The newest album from Killer Mike and El-P, “Run the Jewels 3,” was highly anticipated but there was no way anyone could have predicted how hard these beats would hit and how well everything would all line up. Fans were teased with a few singles that saw critical acclaim upon their release, but despite the preview there was just no way that anyone could have predicted how crunchy, grimy, and banging RtJ3 would be, start to finish. What we have here is a gut-punching medley of anger and raw emotion, brought down to their purest forms with absolutely nothing held back.
The chemistry that Killer Mike and El-P discovered during the production of Killer Mike’s “R.A.P. Music” has been fully realized in “Run the Jewels 3.” Their previous two albums were both great, but there’s no denying that “Run the Jewels 3” is their best effort yet. Killer Mike’s bouncy cadence is masterfully combined with the at times staccato and fast paced rhymes of El-P to create a canvas painted with a politically charged, tongue-in-cheek, humor filled conversation that glides across the grimy and crunchy backdrop, crafted in the studio in only a way that El-P can.
Run the Jewels 3: Album Cover Art
“Run the Jewels 3” starts off both musically and lyrically powerful in Down (featuring Joi). Killer Mike tells the story of his earlier years and how he doesn’t want to return to those days. He speaks on not only his own struggles, but the struggles we all face and the importance of persevering and remembering where we come from. It isn’t so much to honor the bad we’ve done but to celebrate what we’ve become as a result of our hard work and perseverance. Killer Mike goes on to reference Malcolm X’s famous speech “The Ballot or the Bullet” with the line “Ballot or bullet, you better use one,” before jumping over to discussion of “The Bill of Rights”. This politically charged and invigorating energy is a constant theme across many tracks on their previous two albums, but it’s both stronger and even more constant across RtJ3. It turns into a celebration with El-P and Killer Mike both recognizing what they’ve achieved and how proud they are. Musically, the album keeps in step with the lyrical themes being discussed. The emotions are reflected within the beat in a way only possible with El-P at the helm. The beat is mysterious but optimistic in the first half of the song before evolving into a rising and confident force that fades into an eruption that becomes the next track. It helps set the stage for what is to come lyrically with the next track revealing the emotions about to be unleashed across the rest of the journey the listener is about to embark upon.
There’s a lot of back-and-forth on this album, with many of the tracks flowing into one other like they’re one monstrous medley, when in reality, the tracks stand on their own and are largely independent of each other. The emotions and themes flow across the tracks but they’re almost from different perspectives of the same struggle. RtJ3 is a progressive protest; its anger and frustration with the lack of love, brush of hatred, and clash in society is apparent on nearly every track.
The profound sense of urgency and rush are prominent on many tracks, most notably Talk to Me, Panther like a Panther, and Don’t Get Captured; the flow and energy are almost overwhelming in the best kind of way. “Run the Jewels 2” seemed angry and high energy but in the face of RtJ3, it’s basted in pop and ready for a revolution. RtJ3 is dripping in teeth-gritting anger and possesses the ingredients needed for an all-out revolt.
Hey Kids (Bumaye) continues the revolt topic by touching on class warfare, rebellion, and the exploitation of the middle and lower classes of society by those in the ruling upper class. Killer Mike uses vivid imagery to describe what the lower and middle classes suffer at the hands of their upper class rulers, and the opening lines help set the scene that he is inviting us to view (see right).
Killer Mike goes on to discuss the consumer culture that has infected this world which not only serves to empower and add wealth to the ruling class, but, in the process, distract the middle and lower classes from achieving equality.
The hook that is repeated throughout is simply “Bumaye“, which is Congolese for “kill him,” but it’s never stated who. We’re left to fill in that blank for ourselves.
“say hello to the masters, on behalf of the classless masses.
we showed up, ski masks, picks, and axes to murder asses,
lift up our glasses and watch your palaces burn to ashes.
fucking fascists, who the fuck are you to give fifty lashes?”
