28 Aug, 2013

Run The Jewels – “Run The Jewels EP”

Run-The-Jewels-608x608When I first sat down to listen to Run the Jewels, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  My first exposure to the hip-hop tag-team was during week one of the [adult swim] summer singles program, when they had teased a track that would eventually show up on their EP, released later that month.  However, anyone who has followed the careers of enigmatic producer/rapper El-P and fellow rapper Killer Mike closely enough would not be surprised to see the realization of this duo—as the seeds of this collaboration were sown as early as last year.  El-P’s critically acclaimed album Cancer for Cure was a conceptual nosedive into a bombastic dystopian future, laden with 808 drum kits and monophonic synthesizers galore.  Incorporating a sparse guest list, El-P (a.k.a. Jaime Meline) made it very clear that he wanted to include Killer Mike (a.k.a. Michael Render) as one of the few notable features on the album—demonstrating the strange yet unmistakable chemistry between the two in a musical setting.  Likewise, Render had released a highly acclaimed album as well around this time: R.A.P. Music, which coincidentally was produced entirely by Meline.  By this point it was clear to many that the magnetism amongst the pair was not a fluke, and indeed the beginning stages of what would come to fruition a mere twelve months later.

Run the Jewels is the self-titled EP of the eponymous group, and it is certainly a mind-blowing experience the first few listens.  Much of the trademark futuristic boom-bap typical of Meline is present on this project, although it is noteworthy to mention that this style of production has been evolving since his early days with the group Company Flow back in the late ‘90s.  The EP’s opener, “Run the Jewels”, is an enthralling kick-start to the project—with chattering tambourines and a driving bass line undulating throughout the mix as El-P and Killer Mike go back and forth reciting free-form verses about various forms of braggadocio and each rapper’s versatility with flow and delivery.  The track sets the tone for the EP, furthering the thesis of new-school beats that simultaneously harken back to the days of classic ‘90s boom-bap with an east-coast flavor as the next few songs enter and exit like a whirlwind, leaving the listener aching to hear more from the dynamic duo.

A more serious tone is encountered in the track “DDFH”, where Killer Mike discusses the qualms of growing up as an educated, rebellious black male in America over a lumbering, hard-hitting beat typical of Meline’s style of production.  The next track, “Sea Legs”, is a welcome departure from the previous four songs—with an almost psychedelic wash of white noise and samples of ocean waves under a bed of sharp synthesizer tones and 808 drums reminiscent of hip-hop’s golden era back in the mid to late ‘80s.  Shortly followed are the tracks “Job Well Done”, “No Come Down”, and my personal favorite “Get It”, which all continue to showcase both the flexible nature of each MC in their lyricism and their abilities to delve into topical tracks about themes such as the hypocrisy of the music business, shamanistic usage of psychedelic drugs and the hunger to attain success that established musicians may still have even after years of coming up in the industry based completely on merit, and not corporate sponsorship.  This is interesting to note, because the entire project is a free download promoted by independent label Fool’s Gold Records—demonstrating that success is ever more achievable for artists either on indie labels or self-releasing music in the current musical climate we live in.

The EP closes with an unexpected yet hilarious Prince Paul guest feature (of De La Soul fame), playing the part of an awkwardly over-confident character named Chest Rockwell that peppers in some funny dialogue between the two rappers trading verses over an equally bombastic beat as what’s come to be expected on this album.  The final track is a semi-wistful look back upon the early days in the careers of both El-P and Killer Mike, almost acting as a self-addressed letter to their past selves telling them to stay strong and keep at it until success makes its way to them.

Overall, this EP was a very engaging and danceable listen, successfully marrying the near opposite styles of trap-infused hip-hop with braggadocios ‘90s era boom-bap coming from two veteran rappers still obviously hungry for more after all these years.  I think this release will please fans of many differing subgenres in hip-hop, as well as fans of downtempo, hard-hitting beats coupled with raw lyricism—signifying the strengths and overall musicality that the duo innately possess.  I will certainly be returning to this project many times over as I shuffle through my iPod’s library, eager to pick up the subtle nuances and overarching themes of the EP not particularly present the first couple of listens.  So you should listen to Render when he says, “These streets is full with the wolves that starve for the week so they after the weak/ In a land full of lambs I am and I’ll be damned if I don’t show my teeth”.

Review by James Halterman

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