Run The Jewels dropped our favorite album in 2013, does the sequel follow in its footsteps? Do albums have feet for that matter?Mass Appeal Records, 2014
8.3 / 10
Welcome to another Earbuddy Roundtable Review. To explain, Earbuddy assembles three or more writers to discuss a new album with each writer giving his/her thoughts on the release and their own personal score. Then an average score is determined for the album overall. For our latest Roundtable, Earbuddy writers John Downey, Ryan Rogers, and Chris Foster will be reviewing Run The Jewels’ sophomore album Run The Jewels 2.
Following Earbuddy’s 2013 album of the year comes the sequel from the unlikely duo of El-P and Killer Mike. Run The Jewels was first brainstormed when El-P was working production for Killer Mike’s game-changing R.A.P. Music and was meant to be an EP, but it later turned into a free album featuring Prince Paul and Big Boi. Run The Jewel’s live show mirrors the same energy and raw power of hardcore hip-hop acts like Public Enemy back in their heyday. On RTJ 2, El-P and Killer Mike enlisted a diverse selection of featured artists old and new including Zach de la Rocha, Boots, Diane Coffee of Foxygen and Travis Barker. A separate project that was an initially a joke, Meow The Jewels: a kickstarter project that reached its funding goal aims to remake RTJ 2 by exclusively using cat noises with the help of several hip-hop producers such as Baauer and Skywalker and current indie rock artists such as Zola Jesus. Before we even think of tackling a rap album surrounded by cat noises, let’s check out the original.
Better than the first
With one big mark against it–
Fuck the oral song.
John’s Score: 9.2
“Selling out” is a strong phrase. One that packs more punch in punk/rock circles than in hip-hop, but still carries the weight of something like “bitch”. Conversely, many rappers will spend an entire career trying to sell out (*insert cleverly chosen hip-hop assclown here*). While selling out is not always a bad thing, it seems to align the artist more with current trends, instead of setting them. So, what is the point of all this tiresome framing? You guessed it — Run The Jewels’ newest album has them gliding along more in those rapid waters of The Main Stream with much of today’s other material. Killer Mike and El-P haven’t sold out in Run The Jewels 2, but they’re not pushing the envelope anymore either.
Run The Jewels (the debut) was unique and flowed with an old-school originality that probably changed the course of indie hip-hop. Sorry, Killer Mike and El-P, you will be measured against this album forever. Run The Jewels 2 doesn’t really ruffle any feathers or change any perspectives. At the same time, the tone between the two albums is a stark contrast: RTJ1 is sitting on the couch, smoking something, and losing yourself in super creative, weird beats. The flow is casual — enough braggadocio to not come off soft — but tame enough to be genial. RTJ2 is picking a fight with anyone in yelling distance. The flow is flecked with big bits of spit. The herb from RTJ1 has been spiked with angel dust. The chilly, industrial beats on RTJ2 are oppressive and foreboding — they drive the rhythm relentlessly on tracks like “Blockbuster Night Part 1” and haunt on “Early”. The darkness on this album is palpable and pushed so far forward it’s impossible to ignore.
At the same time, there is not much new about an aggressive, face-forward, fast-beat, “juggernaut” rap album. Though things are jazzy and funky on opening track “Jeopardy”, the rest could probably be produced by many artists. RTJ1 was a breath of fresh air, while their newest effort could probably use a breath mint. The biggest, stankiest chunk of last night’s dinner in the teeth of RTJ2 has to be “Love Again (Akinyele Back)”. All of the clever rhymes and snappy brags built up during the rest of the album falls to pieces with the weak verses and cookie-cutter, porno-level lyrics from Gangsta Boo. She pulled the same stunts on clipping.’s CLPPING while guesting on “Tonight”, but on a (thankfully) smaller dose. Run The Jewels, please don’t slide into shock-rap gimmicks. You’re not clipping., and that’s ok. As much as I absolutely hate “Love Again” on so many levels, the rest of the album is a fine listen, it’s just not too much to get excited about.
Like an ex that parted on good terms (it was mutual, I swear), I just want El-P and Killer Mike to be happy. I know we can’t go back to 2013, nor should we. I just hope Run The Jewels can find a unique space in hip-hop that doesn’t end with them guesting on Diddy tracks or conversely rapping for two hours straight about killing themselves over the sound of a scream and the gong of a church bell. Run The Jewels 2 is a decent album, but lots of hip-hop artists are putting out decent albums in 2014 — I think El-P and Killer Mike are capable of more than just “decent”.
Chris’ Score: 7.1
It’s an interesting time for people who have been following music for a while that are now witnessing a sea change in music industry. Artists are linking up and producing music at a much faster rate than ever before. Last decade, to get a release from EL-P, it would take about five years. Nowadays, when listeners can traverse a wide library of music over the internet; if you aren’t constantly gunning for the spotlight people will lose interest almost immediately. I’m grateful that many of my favorite artists are releasing something every year, but at the same time it puts too much pressure on some artists to put out something that might not be ready yet. Thankfully, Run The Jewels can handle the pressure better than most musicians today.
What made the first installment of Run The Jewels so special was that New York weirdo-intellectual rap juxtaposed (pun intended) with the southern Dungeon Family gold-chain rocking rap didn’t come off as forced like most hip-hop crossovers. It was dark, snarky and political, and nothing else was quite like it in the hip-hop realm at the time. Run The Jewels contained so much rap history and rap culture criticism that it really couldn’t have been recorded at any other time in the past, so needless to say, RTJ 2 had some major shoes to fill.
RTJ 2 was created with the same mindset that Hollywood has when crafting a huge sequel: bigger, louder and with more sex and violence hence “Blockbuster Night Part 1”, which has Mike and El-P dropping lyrical gems such as “(I jake the snake ‘em ddt’ em in mausoleums / Macau massacres killer cousin my colosseum)” and “(They all actors given top in back of a bm / I’d fall back if the casting calls are ending in semen)”. The combination of Run The Jewels and Rage Against the Machine on the track “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) is a match made in angry political heaven with Zach de la Rocha spitting fire about Mile Davis records, Philip “AK” Dick and how he is a “fellow with melanin, suspect of a felony” and that the feds, like Rakim, are checking his melody.
RTJ 2 has expanded on idea from the first RTJ album fostered of getting out of the musical comfort zone when picking collaborators. One of the last things I thought would happen in the music industry was the drummer from Blink-182 to lay a drum fill for an El-P joint, but the same angsty rage behind Blink-182 translates quite well to El-P’s lyrics of dystopian hopelessness on “All Due Respect”, which one of the lines: “sweatpants to funeral guns to lunch” was teased on El-P’s Twitter months ago when the internet was in tift over gun owners toting their arms in Chipotle. The one song that sticks out as just tactless and unimaginative (as John pointed out) is “Love Again”; aside from the excellent production on the track, it is basically a simplistic misogynistic anthem about having a women sucking their dicks all day, which just sounds downright ridiculous in practice and creatively uninspired compared to the rest of the album. The five-minute album finisher (sadly, no face-Riverdancing was involved) “Angel Duster”, really owns the Run The Jewels moniker with confidence and could easily rile up a festival crowd to chant “RTJ” at the top of their lungs with a feeling of pure victory.
Run The Jewels 2 keeps in tradition of the first album with zany one-liners, grim fatalistic imagery and a diverse crew of collaborators that make the album equal parts punk rock and hardcore hip-hop. Can’t wait to see what Mike and El-P have in store for the third Run The Jewels album, which could make for one of greatest trilogies in rap history.
Ryan’s Score: 8.7