Hey Kids (Bumaye)
Killer Mike and El-P of Run the Jewels (GQ)
This aggressive and progressive message of pushing forward and fighting for all of us is a constant theme throughout the entire album, and helps not only reflect the artists’ concern for politics, but their urgent call to action and the response they’d like us to have to all that is going wrong in society at this time. El-P and Killer Mike are inviting us to not only get pissed off with them, but to raise our fist and take action politically as well. There’s a very strong Rage Against the Machine vibe, but from even more of a hip-hop perspective than Rage ever offered us back in the 1990s.
every track is incredible here, but I do want to also shine a light on 2100 (feat. BOOTS) and A Report to the Shareholders/ Kill Your Masters. BOOTS and Run the Jewels crafted pure perfection on 2100. The beat that flows in and around the loose spitfire cadence rhymes of Killer Mike and El-P is simply magical. It floats above and through the words that only serve to send punches through the airwaves. El-P rips through his first verse by referring to our current society as Hell and offering to be our guide with a slick reference to Dante’s Inferno, before blaming the media for spreading both hatred and perpetuating stereotypes. There are so many great lines in this track that communicate the frustration that fill both El-P and Killer Mike for how the poor are being treated by the ruling class and the rich. One of the great spots that comes to mind is:
“but these motherfuckers sick
they don’t give a shit, not at all
they don’t even want to let you take a little piss in a pot
they don’t want your love, shit is bugged
motherfuckers steady getting rich from your blood”
2100 (feat. BOOTS)
This song is a powerful one; echoing the pain we all feel as we struggle or see others struggle, but it also echoes that love we have for our fellow man, the desire to reach equality, and for everyone to experience love. The hook from BOOTS helps sum this struggle up very nicely (see right)
This track punches hard and delivers many intelligent beliefs and stances that we could all learn something from as we work towards building a better society.
2100 (feat. BOOTS)
“save my swollen heart
bring me home from the dark”
A report to the shareholders/ Kill your Masters is the perfect closer. The first thing I want to mention about this is how well it combines to create this collage of emotions. There’s a lot happening here and a lot of self-reflection and discussion happening across the surface of a moving and evolving beat that ultimately evolves into something much angrier and fierce. The first thing that El-P discusses is the origin of Run the Jewels: what they expected and what it ultimately became. Their relationship is discussed in a very thought-provoking manner:
“I just say what I want like I’m made for this,
But I’m just afraid some days I might be wrong.
Maybe that’s why me and Mike get along.
Hey, not from the same part of town, but we both hear the same sound coming”
Killer Mike and El-P may come from different walks of life, states of their country (US), and ethnic backgrounds, but that doesn’t stop them from joining forces to recognize what’s coming; forging an unbreakable bond of friendship in the process. They both desire for us to all rise up and “kill our masters” by fighting for what’s right and doing what we love in the same way that they have done with Run the Jewels. It’s very much a “raise your fist” sort of song that not only vilifies the current state of society but also tasks us to stand up and fight back against our oppressors.
Killer Mike and El-P (When the Gramophone Rings)
These themes are as consistent as the production quality which (if you’re familiar with anything that El-P has worked on) should come as no surprise. Everything is tight and polished with each of the individual layers having enough space to breathe. In typical El-P fashion, the beats are heavy, meaningful, unique, and as grimy as ever, and can be as crunchy and menacing as they are playful. The music feels like it was made with the emotions and lyrical themes that were going to be explored in mind. The sounds and lyrics line up perfectly to help paint a picture for each track, and there are no inconsistencies.
“Run the Jewels 3” is an achievement both in production and in the conversation that it creates between its listeners and the artist. There are no low points, and every track stands on its own while still fitting into the canvas of the album’s overall big picture. The only thing I would change is inviting Nobody Speak by DJ Shadow (feat Run the Jewels) to the party because the themes, flow, and personality would be right at home on the juggernaut that is RtJ3. Luckily, I can just add it to my playlist, and I’d encourage you to do the same since it just fits so perfectly. There was certainly a lot of great music released in 2016 but for me and many others, “Run the Jewels 3” sits right at the top of the list.
the 2ldr (summary)
“Run the Jewels 3” is a solid 10 out 10 not only because of its hard hitting and unique beats but also for its lyrical punches, strong message, and the charisma that echoes across the entire album. The sequencing couldn’t be better and the production is a marvel in itself. Many may have thought that “Run the Jewels 2” was a peak album, but with the release of “Run the Jewels 3,” we learned it was only the thesis for something so much bigger that was on the way.
“run the jewels 3” can be purchased at runthejewels.com.
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Donna Sloan – Editor