Just when you think you are done reviewing albums for the year, Run the Jewels 3 comes out three weeks ahead of its 2017 release date. This instantly made it a surprise contender for my year end list and just an overall amazing Christmas present for me. If you cannot tell, I have loved Run the Jewels first two albums, their second album likely being my favorite record from 2014, so I was beyond excited for this. Killer Mike and El-P’s chemistry had already seem to hit a high on Run the Jewels 2 so I was interested to see how they would work together on this project and how they would push themselves.
First things first, this is a Run the Jewels album and the first half makes that abundantly clear. El-P’s production is just as spectacular as it always has been. The beats hit heavy and are loud, without feeling like the cheap loud banger beats that hip hop like this sometimes contains. The production is experimental while managing to stay accessible to more casual listeners. Honestly if you need running music, or just general pump up music, these beats will certainly do the trick.
The lyrics on here are also just as strong as the production backing them. As I recently noted on my Twitter, if all I did was tweet out quotes from this album, my account would probably be one of the best and most inspirational out there. Not only were the lyrics clever and hilarious, but also went into political material more than they usually do.
The first half of this is probably the material Run the Jewels fans will be most familiar with. Songs like “Talk to Me” and “Legend Has It” feel very similar to what we have gotten from the duo before, which is far from a complaint because of how incredible these guys are. It was not until “Call Ticketron” that I felt things start to differ from their past work. The beat was a little more unusual and has this interesting effect that makes it feel like it is always rising in intensity. All these songs transition into each other excellently, making this album difficult not to listen to in one listen.
The album hits its first major high with “Hey Kids (Bumaye),” which really ignites the revolutionary theme of this album. For one, Bumaye, which is Congolese for “kill him,” is repeated by a group of children. Mix this with Killer Mike’s opening line “Say hello to the masters, on behalf of the classless masses” followed by “Lift up our glasses and watch your palaces burn the ashes/Fucking fascists, who the fuck are you to give fifty lashes” and you can get where RTJ is taking the song. El-P’s verse is also great on here, but it is the guest verse by Danny Brown that needs to be discussed. His verse is insane, using a triplet of rhymes in his first bar alone. He made an excellent addition to the duo and it would be amazing to see the trio work again in the future.
On “Don’t Get Captured,” a disturbing image of police brutality is painted throughout the entire song. Killer Mike starts things off showing how brutal inner cities can be. It is El-P’s verse, from the perspective of the law enforcement that really blew me away here. While lines like “Is that a blunt? Oh well, hell, so’s this boot/We live to hear you say ‘please don’t shoot’” could be read as heavy-handed, the loud nature of the music calls for something as straight forward as this. As El-P says on “Talk to Me,” “You think baby Jesus killed Hitler just so I’d whisper?” which establishes early on the duo will not be holding back.
In just over four minutes, Run the Jewels deconstruct people’s views towards riots on “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost).” Considering the subject matter, Killer Mike and El-P are able make so many poignant statements and stuff this song with as much social commentary as they can. El-P’s production on here is much slower than before, giving the track an eerie sound.
The album’s messaging is not all gloom and doom, as the track “2100” proves. The production on here is immaculate and sets the mood well. The track, which was release immediately following Trump being elected, is focused on trying to find a calm in the sea of negativity that this election season was. BOOTS makes a return with the group after his work on Run the Jewels 2, and is just as effective here as he was then. The line that really summarizes the best part of the song is the simple message of “Make love, smoke kush, try to laugh, and live long/That’s the antidote/You defeat the devil when you hold onto hope.” It is the kind of positive message people need to hear right now.
“Everybody Stay Calm” and “Oh, Mama” are an excellent pair of tracks that transition into this albums phenomenal final moments. The former of these tracks has a spacey beat that I did not expect out of El-P. The production gets more intense on “Oh Mama,” a groovier track. Both tracks have the same intense socially conscious flow that Killer Mike and El-P have proven they can deliver this entire project.
Then we get my favorite song on the entire project, “Thursday in the Danger Room,” a more personal song for the duo. The first verse from El-P has him telling a story of watching his friend slowly die as result of illness. He holds nothing back as he explains how much pain he was in when confronting his dying friend and how difficult it was for him to stay strong. Killer Mike’s following verse sees him reflecting on a friend who was murdered on the streets. He handles the subject matter in a mature way, speaking directly to his friend’s killer and instead of seeking revenge, hoping they have righted their wrongs and can move forward in life as a better person. Kamasi Washington’s saxophone playing adds dark jazzy instrumentation that reminds me of something off of David Bowie’s Blackstar, which is a high compliment.
The final song is divided into two drastically different parts. The first half “A Report to Shareholders” is a little quieter, with El-P delivering a great verse about the risks that come from making controversial music like this. Killer Mike uses his verse to justify the need for revolution, by stating the negative effects of making America constantly choose two evils. The song explodes on “Kill Your Masters,” giving us one last taste of the Run the Jewels we all love. As aggressive as the statement might be, the idea of killing your masters is as revolutionary as it gets, and a great way to end this album. The RTJ trilogy ends with the idea that you are done listening and now it is time for action. Not actual violence as the title might imply initially, but whatever you can do to make your voice heard. An intense verse from Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha ends this project off brilliantly and has you leaving more pumped than ever.
How does this rank in Run the Jewels discography? It might just be my favorite, it is definitely on the level of the group’s last project. Fans of this duo, you have probably already checked this out, but in case you have not this is essential listening for you. I loved this entire album, even “Down” which is my least favorite song here works great. I give this my highest of recommendations and is one of the greatest hip hop releases we have gotten since “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Run the Jewels gave me everything I wanted and so much more on this record and I am so glad that album will get to be the last album I review in 2016.
Best Tracks: Talk to Me, Legend Has It, Call Ticketron, Hey Kids (Bumaye), Stay Gold, Don’t Get Captured, Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost), 2100, Everybody Stay Calm, Oh Mama, Thursday in the Danger Room, A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters
Worst Track: Down