Run The Jewels is the much hyped product of a collaboration between Pitchfork darling MCs Killer Mike and El-P. I’ve posted a few tracks of theirs over the last few months, but I didn’t know what to expect of the complete package. Would it be a compelling and coherent piece of music, or two A-game rappers using their side-project as a venue for exercises in nonsense and bullshit? Run The Jewels is both: it plays out like a compelling and coherent ode to nonsense and bullshit, and I mean that in the most complimentary sense imaginable. The album – available as a free download on the Fool’s Gold website – is a concise collection of aggressive odes to mayhem and comic violence. It’s dumb fun from two of the most lyrically intelligent rappers working today, each of whom produce some of the slickest bits of lyrical body horror this side of Twelve Reasons To Die. Run The Jewels is a sharp breath of fresh air; a handsome combination of absurdist battle raps and hardline techno beats.
Killer Mike and El-P are comparably equipped vocalists, and they seem to rap off of one another as though they are partners in a dance based on ricocheting limbs. On tracks like “36” Chain” and “No Come Down” the duo make eviscerating your enemies sound like something that can only be done with your best buddy at your side. In a lot of ways, Run The Jewels seems to be a vague fantasy of ironic, escapist violence with Mike and El-P at its center. Their mutually benevolent comraderie is at the heart of tracks like “DDFH” and “Get It,” and each seems content to just spit off of the other; which is great, because I am more than content to listen to nothing else.
The album’s almost relentless pattern of attack doesn’t necessarily get weary, but it makes Run The Jewels something of a special occasion. This is an album with great tonal depth, but not a lot of tonal diversity, and so it probably isn’t equipped for all-weather listening. But Run The Jewels is an album that no true hip-hop connoisseur can afford not to listen to; it manages to be breathtakingly poetic and absurdly comedic without ever letting you believe for one second that either Mike or El-P have truly lost their grip. A short, powerful LP whose hyperactively catchy beats and hook-saturated lyrics beg multiple replays, multiple sequels.