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Run the Jewels puts out a satisfying sophomore effort

By Jess Linde

Section: Arts

October 31, 2014

Way back in May 2012, Atlanta hip-hop agitator Killer Mike released “R.A.P. Music,” his sixth album, to significant critical acclaim. The album was entirely produced by Brooklyn underground rap legend El-P, and this connection introduced Mike to hipsters and new popularity. Later that same month, El-P released “Cancer 4 Cure,” his third album to similar acclaim, with Killer Mike as a featured guest. Both albums were fantastic, and Killer Mike and El-P toured extensively with one another for the next year, becoming indie hip-hop’s new favorite bromance.

In early 2013, Mike and El-P announced the formation of Run the Jewels, a bona fide rap duo, and released their self-titled debut album that same year. It brought out the best in both artists by merging El-P’s aggressive production style and Killer Mike’s equally-aggressive delivery in perfect harmony. And now they’ve released their follow up, the aptly-titled “Run the Jewels 2,” a great album that shows the duo’s maturation while still exemplifying everything that made their first record great.

Killer Mike immediately sets the album’s mood with the opening track, “Jeopardy” by shouting for El-P to start the beat, before launching into his usual angry flow over a menacing, bass-heavy beat. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” is just as tough, bringing in El-P and Mike’s signature hatred of law enforcement and conjuring action movie images with lyrics like “he hangin’ out the window/I hold the wheel/there’s one black, one white/we shoot to kill.” The fourth song, and my personal favorite, is “Close Your Eyes,” featuring Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha on a surprisingly great verse.

Generally, “Run the Jewels 2” is an example of two extremely talented artists working at the top of their game. The album is just under 40 minutes, and each song flows into the next without becoming boring. From the burning synths of “All My Life” and “Lie, Cheat Steal,” to the intense and frankly amazing drumming by Blink-182’s Travis Barker on “All Due Respect,” El-P’s production never lets up.

Of course, neither does his or Mike’s rapping, which draws on themes as diverse as religion, disillusionment with American politics and Pan-Africanism. Every song gets the point that these two guys are pissed off at more or less everything, and are not afraid to show it, often violently, it would seem. It would be inappropriate to say that Run the Jewels is a group out to save the art of hip-hop or start an artistic revolution. Rather, they are on a slash-and-burn quest to destroy the culture of complacency and corporatism that the world revolves around. If you conform to that category, you probably will dislike “Run the Jewels 2.”

At the same time, the only way to find out if do subscribe to this culture is to listen to the album, which you should do because it is awesome. El-P and Killer Mike even released it for free online, so get “Run the Jewels 2.” I am a dedicated hip-hop listener, and this year has been decidedly lacking in noteworthy releases, especially when compared to last year, which had the first “Run the Jewels” and Kanye West’s “Yeezus.” Thankfully, “Run the Jewels 2” unstuck me from this rut, and delivered one of the most impeccably crafted and performed albums of any genre this year.

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