By Travis Bodell
Photo From Cameron Pollack / WXPN (@kcallop on Instagram)
I think it’s safe to say that 2016 was one hell of a year for hip-hop and rap music (no, I'm not referring to Lil Yachty or Desiigner, bare with me). The year started off strong with new records from popular musicians like Rihanna and Kanye West, and only got better when snippets of 90’s rap group A Tribe Called Quest’s album were released. Even with all the outstanding hip-hop we’ve been blessed with in the last 12 months, one record, in my book, stands out above the rest. This album sneaked into 2016 at the last minute, dropping just six days before New Year’s, almost a month before it was scheduled to. Despite its abrupt arrival, this album blew me away. Without further adieu, let’s get into it: rap duo Run The Jewel’s third album “Run The Jewels 3”.
For those unfamiliar with Run The Jewels, the alternative rap group came into existence back in 2013, and consists of producer El-P and rapper Killer Mike. The two first worked together for the first time on Mike’s album “R.A.P. Music”, which came out in 2012. Since its formation, Run The Jewels has produced two self-titled albums. “RTJ2” set the bar fairly high for Run The Jewels; many fans believed that the group had reached their peak and that topping their sophomore album would be an impossible feat. To me, the group achieved just that with this album.
Three singles were released prior to the album’s release: “Talk To Me”, “2100” (ft. Boots), and “Legend Has It”. These three tracks gave fans a preview of the sound and theme the upcoming would take on. The first two singles delivered lyrics with political context, the former mocking president-elect Donald Trump for having a “bad toupee and a spray tan”, while the latter warns of violence and war in America’s future. This isn’t the first time Run The Jewels has adopted a political topic; songs such as “Close Your Eyes (And Count To F**k) from “RTJ2” have lyrics regarding police brutality.
These political themes are further explored within the album in tracks like “Don’t Get Captured” and “A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters”, where lyrics include insight into how life for minorities in America will be during a Trump presidency.
When it comes to their music itself, Run The Jewels has always embodied a powerful, intense, in-your-face sound that is built upon and improved each time the group releases new music. As expected, the intensity of “RTJ3” as a whole is off the charts. This powerful, almost intimidating tone is notable in tracks like “Call Ticketron”, with an uptempo, almost flickering instrumental and an equally as fast delivery from Mike and El. “Stay Gold” also exemplifies RTJ’s signature intensity, with a slower instrumental but extremely powerful delivery and a hook that’s catchiness is uncanny.
Run The Jewels also demonstrated their versatility as artists with songs like the opener “Down”, that captures a groovy, more mellow sound and is over all a more “gentle” track than some of the fiercer moments of this record. Back-up vocals from featured artist Joi add to the soft and cool vibes this song emits.
El-P yet again proves his prowess as a producer; the production and sound on this record are clean, fluid and overall extremely high-quality. Run The Jewels really caught fans off-guard with this record on all regards: the abruptness of its arrival, the increasingly in-depth political and social themes, and just the sheer quality of the music and lyrics themselves. “RTJ3” dropping on December 25 it did was honestly “A Christmas F**king Miracle”. This album is definitely worth a listen if you haven’t checked it out already; the power and energy of these two musicians’ collaborative work is truly unique and something no one should miss out on.
You can listen to the full album here.