Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
With Run The Jewels, El-P and Killer Mike deliver an object lesson in the first principles of hip-hop. The beats are a showcase in minimalist effectiveness – walking the line between sick, infectious loops, and breaks and bridges which mirror and emphasise the stress-points of the lyrical content. El's production here is more restrained than on his synth-driven Cancer 4 Cure of last year, more akin to the template laid down on Mike's R.A.P. Music.
Lyrically, the album is as devastating as expected, but with an added dose of futuristic battle-rap wit that seems to be El and Mike's custom-engineered context as a duo. Its unique mixture is equal parts the darkest put-downs and lyrical body-slams of El-P's work, and half the sophisticated, aggressively detailed domineering of Mike's confrontational but intelligent take on Southern rap. It's at its most convincing and sonically jaw-dropping when both rappers veer into intricately-laced double-time flows, as on the title track. They have clearly influenced each other, with Mike veering into surrealism, and El lacing his street vocabulary tighter than ever before.
In short, it sounds like the duo are having tremendous fun with this project. And yet, themes elevating the material to acutely-observed social commentary are not avoided on the album's final track, A Christmas Fucking Miracle, which offers an unflinching depiction of poverty and struggle, and some rare notes of hope. "Don't fret little man, don't cry," raps El-P, "they can never take the energy inside you were born with." It's a fable about overcoming adversity, and a compelling statement about an over-populated, recession-afflicted, conflict-ridden world.
Then there are moments like the bubbling, none-more-gangsta 36" Chain; the rambling, psychedelic tour journal Sea Legs; and the deceptively simple 'mission statement' raps of Get It, which are just incredibly good fun, and feel entirely unburdened by either artist's long and expectation-loaded careers. These tracks are simply brilliant examples of what's possible with a sick beat and some fly rhymes, with all the ruthless, beat-oriented efficiency of old-school New York crews like Ultramagnetic MCs and Boogie Down Productions.
The collaborations, with Outkast's Big Boi on the 80s electro-bumping Banana Clipper; with up-and-coming producer Until The Ribbon Breaks on the ethereal R 'n' B-flavoured Job Well Done; and with Chest Rockwell (aka Prince Paul) add depth and texture. But it's the sheer fun to be had listening to El-P and Killer Mike, the duo's confident, too-future swagger, that puts Run The Jewels so many leagues ahead of most of this year's crop of hip-hop. And it's free to download, the band making their money from tours, branded herb grinders and other merch. El-P and Mike understand the future in which we live better than Jay-Z or Kanye ever could, and they have an album to match the depth of that understanding. It's another career-defining moment for both of them, and one of this year's finest thus far.