How Run the Jewels Just Saved the State of Hip Hop
Although it was leaked several days ago, today was the official release of Run the Jewels 2, the self-titled sequel by the rap duo comprised of Killer Mike and El-P. The album is many things: a far superior work than their first album as Run the Jewels, one of the most lacerating hip hop records in recent memory, a master exercise in the art of beat production, but more important than any of those, it is the record that has saved the state of hip hop in 2014.
On their first album, Run the Jewels established themselves as emcees with a razor edge. The anticipation of seeing a full length collaboration between Atlanta staple and OutKast protégé Killer Mike with Brooklyn based rapper and beat maker El-P was high, and the fruits of their labors delivered on all the speculation. This album was dark. Standout tracks like ‘DDFH’ (short for Do Dope, Fuck Hope) and ‘Banana Clipper’ were devastatingly bleak while simultaneously able to shut the club down with their colossal bass line and rapid fire rhyme delivery. While not without it’s flaws, it proved that when rap worlds collide, it can most certainly turn out for the best.
Enter the sequel, where Killer Mike and El-P are through being sad and are downright pissed. Indignant rage pervades every track, whether its in the subtle lyricism of ‘Crown’ or blatantly served up in ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)’. The latter track is even built around a sample and features a verse from Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha, which is about as textbook angry as it gets. No one is safe in this album; felons in prison are encouraged to revolt while simpletons are told to pick up a copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook, the song ‘Lie, Cheat, and Steal’ justifies it’s title simply because ‘everyone’s doing it.’
It’s a brutal listen, and under no circumstances will it be universally adored, yet Run the Jewels 2 is the most important hip hop release in over a year. As we still lovingly remember, Kanye West dropped a similarly angry album in the summer of 2013, a little record that became known as Yeezus. Much has been written about how Kanye has progressively influenced the course of hip hop with each of his albums, but Yeezus was not so much a trendsetter as a trendstopper. After an album that technically was a seamless meeting between the rise of EDM and rap, and thematically was the most biting critique of our 99%er society, rap was left at a standstill. The past year and a half has seen a few releases of note, but as a whole the field of hip hop has been left dry and unsown, pushing music that has been standard millennial fare.
And hence RTJ2 has been delivered upon us, a record that is so overwhelmingly of the moment that it will take us months before we can fully process it. It is an angry album that suits the angry times in which we live, they’re fed up with this shit and they’re even more fed up that we’re not. Their keen articulation on the album is able to subvert the tropes of hip hop (misogyny in rap may be shattered forever with ‘Love Again’) while simultaneously probing the deeper issues plaguing our society of faux racism, faux sexism, and faux classicism. Run the Jewels are enraged, and hell hath no fury like a rapper scorned.