The #1 Album of 2014: Run The Jewels 2

Run The Jewels 2 Album Cover

“We have done our job then my friend. Our work is done here.” El-P said when I told him of my desire to knock out my laptop cause I was so jacked when I first heard RTJ2. Wanting to punch my screen in excitement was just one of the many reactions the album elicited on first listen. There was jumping, there was bouncing, there were battle-rap hand gestures, there was eyes-closed-elbow-dancing…Some straight up groove shit. When an album makes you move & react with such passion and fervor towards it right off the bat, chances are you’re staring the Album of the Year in the face.

And with this, Run The Jewels 2 succeeds on multiple levels. It’s not just the explosive energy of the first half of the album into the deeply reflective and tempered honesty of the second half; it’s the genuine and rare cohesion of El-P, Killer Mike & the album’s multiple collaborators; it’s an album by the people and for the people, that was delivered for FREE MUTHAFUCKAH! FREE! And that’s an industry-tilting idea to consider: The Album of the Year was distributed to anyone who wanted it for free. I talked to Run The Jewels about this model back in October and El-P had this to say about it:

It’s our contribution to a relationship with a fan base that we want to continue for a long time. I feel that if you give someone something thats quality and heartfelt then you have a really good basis for establishing real support for people who appreciate it.

I want to control it. If I’m gonna give it away, if its gonna be out there and play the game of “hey everybody, buy my record when it comes out…wink, wink. you already have the record.” Id rather be like “Here’s this gift to you, here’s my gift and here are the ways that you can support and here are the ways that you can buy it”… and for us it works, its a career model and its working. I don’t know that that works for everybody. because we’re still healthy and young and able to tour and make money in different ways, but not everyone is always gonna be able to do that and not be able to make money on music because you’re older and can’t tour….But to us right now, its very workable. We can have a really good career and at the same time present somebody with something. A lot of people don’t buy music and just because you don’t buy music doesn’t mean you’re not a fan of this shit. Maybe you just wanna come to the show, maybe u wanna buy a t-shirt and thats fine… and if u wanna support, you have a lot of ways to do it and we’ll make you aware. We know from doing it like this last time (on the debut album) that it’s a real way to do it.

Real as fuck from my perspective. And that’s something that sets Run The Jewels apart. They’re El-P and Killer Mike, but they’re not trying to hide behind some hip-hop alias. On the album’s opener, “Jeopardy,” Mike shouts:

So fuck you fuckboys forever
I hope I said it politely
And that’s about the psyche of Jaime and Mikey

Jaime and Mikey are accessible dudes. If you’ve ever tried to tweet at them, chances are they’ve RT’d you, or maybe they read your tweet mid-blunt and you’ll have a back and forth about something random. As a music fan and a hip-hop head, that’s a #rare and refreshing approach that you gotta respect. There’s no enigmatic aura around these two, they come straight out and tell you what’s on their mind; on album, in person and on the internet. And they don’t shy away from the hot-button socio-political issues clouding our nation right now either. Killer Mike has long-since been an out-spoken figure against police brutality in America. In fact, before anything happened in Ferguson or in Cleveland, etc.. Killer Mike and El-P had an eloquent response to shitty politicians, the prison state, and race issues already crafted in the form of RTJ2. Most notably on “Early,” it’s an eerily clairvoyant re-count of the unjust use of force by NY police that led to the death of Eric Garner:

I said “Man, I’m tryin’ to smoke and chill
Please don’t lock me up in front of my kids
And in front of my wife
Man, I ain’t got a gun or a knife
You do this and you ruin my life

They’ve been a front-facing voice of the voiceless when we need it most. On “Lie, Cheat Steal,” Mike blares the repeatable query on who truly is pulling the strings of our society:

Like who really run this?
Like who really run that man that say he run this?
Who who really run that man that say he run this, run run run run this?

On “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” El-P refers to “these FUBAR rulers gettin rich!” When I asked El and Mike about the “FUBAR rulers” or who do they think is the the lowest of the low, El said “To me the lowest of the low is anyone who wants to control another man’s life” and Mike almost immediately chimed in with “Whoever is on the other end of that Donald Sterling call….whoever he’s referring to on that call. That’s the lowest of the low.”

Can’t emphasize enough how genuine, respectful, yet humble RTJ have presented themselves across all mediums.  They’ve created a record that’s a conscious hip-hop journey through and through. From the hard-hitting “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” (best beat I’ve heard in years) and “Close Your Eyes And Count To Fuck” with Zack De La Rocha, to the more atmospheric “Crown” with Diane Coffee and album closing “Angel Duster,” RTJ2 is fluent in it’s phases and you feel their emotions on every damn note. Their performance of “Crown” (with Boots) on David Letterman is an emotionally riveting one from the moment Killer Mike opens his flow and El-P starts punctuating:

It’s a chill-inducing performance and it’s exactly what Run The Jewels are in the business of doing: “Making quality and heartfelt music.” This is shit you can feel and they’re having a damn good time doing it. El-P says: “About a year ago, we sat down and were like yo…“Let’s do this shit again. Fuck it!” We did everything we could to make it happen. I’m proud we got it done.” One love.

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