I got stools and a rope” and “make a sane man walk around with a blunderbuss, peel another round make a sound that is thunderous” among many many more. Mike also flows with incredible ability like his masterful bars in “Banana Clipper”, but he also feels like he was rather reserved in some of the songs. Almost as if he was saying “Fuck it, it’s free.” For example, in “Job Well Done” Mike’s energy and delivery were on point, but the verse was rather underwhelming otherwise for a top tier rapper, with no strong wordplay or amazing flow patterns.
The production is awesome, which is no surprise at all coming from El. Just like most of his beats on the masterpiece, Cancer 4 Cure, they seem to draw a lot from hard rock, techno, and electronic music; yet still has a raw hip-hop feel to them. Some of them like “Run the Jewels” and “Sea Legs” are incredibly layered in a rock style with little guitar rift countermelodies speckled in. While others contrast that complexity with more simple loops with tight loops of real digital sounding melodies and hard-pumping bass like “36” Chain” and “Banana Clipper”. El-P continues his streak of top notch production on this album, absolutely no complaints here on the raw instrumentals. Despite the beats being so great, El-P has shown to be a lot more innovative and strong in his production in his work from last year. You don’t get as many of those incredible beat progressions and transitions that you got from before.
Run the Jewels is a great display of rapping and production in its rawest form, and ends powerfully with the Christmas Miracle song where the two express a deep look into their upbringing and how it molded their mindsets and resolves respectively. Run the Jewels has good, lyrics, flow, production, etc. the main basic things you want out of a rap album. Despite all of this, it doesn’t feel like it was taken as seriously as it could’ve because it’s free. It’s void of strong concepts and well-stated concepts along with creative ventures in music that was present on older projects. Nonetheless, it is without a doubt one of the best projects you can get for free. Matter of fact, it’s one of the best projects of recent times period.
Album Grade: B+