Album Review: ‘RTJ3’ by Run the Jewels
Written by Reid Smith on January 8, 2017
By: Conor Battles
Artist: Run the Jewels
Label: Run the Jewels, Inc.
In the weeks leading up to his legendary bout with George Foreman in Zaire in 1974; the Rumble in the Jungle; Muhammad Ali endeared himself to the Congolese locals. As he jogged through the streets, the native children would call out to him, “Ali, boma ye!” – “Ali, kill him!”
It’s only fitting that on their third album, Run the Jewels would use this legendary rallying cry for the title of one of their most endearing, ferocious hip-hop manifestos to date.
Weeks after the deluge of Album of the Year lists came pouring out into the formless din of music press, Killer Mike and El-P delivered a a Christmas f***ing miracle of equal parts bombastic swagger and calculated fury. To properly send off a year so tumultuous and tragic takes a little of both.
Run the Jewels has always been rooted in the politics of aggression, and on RTJ3, the intensity is amped up to nigh-unmatchable heights. El-P’s futuristic production is blunt and punchy, complementing the duo’s impeccable, nuanced-as-ever lyricism. Tracks like “Legend Has It” and the aforementioned “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” mix the sociopolitical commentary of so-called “conscious rappers” with enough goofy, over-the-top hip-hop villainy to fill a Saturday morning cartoon.
As a producer, El-P has come a long way from his days as Def Jux’s in-house beatmaker. RTJ3 boasts a level of sheen and focus that bolsters El-P’s glitchy cacophony by adding a method to the madness. The clarity of this album, from its brazen, confrontational sound to the straightforward politically-charged diatribes of Mike and El’s bars, makes for an album that is perhaps easier to digest than anything the duo has put out to date.
More and more, Run the Jewels is a team effort. The dynamic duo of Killer Mike and El-P has called in a veritable Justice League of collaborators to fully realize their vision of hip-hop’s amped-up, future-shocked next step. The presence of all-stars like Danny Brown, Kamasi Washington and the ever-elusive Zack de la Rocha bolster the decade’s best tag team with top-notch features.
There is something special to RTJ3; a heart of gold hidden behind bared teeth. In between the socially-conscious vitriol and the raging against machines, there is room to dream. Run the Jewels are not doomsayers so much as educators. The world they inhabit is bleak, sure, but there are chips in the armor; flickers of optimism for a better tomorrow. The first words on the album are, after all, “I hope.”