Fiery and fluid, the hip-hop duo’s surprise third album is their best yet, writes Madeleine Jones
Released 25th December via Run The Jewels, Inc.
Run the Jewels 3 proves that Run the Jewels can do no wrong. The duo’s long-awaited third album is a refreshing step forward but remains unmistakably them. It dropped on Christmas day, three weeks earlier than its scheduled release. The pairing of Killer Mike and El-P, both rappers and producers in their own right for decades, has perfectly enhanced their individual talents. Their futuristic metallic beats and flawless delivery give Run the Jewels a highly recognisable sound, distinguishing them from their counterparts and putting them in a subgenre of their own. Believe the hype.
Run the Jewels have been something of an unlikely success story for these hip hop veterans, helping to put them on the map like never before. Killer Mike in particular has utilised this larger platform for his political activism: he was a major public figure in Bernie Sanders’ campaign to be the Democrats’ presidential candidate. Their socio-political commentary is intrinsic to who they are and remains a key element throughout Run the Jewels 3, a near-perfect, multi-dimensional album.
‘Down’ is an unexpected choice for an opening song but proves appropriately calm before the noisily claustrophobic ‘Talk To Me’ and grand ‘Legend Has It’. Danny Brown’s closing feature verse perfectly cuts through the low, snaking tone of ‘Hey Kids (Bumaye)’. His voice is startling and amusingly followed by a child saying “you made my eardrums bleed and I will pinch you”. It’s followed by ‘Stay Gold’, the only lyrically weak moment of the whole album. Despite its stupendously infectious beat and well-intended critiques of wealth, it’s let down by the pair unimaginatively rapping about having a “bad bitch” in the chorus.
Luckily, things get back on track with ‘Don’t Get Captured’ which tackles gentrification and the disproportionate criminalisation and incarceration of the USA’s black population. ‘Thieves’ further addresses race issues as it vividly portrays a riot contrasted with the laid-back nature of the song. Run the Jewels famously visited Ferguson to play a show amidst the city’s 2014 riots over the police killing of 18-year-old Mike Brown, and Killer Mike has spoken passionately on the US police’s racist violence towards black people. It ends with a powerful sample from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
‘2100’, featuring regular collaborator Boots, was dropped unexpectedly after Donald Trump was announced President more or less as a comfort gift (“it’s for everyone who is hurting right now“). After a few songs with a more mellow tone, things get fiery again on ‘Panther Like A Panther’ and ‘Oh Mama’ with El-P’s voice perfectly inflecting in the latter’s poignant chorus. Zack De La Rocha (Rage Against the Machine) makes an uncredited appearance on final track ‘A Report To The Shareholders: Kill Your Masters’, which serves as both a haunting reminder of a broken system and a rallying call for us all.
Coherence is strong point of each of Run the Jewels’ albums and this one is no different. Each track flows so smoothly into the next, weaving all 14 songs together like a set of DNA. When compared to their previous two albums, there’s a deeper layer on Run the Jewels 3, something darker, almost as if they’ve seen more, thought more and striven for more. Run the Jewels 3 is their most complete-sounding record to date. Let their legacy continue.