The Rickety Old Shack

Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels

We are just a bit more than two years removed from the release of what was, at the time, a rather innocuous record. While El-P and Killer Mike both had successful, tenured positions in the world of rap music, it's fair to say that neither had broken out to any great degree. I first heard El-P back in the early aughts, over the course of my introduction to artists such as Aesop Rock, Necro, and Ill Bill. Something about El-P's earlier work, while competent, never hooked me, however I liked it enough to keep checking out new releases. I knew almost nothing about Killer Mike, though; an association with Outkast didn't tell me much, given the gaps in my knowledge of the rap genre as a whole.

I stumbled upon Run The Jewels almost entirely by accident. I was reading a forum thread about Nine Inch Nails — I don't even remember the actual subject at hand, but someone made an off-hand mention that El-P had collaborated with Trent Reznor on a track. Curiosity piqued, I looked into this and found "Flyentology," from El-P's I'll Sleep When You're Dead, and liked what I heard. As it had been years since I'd looked into his work, I did some further searching and found out he'd not only released another album, Cancer 4 Cure, but had also put out a free album called "Run The Jewels." I had no idea what to expect, but free is a really good price, so I gave it a shot.

Damn.

Nothing has really been the same since the first time I listened to Run The Jewels. I've been a casual fan of rap for a long time, but it's a genre that I give the least attention to — so I tend to miss a lot of 'big' releases on a regular basis. From the initial verses of the self-titled opening track, I was enthralled; I said I sensed a lot of potential in El-P as an artist, but I could not have predicted a hit like this album turned out to be. Likewise, given my complete ignorance to Killer Mike's body of work, I was hoping to just like the record — that was the ceiling to my expectations. It took this duo exactly three-and-a-half minutes to sell me on whatever they were peddling.

As a listener of a lot of music, crossing almost every genre imaginable, there are varying degrees to which I enjoy some albums. I own a lot of good music; among the good albums are a small selection of great albums and further delineated from all of those are an exceptionally rare class of "perfect" albums. Think Metallica's Master of Puppets, or Godspeed You Black Emperor's Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To The Heavens — genre-defining stuff. After two years of hard thought, countless times listening to the album, and attending a live concert, I can safely say that Run The Jewels is one of those vaunted "perfect" albums. Clocking in at 33 minutes, this record is a perfectly-sized serving of modern hip hop's absolute best.

Prior to the formation of Run The Jewels, I always thought of El-P as a producer who happened to rap. In this collaborative effort, El-P made a strong statement that he's at the top of the game on both fronts. The chemistry with Killer Mike is incredible, and after sitting through Run The Jewels I felt almost embarrassed that I had never heard of him before. Tracing back from Run The Jewels, I found Mike's R.A.P. Music — which El-P produced — and it was abundantly clear that these two were meant to make music together. (Their pairing on "Tougher Colder Killer," on El-P's Cancer 4 Cure would have been an omen had I been dialed-in at the time.)

Each track features a great production job, giving the Run The Jewels material a distinctive sound, separate from El-P's solo work and his efforts on the aforementioned Killer Mike album. There's an overwhelming feeling of engagement and genuine enthusiasm that radiates from each song; I can tell both of these guys had a lot of fun recording this. The music is catchy and each track is masterfully constructed — each with its own unique, infectious beat. The stand-out tracks, musically speaking, are "DDFH," "Sea Legs," "Get It" and "A Christmas Fuckin' Miracle."

Lyrically, Run The Jewels establishes a brand of absurdly comedic violence, and metaphorical boasting of the highest order — all the while sneaking in moments of incisive social commentary. In terms of pure writing, each verse is grade-A material — sounding like only two astute veterans of rap could. The delivery of each verse is perfect, and many of these lines are deceptively difficult to enunciate; I get tripped up reciting a lot of my favourite bits in my head, never mind saying them out loud. The entire record is packed with quotable lines, with El-P's opening verse in "Sea Legs" serving as one of my favourites, and Killer Mike's play on "Niggas in Paris" is hip hop bravado in its catchiest, most razor-sharp form.

Throughout the entirety of the album, Run The Jewels bombard the listener with lyrics that are equal parts absurd and poignant. The final two tracks of the record really highlight the broad spectrum of thought both emcees bring to the table, with "Twin Hype Back" serving up a sexually charged heap of satire, while the closer — quaintly titled "A Christmas Fuckin' Miracle" — drives home a narrative of self-reliance encouragement. There's an underlying current of positive reinforcement to Run The Jewels, even when the chorus to one of the album's best tracks is "do dope — fuck hope." Both Killer Mike and El-P convey a level of gravitas that pushes the appeal of this record over the top.

Something about this record defies description. Run The Jewels managed to inspire a feeling of pure, unbridled fun that is very rare in music. They gave this album away and I bought it in multiple formats anyway — if that means anything. The overall impression I get from Run The Jewels is that two very skilled artists struck a chord, and as a fan I'm happy to continue supporting them as long as they work together. Regardless of what the future holds, this record is something special; there are no specific call-outs made, but the entire rap world got a stern memo that the bar has been raised.

Summary

Unquestioningly one of the best rap records ever released. Two tireless veterans turn in their best performances to date, with just a little more than a half-hour of top-shelf rap. Since the album's release, this group has burst into the mainstream to a degree I didn't think possible. After listening to Run The Jewels, no level of success should be surprising given the strength of the material. From the first time I heard them, and to this very day, Run The Jewels have been a consistent go-to when I need some tunes. It's somewhat unfair to call this a debut album, but the strength of this collaboration really does give a lot of merit to the concept of a whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Both El-P and Killer Mike are great at their craft, but together they are at the top of the mountain — with a hunger that belies their tenure in the game.

Album Information

Release date: June 26th, 2013
Record label: Fool's Gold Records

Killer Mike - vocals
El-P - production, vocals

Track Listing

  1. Run The Jewels
  2. Banana Clipper (feat. Big Boi)
  3. 36 Inch Chain
  4. DDFH
  5. Sea Legs
  6. Job Well Done
  7. No Come Down
  8. Get It
  9. Twin Hype Back
  10. A Christmas Fuckin' Miracle

—by Derek

Published: October 12, 2015