The relatively unknown, but well respected, hip-hop duo known as Run the Jewels has just released their second full-length album for free. “Run the Jewels 2” was to be released through the Nas-founded indie label Mass Appeal on Oct. 24, but the group consisting of Atlanta native Killer Mike and Brooklyn-based MC/producer El-P released their album prematurely on their website where it can still be downloaded for free.
The partnership was born out of a collaborative effort on Killer Mike’s seminal 2012 release “R.A.P. Music,” which El-P produced in its entirety. On the surface, it would seem that El-P’s highly kinetic, esoteric reference-laden lyricism wouldn’t mesh well with Mike’s bombastic southern drawl, but when they get together it’s the hip-hop equivalent of letting loose with automatic weapons and a few artillery barrages for good measure. The beats are a concussive force and the boastful bad boy characters they play in their lyrics are just too fun not to indulge in.
The album is definitely a product of this post-“Yeezus” era of making your album a concise, in-and-out affair of 12 tracks or less, but the duo most assuredly embraces a less-is-more approach with the tracks on “Run the Jewels 2.” Each track, excluding the album’s closer, is under three minutes on average, but each track blends so well into the next one that you’re able and willing to take on the experience as a whole.
The album starts off with a veritable bang with Killer Mike’s dark, scheming lyricism lurking amongst heavy synths and grimy bass lines on “Jeopardy.” The first single to be released off the album, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” feels like it would have fit right in on the “Grand Theft Auto V” soundtrack with its hyperbolic drum loops and mile-a-minute rhyme scheme. The duo are unquestionably at their best on “Blockbuster Night Part I” as both El-P and Mike deftly maneuver through dense beats and masterfully pass the lyrical baton to one another verse-to-verse in a way that will make even the most casual hip-hop fans impressed.
The flow of the album is somewhat thrown off by “All My Life.” It’s not a bad song by any means, it’s just that the album starts off by firing on all cylinders and slows down a bit for its conclusion, so it being placed so early in the album messes with its internal pacing. Former Rage Against the Machine front man and suburban guerilla poster boy Zack de la Rocha makes his presence known on “Close Your Eyes.” The song’s hook is composed of de la Rocha saying “run them jewels fast,” which is syncopated and looped over and over again with an industrial beat backing up the lyrics. On first listen, the song is grating on the ear, but El-P’s stellar production and Mike’s eminent likability shines through and makes it one of the album’s standout tracks. “Lie, Cheat, Steal” is without a doubt the most infectious track on the album and probably the strongest song to be produced out of this collaborative project.
“Run the Jewels 2” isn’t going to be for everyone, even to those who consider themselves to be ardent followers of the genre. Killer Mike and El-P are just two guys who really dig each other and are going to make music that appeals to them and that breaks the mold of what it means to make hip-hop. If that means alienating newcomers or people who find them to be too abrasive, then good riddance. Bad boys eventually have the last laugh.