There is more to Run the Jewels than two rap veterans at the peak of their prowess. Themes of urgency, forbidden knowledge, and I-told-you-so’s have been present since this duo’s first self-titled installment. Atlanta emcee Killer Mike and Brooklyn rapper/producer El-P combine old school know-how with modern swagger, reinventing a sound in which they alone established. Each Run the Jewels release has RTJ’s signature menacing production style that pairs well with their often unruly political commentary and audacious rap delivery. Creating a unique lane and continuing to successfully build on a similar blueprint can be linked to the duo’s meticulous creative direction. Discussing with Spin the meaning and importance behind their album covers, Run the Jewels said this:
“For us, the RTJ1 hands were about “taking what’s yours” – your world, your life, your attitude. The RTJ2 hands were wrapped in bandages, signifying injury and healing, which for us represented the growth in ideas and tone of that album. For RTJ3 the bandages are off, the chain is gone and the hands have been transformed into gold. For us this represents the idea that there is nothing to take that exists outside of yourself. You are the jewel.”
Clearly, these three self-titled masterpieces were born to make a statement on both a personal and political level. El-P’s diversified flows and rhyme schemes throughout this trilogy-capping release steer the album’s erratic balance of satirical wordplay and the twosome’s dire civil foreshadowing. Killer Mike is more transparently brash than ever before, raising one middle finger to the ideology of “politics as usual” and the other to anyone doubting the relevance of his voice. El-P’s punchy syntheticism behind the boards stands tall (he is the primary producer on each of the 14), authorizing the emcees’ elaborate and aggressive performances.
Although I would have liked to hear one more stellar feature slot, the ones present are prompt and noteworthy. Danny Brown’s contribution to “Hey Kids” comes late but his usual eccentricity helps extend the track’s audibility. His opening few bars are booming to say the least: “Word architect, when I arch the tech, I’ll part ya neck / Got bars on deck, got that Xanax flow, make you nod your head… My words infect like insects havin’ incest, I’m in check / Like a pay day on a Thursday and it’s Wednesday / I’m sensei, you bouquet, you menstruate / That’s pussy all on your template.” Man, those are some hard ass bars (and they don’t stop there).
As far as which Run the Jewels is best, I would have to go with RTJ2. 2 and 3 were made by the same blueprint but the prior delivers more of a lasting impact, in my opinion. “Down,” the album intro, is rather sleepy and ends up an outlier in contrast to how edgy the rest of the record sounds. It could have been used as a convenient change of pace instead. I believe an album like this would benefit from having another energizing single beside “Legend Has It” to send the Run the Jewels trilogy off in style. In spite of that, this album still delivers the assured ghetto gospel RTJ fans should expect.