Review: Run the Jewels 3 Might Be the Best Rap Album of 2017

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By Matt Reinstein

Arts Reporter

4.5/5 stars

Recently, UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor challenged winner of 15 world titles Floyd Mayweather to a boxing match. How does this have any relevance to Run the Jewels 3?

Well, picture Run the Jewels’ Killer Mike and El-P as Floyd Mayweather and their targets as Conor McGregor. While in a fight, Conor McGregor seems frightening, but he’s a kickboxer, not a boxer. He would be fighting a sport he doesn’t even play. So who would win? A professional boxer or someone who doesn’t box? Hard choice, am I right?

2012 marked the beginning of a very close friendship between rapper and activist Killer Mike and rapper-producer El-P, after they joined forces to work on Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music. Ever since the album’s success, El-P and Killer Mike have been making quite a name for themselves with their critically acclaimed self-titled mixtape, Run the Jewels. Their follow-up smash, Run the Jewels 2, expanded the two rapper’s chemistry with humorous back-and-forth banter on social and economic issues. Run the Jewels 3 explores and widens its maturity by speaking about subjects that range from finding the “gold” within oneself, understanding the 2016 presidential election, and examining how uprisings result in anarchy (while keeping their promise to “just make dope-ass rap music”).

Run the Jewels 3 may be the most explosive of the three albums, due to the fact that this one speaks about revolt and destruction with the most thorough descriptions of violence and turmoil. From “Hey Kids (Bumaye) [feat. Danny Brown]”: “We showed up, ski masks, picks, and axes to murder asses/Lift up our glasses and watch your places burn to ashes/Fucking fascists, who the fuck are you to give fifty lashes?”

The song speaks about killing and eliminating big corporate companies who rule the business world. “Got plans to rob/Any Rothschild living, Bill Gates and the Ghost of Jobs.” They then go on to rap, “Enemy graves, he digging in it, then we piss in it.” Danny Brown also gives an awesome appearance. He says to listeners who are surprised by their mean and nasty lyrics, “Please be alarmed, be warned/give up that charm or get harmed.” Their don’t-care attitude drives this album from good to great faster than a heartbeat.

How does this album change protest rap? Ever since Top Dawg Entertainment produced Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 LP, To Pimp a Butterfly, we’ve seen a barrage of rap albums focused on social and racial injustices. In 2016, many of them have been surrounded by silky, soft jazz with laid back and smooth bars. What Run the Jewels 3 does is add carnage, rampage, and disorder within their bars.

Killer Mike and El-P are also the epitome of what good chemistry can produce. Their repartee is humorous yet serious and pours out rambunctious energy. Killer Mike’s hazardous tone balances out El-P’s quieter flow, which is not to be confused as less indignant. So far, in the 2010’s, no rap group or duo has even come close to having the chemistry or impact on society that Run the Jewels embodies.

El-P’s production, with help of Little Shalimar and Wilder Zoby, is backed up by EDM sounding beats with very heavy bass. This can be viewed as a way of expanding the variety of sounds that rap can be heard from. Most rap is enveloped by heavy electronic trap in the background, which can at times be distracting to the lyrics of the song. But while RTJ3 is heavily produced, it’s beats are much more exuberant and buoyant and pair very well with the riot theme RTJ is going for.

On “Call Ticketron,” a crinkled static bass and snaps backed off by siren sounds fill the song with a sense of urgency. “Everybody Stay Calm” adds a keyboard on loop, synthesizers, and again, heavy bass. It also enquires an echo-y whirl of drums. “Oh Mama,” is a production of horns, metal guitar and bouncy, psychedelic bass. Its production is much more diverse and mature than RTJ1 or RTJ2 because of what it does to the tone of the songs. Many times it adds anger and anarchy to the songs, but on few occasions, like “Down (feat. Joi)” and “A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters”, it adds tenderness and sadness. They seem to be doing fine, though, because the rest of the album isn’t laid back at all.

There were three singles that hinted towards a highly anticipated return to the studio from Run the Jewels: “Talk to Me,” “2100 (feat. BOOTS),” and “Legend Has It.” All of these songs are detonated and are the epitome of what a “fire” song is. There’s no other way to put it.

The best of the three is “2100 (feat. BOOTS).” Speaking of what the world will be like in 2100 if all of the hate within the world continues, this may be the song of the album, with lyrics like, “Telling you to pick your master for president/Been behind the curtain, seen the Devil workin’/Came back with some evidence.” The song is the heart and soul of the album by speaking about Donald Trump, terrorism, police brutality and racial divides.

Though “2100 (feat. BOOTS)” may not be as fun as some of the other songs on the album, “Talk to Me” and “Legend Has It” makes up for this completely. From the first verse of “Legend Has It,” “RT&J, we the new PB&J/We dropped a classic today (what?)” to the last, “You think I’m Lion, you right, see my teeth/Don’t be a bore when I’m roaming vamoose/Hunting’s no fun when your pray doesn’t move,” RTJ just seem like they’re having endless fun on this LP.

It’s early to say, but I’m going to call it: Run the Jewels 3 will end up being without a doubt, the coolest rap album of 2017. Its word play, self-awareness, the chemistry between Killer Mike and El-P, the sick beats, and the robustness of the guest list will be too much for any other rap album to compare. Run the Jewels is taking the rap industry by storm, and they show no signs of slowing down, or even caring. To keep it simple: Run the Jewels 3, as well as 2 and 1 are must listens.