“You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future. Not a future that will be, but one that might be. This is not a new world; it is simply an extension of what began in the old one.” (Opening excerpt from “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)”)
Run The Jewels, the collaboration between Brooklyn rapper/producer El-P and Atlanta rapper Killer Mike, actually began before the group was ever officially formed. After the two MCs were introduced in 2011, El-P produced the entirety of Killer Mike’s 2012 album R.A.P. Music, and Killer Mike was featured on El-P’s album Cancer 4 Cure of the same year. The two then toured together to support their respective releases, and, as they say — the rest is history.
2014’s Run The Jewels — the group’s debut release — carried the fiery momentum of El-P and Killer Mike’s newfound collaboration, and Run The Jewels 2 saw El and Mike wax angrier, hungrier, and more explicit in their disdain for the political and cultural landscape. In a May 2016 interview with then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Killer Mike gave what could very well be the Run The Jewels mission statement: “This country was started as an act of political protest.”
Run The Jewels 3 is the duo’s pinnacle release; while the album may seem on first listen to lack the bombast and animosity of RTJ2, it still hits just as hard — and hits smarter. This is a collection of songs that showcases Run The Jewels’ place atop not only the world of artfully crafted protest music, but at the top of the entire rap game.
Even RTJ’s album artwork — their signature finger gun vs. fist-gripped jewels — showcases their evolution. RTJ1 introduced the zombified stick-up. RTJ2 showed the same hands wrapped in bleeding, tattered bandages, still pointing at a fist carrying a gold chain. RTJ3 is the first album to not showcase the fist carrying actual jewelry; instead, the hands are unwrapped and gold-plated. Run The Jewels no longer need to steal — they’ve become the jewel.
With an incendiary conservative regime salivating in the wings waiting for inauguration day, Run The Jewels waste no time taking shots at the President-elect. “Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan,” Mike raps on lead single “Talk To Me” (“Shaytan” is Arabic for “Satan”) before continuing, “He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan.” El-P takes his jabs at Trump later in the album, most notably on the incredible album closer “A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters.” He starts the song off by rapping, “Beware of horses / I mean, a horse is a horse of course, but who rides is important.”
The group hits their stride on the album’s most cautionary and world-weary track, “2100 (feat. BOOTS).” Released the day after Donald Trump was elected to office, the song is a guide for navigating (read: surviving) the upcoming administration (“Make love, smoke kush, try to laugh hard, and live long / That's the antidote / You defeat the devil when you hold onto hope,” Mike raps), but it is BOOTS’ hook that serves up the song’s most poignant moment: “Save my swollen heart / Bring me home from the dark / Take me up, take me up, take me up.”
While El-P and Killer Mike’s back-and-forth, set-and-spike delivery is the album’s bread and butter, it is El-P’s production that truly sets Run The Jewels 3 apart from past releases. On “Talk To Me,” El-P likens himself to legendary producer Rick Rubin — and RTJ3 only serves as yet another validation of that statement. His production is tighter than ever, and the album is far and away the best-produced work of Run The Jewels’ discography.
While revealing that he needed to be briefed on who Killer Mike actually was when the rapper became one of his most vocal supporters, Senator Sanders said, “[His] name got me a little bit nervous,” but added, “Killer Mike has never killed anybody. It’s just, he’s a killer rapper.”
So goes Run The Jewels’ music — it might make you a little nervous, but at the end of the day, it’s just killer rap music.
by Trevor Paxton
Song You Need To Hear: "A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters"
Run The Jewels, Inc.
Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels 3