Three albums in (excluding the remix of their last record made entirely on cat meows), partners in crime El-P and Killer Mike are still dropping mean bars and beats under the alias Run the Jewels. Are the duo still running the rap game? Or has their reign run its course?
Back in 2013, the riddle-spinning Brooklyn rapper and straight-talking Atlanta emcee combined their two styles to create a winning formula of witty trash-talking, hilarious boasting and fiery politics over some hard-hitting futuristic beats courtesy of El-P himself. Their follow-up album, RTJ2, saw them rounding up eclectic guests from Gangsta Boo to Travis Barker, whilst diversifying the production – but ultimately sticking to the same tasty recipe.
Their latest offering RTJ3 - released on Christmas day as a surprise gift to fans - meanwhile sees the duo only making a few minor tweaks to their sound. The instrumentals are for one more intense, consisting of more bangers and less breathers. Whether he’s getting funky on ‘Oh Mama’ or playing with dark synths as in the closer ‘Kill Your Masters’, El Producto seemingly refuses to let the energy die. The lyrics have meanwhile stayed topical – whilst I’m sure to soon grow tired of token anti-Trump tracks, ‘2100’ is a revolt anthem taken from a refreshingly positive angle.
Otherwise, Run the Jewels are largely retreading the same ground – which is a plus and a minus. I’m happy to see Killer Mike spurting the same cartoonishly villainous bars (‘went to jail and we murdered the murderers there’) just as I’m happy to hear El-P dishing out the same harsh life perspectives (‘get a job, get a house, get a coffin’). But some of the similarities do feel like Déjà vu. Both Boots and Zack de la Rocha return to give guest vocals – couldn’t the duo have freshened things up with a new line-up of guests? And isn’t ‘Panther like a Panther’ just a lesser version of RTJ2’s sex anthem ‘Love Again’?
Perhaps the pair will take a sharp turn into new territory on their next release and RTJ3 is simply a way of the duo neatly tying off a trilogy. Either way it’s still a fun ride.