The guys who were once the internet nerd’s preference to the Throne has now solidified themselves as one of the most important duo’s out today. With what sounds like their Tarantino-directed sequel to the first project, Run the Jewels 2 serves as a violent, abrasive, energetic record where both Killer Mike and El-P have found the balance between old-school influence and new-school relevance, while ultimately being one of the best rap projects 2014 has seen so far.
It’s only been a year, but Run the Jewels fans have been salivating for a sequel since the release of their first 10-track effort in 2013. A master of the withering art of southern-based lyricism and a Brooklyn-MC that is a staple in the underground scene came together for an unexpected rebirth of both of their careers, and ultimately pushed them both into the limelight—maybe not with the Drakes or Kendricks, but their presence looms over the mainstream with the idea that they are probably your favorite rapper’s favorite rappers. With the second addition, it seems Run the Jewels has reached it’s pinnacle as a furiously technical and intense lyrical display with some of the most interesting, engaging production we’ve heard in years from none other than El-P. The beats are scattered, irregularly trap influenced bangers that allow both Killer Mike and El-P to find their fast-witted pockets inside of their verses all before the bouncing, snappy, infectious hooks drop. This quality bleeds through the bulk of the project, but is far from monotonous—instead, it adds to the cohesiveness of the record, allowing the frequent flows, the varied subject matter, and the call-and-response verses of the two MCs create the real spontaneity and uniqueness.
Take a song like “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” sporting a legendary feature from Zack de la Rocha compared to one like the Boots-assisted, slower tempo song “Early”. Both are unapologetically El-P beats, but are distinctly different. One has a contagious tempered-tempo and a barrage of verses, while the latter has a more structured, slow burning breed of lyrical finesse about the most relevant social issue in America—the tragic death of Micheal Brown and the aftermath following suit. Some may groan at the attempt to touch on a topic that has plenty of fingerprints on it, but the beauty of RTJ is the ability to have a split dichotomy in full effect at all times. El-P and Killer Mike are never borrowing words or picking up where they left off, instead they play off of each other seamlessly and offer both of their unique skillets within each and every track. The real unique qualities of this record, though, lie not in the tempos or mechanics of the songs themselves, but the growth and capabilities of two older MCs who prove that just when we think we know what to expect from both of them, they crossover endlessly into each other’s territories and beyond. It doesn’t take a lot for El-P to jump into a bouncy Southern flow and it takes even less for Killer Mike to assume position as the most lyrical, technical rapper of any given track. It’s this specific quality that was maybe the inch Watch the Throne needed to be the undisputed classic it was hyped to be—the idea that maybe pushing two rappers together for a project doesn’t need to be everything we expected, but everything we didn’t even know we’ve wanted.
Is it better than the first RTJ record though? Yes. Through and through, the album sounds more seamless, crisp, surprising, and profoundly abrasive than the last record. The features blend effortlessly into every song’s narrative and tempo, with raunchy verses from Gangsta Boo and serene musical features from indie-act Diane Coffee being placed perfectly on the record without missing a step. The project breezes by, yet it remains dense in content. It is intense without being difficult to listen to, and it is just lyrical enough to still keep your attention within it’s grips. Without a doubt, we are witnessing the moment where these two MCs eclipse their own discographies and become more important together than anything they’ve represented in the past. In an era of hip-hop where duos or groups seem as temporary and facetious as ever, we finally have two genuine collaborators who are building a discography so deep and undisputed that it’s just their given right at this point to be respected and referred to as one of the best, if not, the best hip-hop duo currently existing in 2014.