Equal parts red-hot fire and cold hard reality, Killer Mike and El-P’s third album as Run The Jewels is a muscular call to arms
'I told ya suckas on RTJ1, then I told you again on RTJ2,' yells Killer Mike at the close of Run The Jewels 3's lead single Talk To Me, 'and you still ain’t believe me, so here we go.'
After 2016’s unique cosmic buffet, ranging from the previously unthinkable to the depressingly familiar, Michael Render and Jaime Meline are back with a set of tracks that blend big-time bravado with some truly eye-opening takes on modern life. This is a duo who have spent large parts of their careers taking on inequality, surveillance, corruption, racism and police brutality, but Run The Jewels 3 doesn’t merely throw out complaints about the situation we find ourselves in.
Instead, Run the Jewels opt for an active tone that’s both dystopian and hopeful, aggressive and bashful; the pen speaks mightier than the AK-47, but it’s still good to have a few weapons to hand 'in case shit gets to poppin’ off.' Whether it’s Meline stating 'I've got a fragrance I'm wearing called ‘I will shit on you basics’' over his own pounding beat, or Render claiming that 'RT & J is the new PB & J', the duo’s knack for high five-worthy boasts and massive one-liners remains undiluted. However, RTJ3 truly excels in some of its darkest moments.
Don’t Get Captured casts the spectres of police brutality, urban violence and aggressive gentrification as elements in a guerrilla war between citizens and state, filled with child soldiers, sell-out politicians and thuggish cops. Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost) is an all-points look at the anatomy of a riot, and a bruising takedown of the traditional narratives on the sparks behind violent outbursts. 'No more moms and dads crying, no more arms in the air,' says Render, 'We put firearms in the air.'
Thursday in the Danger Room, though, is possibly the most surprising track on Run The Jewels 3 – a deep meditation on illness, death, and their effects on those left behind. Meline asks, 'How do you look in the eyes of a friend and not cry when you know that they're dying?', Render retells the story of a friend murdered, and the focus draws from the macro to the micro in the blink of an eye.
Thursday in the Danger Room features a haunting saxophone line from Kamasi Washington, while Trina, Danny Brown and Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio also make appearances across the 14 tracks, but this remains the Mike and El show. Even a last-minute incursion from RTJ2 guest star Zack De La Rocha can’t take the limelight away from the duo, and that’s saying something.
One prevailing thought on 2016 is that it was the pits, a nadir, an annus horribilis, but the truth is that the effects of its most tumultuous moments are still working their way down the pipes. Nelson Muntz’s suntanned cousin hasn't even hit the White House yet, and Brexit is still in the post. There is still massive economic and social inequality, terrorism, institutional racism, police corruption; basically, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
The duo have said of the gold-clad RTJ3 cover: “This represents the idea that there is nothing to take that exists outside of yourself. You are the jewel.” In a world filled with upheaval where trust and compassion appear in short supply, Run The Jewels are here to educate, discuss, provoke and attack – whichever is necessary.
'Probably play the score for the World War,' says Killer Mike on RTJ3’s closer. 'At the apocalypse, play the encore.' If that’s what it comes to, we can’t say they didn’t warn us; at least we know the tunes will be worth listening to.
Listen to: Don't Get Captured, Panther Like a Panther, Thursday in the Danger Room
Run The Jewels 3 is out now as a free download via runthejewels.com, and released on physical formats on 13 Jan via Mass Appeal