Killer Mike and El-P are gifted in keeping a balance between comedy and catastrophe. Even their most absurd ideas carry a sort of radical intent. While 2015’s fan-funded project Meow The Jewels – a remix of the group’s second album for which the beats were entirely replaced with cat noises – seemed like something of a goofy promo stunt, profits were donated to a charity supporting the families of victims of police brutality such as Eric Garner and Mike Brown. Despite its often cartoonish nature, their Run The Jewels project is a camouflaged weapon commandeered by the duo, with its target centered at America’s rising right wing.
According to Killer Mike, one of the fundamental aims for Run The Jewels 2 was to be harder, darker and angrier than the duo’s debut album. Released in 2014, it saw Mike concentrate on social and political activism for black America. Following then, Mike publicly buddied up with leftwing senator Bernie Sanders throughout the course of the 2016 US presidential election campaign. El-P, meanwhile, parodied the state of the world as if seeing out the impending apocalypse armed with crisply sealed joints and dick jokes.
Despite Run The Jewels’ disdain over the current political landscape, this third album isn’t quite a reaction to the results of the presidential election. More generally, it’s a record of deeply-rooted antipathy towards the elite, something that’s fuelled both rappers’ discontent for decades. Following RTJ2, this record is even harder, even darker and somehow even angrier.
Bass-heavy, Bomb Squad-indebted production – now El-P’s trademark sound – remains as prominent here as on editions one and two. Gnarling electronics and thunderous drums form the bedrock for Killer Mike and El’s breathless verses. Call Ticketron, which possibly features the record’s most distinct production, canters with ripped up vocals and slowly sinking synth lines. Hey Kids (Bumaye), which features a typically demented verse from Danny Brown, shudders with stippling hi-hats and blundering blow horns.
And while the crass weed and genitalia references are pretty unremitting, these slapstick quips are usually followed by a cry for revolution. Never before has Killer Mike been so open about his past as on opener Down, where he soberly prays to himself that he will never go back to his Atlanta trap lifestyle. His politics, too, shine with clarity. “Go cold like the land of Chicago/ Child soldiers sprayin’ the chopper/ But you don’t give a fuck that’s them though,” he snipes on Don’t Get Captured; a harrowing summation of the Obama administration’s failure to reduce gun crime in impoverished areas. On A Report to the Shareholders, he expounds upon his cynicism towards ‘old-fashioned’ protest techniques: “Choose the lesser of the evil people, and the devil still gon’ win/ it could all be over tomorrow, kill our masters and start again.”
Conversely, El-P takes opportunities to snarl at conservative taboos. His comical blabbering on tracks such as Panther Like a Panther act like precisely-timed jabs to Mike’s angered preaching. Lines like “I’ll flood the speakers with heat seekers and keep sneakers cleaner than nunnery pussy evening of Easter,” or Legend Has It‘s “I’ll put a gun to a bunny like ‘choose’/ Say something funny or bunny go boom,’” entertain with figurative obscenity, providing comic relief.
And this remains Run The Jewel’s ultimate call to arms for the counterculture that supports their music. Stand up against the autocrats and rip away the red tape wrapped around big issue politics. Fill your lungs, point and laugh at all the lunacy until your air-drained body collapses to the floor. If RTJ2 was the emerging sounds of revolt, RTJ3 is the much-needed blueprint for change.