Raw lyrical genius, bookended by fearsome beats
Killer Mike and El-P Triple Down on New Album
If you don’t know the hip hop wrecking ball strapped to a monster truck full of dynamite murder machine that is Run the Jewels, stop reading this article, get yourself into an appropriate bit of headspace, and go listen to their first two albums, Run the Jewels and Run the Jewels 2, as loudly as your neighbors will tolerate.
Okay, now that everyone is on the same page, Run the Jewels 3 is so good that adjectives like phenomenal, epic and astounding weren’t good enough to convey how I felt while listening to it.
It has everything I loved from the first two albums, grown up into an even more terrifying sonic sharp-toothed predator. Killer Mike and El-P seem completely incapable of failing to produce a lyrically and musically virtuosic rampage through the gutters and penthouses of hip hop that is an evolutionary leap over its counterparts.
Run the Jewels has always had a fearsome sound, with harsh lyrics dripping in viscous poetry and jarringly powerful basslines coupled with complex melodies that kick you in the head. There’s an overt theme of rebellion and a “F*ck You” mentality that runs in parallel to another of my favorite hip hop groups, Doomtree. Run the Jewels says whatever the hell they feel like saying, and they do it flawlessly.
The album is seamless – don’t set it to shuffle, listen to it in order – it’s superbly arranged and mixed.
The opening track, “Down,” steps in immediately with a simple beat. The lyrics are intense, and Killer Mike says it simply: “Ballot or bullet/you better use one.”
“Talk to Me” is loaded with great samples, reminding me of Madvillain’s track “All Caps.”
“Legend Has It” takes it up a bit further with samples of crowds chanting and a constant build of pressure, and folds smoothly into “Call Ticketron.”
“Hey Kids” is a punk rock riot anthem. The bassline is punishing and dark, and the lyrical content is an on-the-scene report of what revolution sounds like. The rapid-fire, smart-as-hell lyrical delivery is something other rappers should aspire to. They should build a shrine to it in the studio, and burn rice paper roses as offerings.
“Stay Gold” bangs hard, starting out with a clip of Killer Mike’s son, and a chorus so catchy you’ll probably find yourself singing along in seconds.
“Thieves (Screamed the Ghost)” is one of my favorite two tracks off the album. It’s dark, it’s jaded. The whispered background responses to the verses are painful and on point: “He had the highest hopes …” El-P takes over for the second half of the song, and starts in even darker: “Late night, same night / God, let me sleep, please, I’m begging you.” Tunde Adebimpe offers a powerful melody, before the song slips into a sample of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Later, “Panther like a Panther” punches you in the eye, holds you against a wall, and screams in your face before shambling into the night to find more victims. It’s my other favorite, it’s ferocious, it’s flawless, it’s the prime example of what I’m going to compare new hip hop to in 2017, to divide the good from the great.
The album finishes with a few less driving but no less excellent songs, and then excuses itself brusquely with “A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters.” Two songs blending seamlessly into one, an appeal to revolt and burn something down, and if Killer Mike and El-P can’t convince you, Zack de la Rocha shows up to drive the point home.
I’m done. I’ve listened to this album three times in a row, and I am physically tired. It’s intense. It’s going into my record collection. My friends are probably going to get tired of it, but I won’t. This album is past platinum, it’s made of adamantium. You need to listen to it, over and over, until you understand what I mean.
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