Whether you are coming into Run the Jewels high on last year’s respective Cancer 4 Cure and R.A.P. Music, or you are flaunting your Company Flow knowledge, or you are Andre 3000, the ability for El-P and Killer Mike to drift in and out of the rap conversation has hinged more on people’s attention spans than on their skills or consistency. Regardless, their inaugural collaborative album as Run the Jewels catches the new duo on the high-end of an upswing, with their project seeming like a clever play on what smart people do while others are watching the throne.
And the others can have the throne; El-P and Killer Mike are having too much fun to be stagnant and watch anything. They aren’t even selling this album; how is that for “not giving a fuck”? For everyone who has ever watched a movie and hoped that “nothing happens to the dog,” I don’t mean to spoil anything, but the dog doesn’t make it through three verses on Run the Jewels. Nothing is sacred, not the dog, and certainly not thrones, to which Killer Mike overtly announces “there will be no respect for thrones” on standout “Sea Legs;” a venomous attack whose only gentile touch is in the tasteful use of vocoder.
Yes, a lot of the album is clever self-aggrandizing rhetoric, meant for “ohhhhhhh” reactions or just flat-out laughter, and yes, the beats are not elegant, most of them happy to be filthy and cheap and something that will make you move; leave the fancy production for those self-proclaimed kings and queens. The opening title track literally has a synth bass wobble so steady that it sounds like a really slow zipper. Rather, Run the Jewels is a summer album made from a crafty use of a keyboard, melody lines and 808 beats, perfect for listening with a friend. As pissed as they both are in “Job Well Done,” it still comes across as fun mad and not hateful or dark.
And the album’s heavy moment, closer “A Christmas Fucking Miracle,” hits heavier because of the album that preceded it. The track shows El-P in a special place with his rhymes, a place he seems to be visiting more often than not these days, as he tells his own story and gives advice from the perspective of an observer, ending with “Them and the lost minds thinking they’re smarter than us don’t understand love’s importance/And we can weaponize that, bring ‘em back to the truth where the ashes and dust got formed in“
It’s powerful in both delivery and in effect, without being heavy-handed or sacrificing form. Both rappers take the opportunity to show their longtime supporters that they were right all these years, that they bet on the right horses. And to those bandwagoners jumping on just now, pretty sure you are welcome, too.