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Review: Run The Jewels' Album, "Run The Jewels 3"

Updated on December 29, 2016
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Reviews are a pain-free way of combining writing, with what I love (music for eg.), in a way that generates interest.

Hi-Res Creativity and Gutsy Social Commentary

Comprised of rapper/producer El-P and rapper Killer Mike, Run The Jewels cover a lot of ground on their third studio album, ‘Run The Jewels 3’. Looking to topple the forces that oppress and control society, the whirlwind release is ruled by a sense of revolution. ‘Run The Jewels 3’ is never dull. The record’s hip-hop is injected with all kinds of ear-catching, alt-electro trickery. Even the expendable ‘Oh Mama’ refuses to be complacent. Regardless of what Run The Jewels are rapping about, El-P’s production is always intense, dynamic and robust. It’s one of the album’s main attractions.

That said, the blisteringly ambitious tunes towards the LP’s front end can sound presentation-obsessed. The bold, decorative flourishes and upfront ideas heard throughout tracks like ‘Call Ticketron’ and ’Talk To Me’ almost make Run The Jewels’ lyrics feel frivolous. Supporting the tracklist’s hi-res creativity, the album’s gutsy social commentary provides ‘Run The Jewels 3’ with depth, and something for listeners to think about when the music stops playing.

Balancing Hijinks with More Purposeful Subject Matter

The release works an interesting balance between hijinks and more purposeful subject matter. 'Run The Jewels 3’ continuously attacks the world’s greedy suits, prejudiced police officers and self-serving politicians. Thankfully, El-P and Killer Mike find a way to simultaneously rage against the machine and colour outside the lines with their special brand of hip-hop. The twosome’s outright dissatisfaction with the system doesn’t dampen the record’s spirit and flair, in many ways it further energises 'Run The Jewels 3’.

Sitting snugly next to tunes that refer to rioting and class war, ‘Stay Gold’ has El-P toasting his long-term partner Emily Panic. The cut opens with an appearance from Killer Mike’s son. The pair recall the loss of good friends on ‘Thursday In The Danger Room’, and use ‘Down’ to contemplate how far their rap partnership has come. ‘Everybody Stay Calm’ and ‘Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix)’ are just plain fun. Crackling with energy and featuring another hard-to-ignore performance from Danny Brown, ‘Hey Kids (Bumaye)’ outdoes them both - the tune is unapologetically buzzing.

The Language of the Unheard

‘Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)’ features actor, director and musician Tunde Adebimpe. Heaving with activity, ‘Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)’ is full of admirably bold, desolate beats and ballsy, out the box touches. Sometimes though, the cut’s disjointedness erodes its overall punch. Most likely instigated by the ground-level reaction to the recent deaths of numerous African-Americans at the hands of the US police force, ‘Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)’ is directed at individuals who think that the act of rioting is unjustifiable.

The track explores the conditions and circumstances that would make a person want to take to the streets and potentially cause damage to their own community. At one point El-P is heard rapping, “Fear’s been law for so long that rage feels like therapy”.‘Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)’ concludes with a clip of Martin Luther King speaking about how rioting is ultimately “the language of the unheard”.

"Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix)" Takes On the World

Featured famously in the trailer for video game ‘Gears Of War 4’, ‘Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix)’ co-stars Miami, Florida rapper Trina. Sadly, Trina’s contributions are restricted to the tune’s hooks. Still, ‘Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix)’ sounds like it was a blast to record. It will make many listeners feel like they have the power to take on the whole world. ‘Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix)’ isn’t the most enduring cut on the tracklist. Still, it’s unquestionably entertaining. The tune is honourably heavyweight and meaty. It also contains some of the album’s best one-liners.

‘Everybody Stay Calm’ is a rule-breaker. The track’s choppy production and digital effects are wickedly immediate. Run The Jewels rhyme animatedly in and around its nonsensical beatwork. ‘Everybody Stay Calm’ swarms with dramatic, outlandish elements - like random vocal stabs and big screen synths. Plus, it’s always entertaining when Killer Mike and El-P hyperactively bounce rap lyrics back and forth between each other.

Fuelled by rampant basslines and horn sounds, ‘Oh Mama’ is a jazzed up, excitable offering. Although ‘Oh Mama’ is ultimately outshone by the many cuts that precede it, the track provides a moment of levity ahead of the loftier ones that follow.

Illustration: Leigh Pearce
Illustration: Leigh Pearce
Run The Jewels in 'Gears Of War 4'
Run The Jewels in 'Gears Of War 4'

Keeping the Spirit of Loved Ones Alive

Kendrick Lamar collaborator, saxophonist Kamasi Washington enriches the hooks of ‘Thursday In The Danger Room’. Against the tune’s bustling hip-hop beats, Washington’s contributions convey tenderness. Both El-P and Killer Mike relay stories about people they care about passing away.

El-P’s verse is specially touching. Rapping about trying in vain to support a friend as they fight for their life, the emcee easily channels deep affection on the tune. The hook’s memorable lyrics then talk about keeping the spirit of a loved one alive by never forgetting them. The boys manage to make ‘Thursday In The Danger Room’ poignant, without things sounding laboured.

Raging Together Against the Machine

Run The Jewels launch a verbal assault on the powers that be for two-parter finale ’A Report To The Shareholders / Kill Your Masters’. ‘A Report To The Shareholders’ reflects on the general state of tension caused by America’s recent political upheavals. Killer Mike targets America’s two-party political system with the lines, “choose the lesser of the evil…and the devil still gon' win…but we know we all afraid, so we just simply cry and march again”. ‘A Report To The Shareholders’ also takes a broad swipe at those who live life in blind submission to the prevailing social order.

With a little help from activist, rapper and Rage Against The Machine musician Zach De La Rocha, ‘Kill Your Masters’ explicitly encourages listeners to overthrow the ruling classes. In terms of the anti-establishment messages the conjoined tunes communicate, it quickly becomes obvious that El-P, Killer Mike and Rocha are all on the exact same wavelength. This solidarity charges ’A Report To The Shareholders / Kill Your Masters’ with an unwavering, unstoppable and combustible clout.

Verdict: ******** 8/10

Photo: Erik Voake
Photo: Erik Voake

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