Run The Jewels has never claimed (or wanted) to be anything other than themselves. To the auteurs behind this project, Killer Mike and El-P, Run The Jewels is more than a title, more than a catchy hook. It is a call to arms; take to the streets, and raise hell. You’re in, or you’re out. The effect is so encompassing, that their 2013 debut began with the song “Run The Jewels,” making that “Run The Jewels,” on Run The Jewels, by Run The Jewels. The sequel, aptly titled Run The Jewels 2, is a tactically precise release that feels like it answers all questions early critics had, while simultaneously doing whatever the hell they want. If they’re careful, there will be much more to see from them in the future.
In the sequel, everything that gained the pair such rapid and impassioned adoration – the brutality, the wit, the flow – have all returned with a vengeance. The pair pull no punches in what is a far darker, grimier project than its former.
The patented RTJ lyrical savagery has returned, more cringe-worthy than ever. Killer Mike takes the lyrical cake in this performance, and often overshadows El-P as a lyricist (though, in El-P’s defense, its worth nothing that he is both rapper and producer to the project). In one of three singles released for the album, “Close Your Eyes (And Count to F*ck)” Killer Mike paints the bloody picture of a gang army overthrowing a prison, in splattered, gorey swipes that would do any Tarantino film justice.
Around every corner is verse after verse that are so quotable, you feel like you’re watching your favorite comedy. The wit is elevated, as is the story telling. In “Crown,” the pair share tales of past hardships; Mike, on his time as a cocaine dealer, and El-P on his brief and ill-advised bout in the military. This is done not in sadness, or regret, but in acceptance that what’s done is done. Its a song about closure, and forgiveness of one’s self and others, and gives credence to the fact that hip hop, at its best, is a storytelling medium.
While the content takes a step up, the sounds take a notable toning down. Not quite in quality (in fact, El-P continues to grow as a producer) but in the raw and raunchy punch fans felt in the first album. That being said, the result is a slower and (if such a thing can happen) a more mellow performance, but with no loss of intensity. The move is similar to the sophomore release from Death Grips, and aimed to show that the group could find back-to-back success, even when experimenting with quieter sounds. The message is clear: they’ve only begun, and there’s much more to come.