What is Run the Jewels? I’m purposely writing this intro before I press play in Run the Jewels 2. I assume, for some reason, that I’m about to hear some variety of hip hop. But I genuinely have no idea and nothing to base that on. I only heard of Run the Jewels in the closing weeks of last year when they popped up on more than one ‘best of 2014’ list. They appeared enough for me to want to hear them, but apparently not enough for me to ever read any of the reviews or reasons why it was on those lists. So, here goes, I’m about to find out what Run the Jewels is, by listening to one of 2014’s most lauded albums, the lazily titled, Run the Jewels 2.
With declaration of, “history being made” in the opening seconds of Jeopardy, I’m fairly confident that my prediction of rap is on the right track. Then the menacing synth bass kicks in, right before the aggressive rhymes of either EI-P or Killer Mike confirms my rap prediction. Thanks to Wikipedia for their names, boo to Wikpedia for not telling me exactly who has which verse.
When I say the rhymes are aggressive, I don’t mean I find the lyrical content offensive or confrontational. I mean the delivery is in your face in a confident, impossible to ignore way. These dudes can cram more words into a beat perfect sentence than almost anyone else I’ve ever heard in my (limited) hip hop listening experience. And on Oh My Darling Don’t Cry, they ramp it up even more. A mixture of dystopian, 16bit computer game sounds, with an ominous bass drone.
Less than half way in, and Run the Jewels 2 is totally living up to all the praise I read. And by ‘read’, I mean, scanned online headlines for articles that presumably praised them. Blockbuster Night, Pt 1 comes in hard and awesome. And while I would usually dismiss a line like “Last album fooled ‘em. Proved that we was fuckin’ brutal”, as typical and overdone hip hop hubris, songs like this and Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) make me totally believe the hype.
After the onslaught of the first half, Run the Jewels 2 gets a little weird with All My Life and Lie, Cheat, Steal. The beats are more world music influenced and experimental. The samples and instruments more wide ranging. An when it’s all tied together with EI-P and Killer Mike’s machine gun delivery, these tracks are nothing less than awesome.
Early is the first time on this album that Run the Jewels resort to that old hip hop chestnut, the sung and soulful vocal hook. But when it’s surrounded by their computer game obsessed dystopia, it gives that overused cliché new life. And no matter how A.D.D Run the Jewels 2 sounded until this point, I was in no way prepared for Love Again (Akinyele Black).
Normally, when a hip hop song takes a weird left turn in the middle, crashing beats or aesthetics together, it just sounds like two half written songs crammed together to make one half assed Frankenstein of a song. Love Again takes left turn after left turn after left turn, and each one takes you somewhere cooler than the last. Wait, would three left runs bring it back to where it started?
Run the Jewels 2 finishes on the perfect note. Angel Duster combines every single good bit of what came before it, highlighting every one of Run the Jewels’ strengths. Like I said, I went into this album totally blind, and what I came out with was some of the best, most unique hip hop I have ever heard. Granted, that’s not saying much when you take my miniscule experience with hip hop into account. But the point is, I really loved this album and now know why it made so many of those ‘best of 2014’ lists.