Some eight years ago, the musical world witnessed an unlikely pairing. An up and coming producer who had gained peoples attention with a mash-up album paired with an ex-rapper from the deep south and began a new project. Before long, everyone was “Crazy” about these dudes (wow, corny pun of the year alert,) garnering what seemed to be damn near universal accolade. Finally, after years making music, these guys had it all. A hit album, tons of cash and a song that would live on late night grocery store playlists for eternity.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Run the Jewels has much in common with Gnarls Barkley, cause really they don’t. But the one similarity the two groups have in common is their stratospheric rise from relative mainstream obscurity. And in El-P and Killer Mike’s case, I use the word obscurity with caution, after all those two were hanging with Trent Reznor and Outkast before Run the Jewels was even a blip in either one’s eye. But in spite of their accomplished pasts, I would argue that Run the Jewels would’ve never reached their shared success on their own.
Simple proof of that statement can be heard on “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” the second track of the just-released RTJ2, the follow up from last years debut effort, which sees Killer Mike and El-P trade verses over a Godzilla-sized beat, seemingly bent on destruction. Lyrically, the track follows suit with El-P declaring “You can all run naked backwards through a field of dicks” and it’s immediately clear within the first five minutes of RTJ2 that these two aren’t gonna come back soft from their first record. Nope, Run the Jewels isn’t gonna take any shit and they’re gonna let you know just that.
Plainly speaking, everything that made the first Run the Jewels record such a success is amplified and turned up to 10 on their second go around, especially El-P’s production value which seems to grow in importance with each successive release. The music on RTJ2 shifts seamlessly from the punchy, distortion heavy bounce of “Blockbuster Night Part 1” to the ethereal, 80’s inspired synth swells of “Early.” As varied as the music on RTJ2 is, perhaps the albums greatest achievement is “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)” which is built around a vocal loop from Zach De La Rocha and even features a guest verse from the rarely heard from and often missed Rage Against the Machine frontman.
With each listen through RTJ2, it becomes more and more difficult to find much fault with the record. While it does tend to drag a little bit on the second half in spite of the spastic percussion orgy provided by Travis Barker on “All Due Respect,” it’s an easy problem to overlook. Sequencing issues aside and RTJ2 may just be the best hip-hop album so far this year. As unlikely as the pairing of Killer Mike and El-P might’ve seemed a few years back, they’ve proved that Run The Jewels is no fluke. Mike drives this point home by rapping “last album voodoo/ proved we was fuckin brutal” and it just goes to show that the right combination of musicians, no matter how different their background, can make all the difference in the world.