“The kitten became a lion” declares El-P, a change evident when listening to the Run the Jewels latest imaginatively titled record Run the Jewels 2. And it is a record, something one can purchase and physically own, a transition from group’s free debut mixtape, indicating the great advancement in the last year or so. El’s production has become much more nuanced but the more notable progression of Run the Jewel’s style is their lyricism. More politically and socially conscious than ever, Killer Mike and El explore the issues facing the modern world – prison profiteering, police brutality and corruption, materialism – through a veil of hilarity and brutality.
The album itself starts aggressively and in-your-face setting the scene for the constant aggressiveness and fevered momentum. Songs build and build, verses alternating and building upon one another as El’s beats grow and worm they way into your brain, perfectly mirroring the griminess of the lyrics. The features throughout the album also build upon the tracks and further highlight RTJ’s growth into the mainstream with Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha and Blink-182’s Travis Barker.
Mainstream penetration is prevalent in the lives of Mike and El both at a commercial high point in the careers, yet their resurgences do not phase them, willing to deal with many controversial issues in their own style. The song ‘Early’ for example, deals with Mike’s arrest in front of his wife and children, yet he exclaims “I respect the badge and the gun”, an unexpected comment from one with such a braggadocio, gangster personality. Through their unlikely pairing they are also able to deal with particular cultural and racial differences whilst promoting a certain cohesion. While Mike is targeted for his skin colour, El is able to freely roam New York without pressure or fear.
Yet, the next song after Early flips back to the aforementioned hilarity and viciousness that symbolises RTJ as a dynamic force in hip-hop. “We iller than a nun in a cumshot”, a line that could only be delivered on a Run the Jewels album. But throughout they manage to provide a distinct sequel to their debut whilst creating absolute explosive tracks. ‘Love Again’ is a particular standout due its vulgarity and no-limits performance from the ever-racy Gangsta Boo of Three 6 Mafia.
With the recent riots as a result of the shooting of Michael Brown and the increased revelations of the government’s invasions of privacy, RTJ are the most relevant and head-on hip-hop group out there right now. They are the much needed artists that not only blast your face off but get you to consider society’s problems at the same time. Killer Mike and El-P are two of the regrettably few musicians directly addressing the world’s current problems and are a breath of fresh air in an industry that seems full of ambiguous and meaningless lyrics.