It sounds like Killer Mike doesn’t sleep much. And why would he? Mike and El-P have made three of the best hip-hop in the past three years and a producer named after a delicious yellow condiment has received more recognition. Killer Mike seems irked by this lack of recognition. His murderous opening rant here is declarative in saying that there isn’t a better duo out there in 2014.
El-P has laid down some the most intergalactic-explorative production here on the group’s second album under the moniker of Run the Jewels. The duo is here to make sure you understand their legacy as one of the best. Mike and Jamie, we have heard the message. Very loud and very clear. No arguments here.
Oh My Darling Don’t Cry
It is no secret that El-P is an adept rapper. He is easily in the company of Q-Tip, J Dilla and Kanye West as one of the best rapper-producers. This album only further cements that legacy. His rhymes here are what make this album so intriguing. He matches Killer Mike bar for bar all while rhyming over symphonies of blasting laser guns and noises of aliens beaming up humans to their spaceship. All of this over some boom bap drums creates a truly lethal combination.
Blockbuster (Night Part I)
This is one of the simplest songs in Hip-Hop. This simplicity doesn’t devalue the quality of the joint but rather reiterates what the group is good at. They make their point as clear as possible. This song is the epitome of this album. It is the shortest song, most direct which really sums up an album that is under 40 minutes that cuts through all of the filler.
Killer Mike knows that the duo’s debut album was one of this decade so far. Instead of elaborating in complicated metaphors. Mike makes it so blatantly obvious that he declares he is the baddest to the point where he doesn’t dread the arrival of Satan. How can you possibly argue with that?
Close Your Eyes Feat. Zack de la Rocha
Maybe Zack de la Rocha couldn’t even argue with that. His appearance alone seems to legitimize the excellence of the duo. The former Rage front man has been a friend with El-P since the late 90’s but it is still a surprise to see de la Rocha here. At the rate he is making guest appearances, it seems more likely that’d we’d see a guest appearance from George W. at the DNC. Nevertheless, Zack de la Rocha sucks up the entire spotlight here, even though he appears at the end of this track. De la Rocha takes over with lines paying tribute to Miles Davis and Rakim. These mentions of genre innovators are almost a sad reminder of what could have been if he consistently made music. Zack de la Rocha can effortlessly hang with your favorite rapper. The guest appearance is more than welcomed as he fits in well with the album’s anti-establishment theme.
All My Life
By the album’s midway point, it seems like the duo is finally ready to take us on a journey. Rather than perpetually state their dominance, the commentary quickly turns to the U.S. after the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri. Killer Mike, with his murder and drug references, seems like unlikely leader in his community. But he has rose from his circumstances to make a better life for himself. He is the son of a former police officer, father and husband trying to make an influence on the youth any way he can.
“One time for the pill and the reefer, man/ It’s the young black leader to the people, man/”
While the lyrics seem contradictory, they relate the sense of urgency this album has over it’s the first edition of Run the Jewels. This may come from the fact that the duo actually is selling this sequel as apposed to its mixtape-esque predecessor. Even though the group is still giving it away free here. The song foreshadows more than serving as a proper centerpiece for the album.
Lie, Cheat, Steal
Killer Mike asks us who is going to bully him if he had a billion dollars? Referring to the deplorable former LA Clippers owner. There are more powerful people out there whether that is in the government or historically defunct NBA franchise. Money certainly isn’t the answer.
The song is reminiscent of Killer Mike’s 2012 “Reagan” in which he incriminates the 80’s era government for all the hypocrisy he sees. This couldn’t be clearer when he points out the irony that the most violent of boulevards are named after one of the most peaceful revolutionaries in Martin Luther King Jr.
“Lie, Cheat, Steal” is the best song on RTJ 2 because of the depth and scope the duo take to explore power struggles. Unfortunately, what we deduce is the only way to be the master of puppets is to repeat this song’s chorus over and over again.
Early Feat. BOOTS
Killer Mike and El-P start there verses with the same line here.
“It be feelin’ like the life that I’m livin’ a man I don’t control/ Like every day I’m in a fight for my soul/”
This song seemingly is what “All My Life” was leading up to. Killer Mike’s father was a police officer and didn’t want that same life for his son. Police often see the worst in people more often than they see the good. Even though he has a different occupation than his father he sees this chaos surrounding him everywhere nonetheless.
In an op-ed on Billboard Killer Mike stated the following after the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri.
“I have searched all night and day for new and better words that could express my feelings and fear for the people of this country. I found no new words. I have no hope-filled insight to deliver. I only have this warning to all Americans: Whatever this country is willing to do to the least of us, it will one day to us all.”
This song seems to be a further expression of those feelings. El-P describes the violence as routine, no matter who is the source. Led by a hauntingly seductive hook by BOOTS, the song gives the listener the sense that they feel stuck and trapped. Just like Killer Mike and El-P do.
All Due Respect Feat. Travis Barker
It is somewhat of a let down at this point when the two go back to braggadocio rap. But if you want a technical lesson on how to rap, listening these two going back and forth is better than any class you could audit.
Love Again (Akinyele Back)
It seems like a safe bet that this album was a direct influence on this song.
Crown Feat. Diane Coffee
This is a departure. This is a departure through space as we glide slowly through space. El-P makes that very clear with his minimalist production. It is a departure from the obnoxious themes of the past two songs. Killer Mike shows remorse here. He admits he always hasn’t been the best. The story he tells about selling cocaine to a pregnant woman is heart wrenching. But you can’t get up if you are always dwelling on what is bringing you down. There is always time to lay down your shame. Now the control comes back to the listener. It is motivation to move on from the traps lamented previously on “Early.”
The finale, by far the longest track on the album, starts with what sounds like spaced out organs. Almost like through this journey, the duo has been sanctified. But then the tone grows ominous. Killer Mike denounces organized religion and instead of pouring liquor out for the departed, El-P smokes to them instead. These images encapsulate Run the Jewels perfectly as a twosome with an affinity for questioning authority. They didn’t seem like the most likely duo but they have successfully challenged the Hip-Hops status quo to become one of the best duos ever.