I’ll be honest-I almost wanted this release to disappoint me. Many friends had a countdown going for the release date, and I soon became tired of hearing about the album before I even heard the first song released. The amount of hype was staggering, albeit for good reason. Run the Jewels was undoubtedly the surprise of 2013, with El-P producing synth-drenched soundscapes that dwarfed any other hip-hop release last year and both rappers giving top-notch lyrical performances. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of listening to the two was the undeniable fact that they were having a blast creating music together. And the good news with Run the Jewels 2 is that the chemistry between Killer Mike and El-P has only gotten better this time around. Truly what it comes down to is that these two bring the best out of each other whether they’re introspectively rapping over a subtle beat on “Jeopardy”, or simply slinging their patented creative braggadocio on tracks like “Blockbuster Part 1” or “All My Life”.
It’s hard to determine if Run the Jewels labored intensively to make as perfect a record as they could, or if they just went in a studio and had the time of their lives. It skirts a fine line between meticulous construction and haphazardly (yet confidently) throwing together everything that they ever wanted to test out. The Zach de la Rocha-featured track “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” should have stood out like a sore thumb on this release, given the fact that his style couldn’t be further from Killer Mike’s syrupy Southern delivery and El-P’s quick-draw precision. It ends up not only being a strong standout, but it left me wistfully hoping that the dynamic duo would soon be allowing a third into Run the Jewels due to the natural collaborative effort. Having de la Rocha’s proclamation of “Run them jewels fast” looped over the beat was a stroke of genius and propels the explosive track into the stratosphere, with Zach providing a stellar verse at the end of the song. Travis Barker (of Blink-182 fame) lends his drum talents to the high-octane “All Due Respect”, where Killer Mike goes from throwing nuns in a double penetration situation to making a Pulp Fiction reference. It is deliciously irreverent, but at this point it’s exactly what listeners expect lyrically. On top of the ever-improving lyricism, it also seems that El-P is only getting better in terms of producing infectious yet still low-key beats. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” is a stiff contender for song of the year. The spacey and minimalist beat unobtrusively drapes over the rappers as they trade off effortlessly, producing an endless amount of quotable lines.
Run the Jewels 2 shocked the shit out of me; not because it was good, as I certainly expected that. I just didn’t expect it to be this good. “Crowns” sees Killer Mike looking inwardly at his guilt for selling cocaine to a pregnant mother years ago, only to find that the child was having developmental issues later on. The heartwarming bars of, “I release you from all your sins and your shame/Cause I’ve been redeemed/I found in Christ/Whatever it take I hope you find it, Mike” introduce a vulnerability not heard in the Run the Jewels music thus far. These small deviations (or maturations, if you prefer) from the normal formula embraced are what make this album so good. The ability to take musical risks while still not seeming to end up too far away from where Run the Jewels resides is certainly impressive. “Angel Duster” is a seductive, slow closer, proving that Run the Jewels will continue to surprise its fans; Killer Mike and El-P have waited a long time for their time in the limelight, and they obviously have a death grip on it now. We might as well enjoy the ride.
2. Oh My Darling Don’t Cry
3. Blockbuster Night – Part I
4. Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) [featuring Zack de la Rocha]
5. All My Life
6. Lie, Cheat, Steal
7. Early (featuring Boots)
8. All Due Respect (featuring Travis Barker)
9. Love Again (Akinyele Back)
10. Crown (featuring Diane Coffee)
11. Angel Duster
12. Blockbuster Night – Part II (featuring Despot and Wiki) [Bonus Track]