Run The Jewels 3 Review

It sounds futuristic; it sounds foreign; it sounds like right here and right now.


Run the Jewels is a back with a stomping christmas gift for all disaffected hip hop heads out there. The album, not being physically released until January 20 worldwide, is now available for download on the official Run The Jewels site here:

This is non-conformist hip hop from the perennial experimentalists. It doesn’t sound like other rap and doesn’t really walk or talk like other rap. Yeah, they explore some of the same themes as other artists, but they do it in their own alien language. It’s like a poetry you’ve never heard before. Like 5 year olds talking about epistemology or CEO’s debating morality. It’s hard to say this album is a break out or a massive advancement on what they’ve already done because their first efforts came out with such force and coherence. And while this can be something that hamstrings artists—being expected to better themselves on every album— RTJ approach these expectations with zen-like good humour and effortlessness. RTJ3 doesn’t sound a whole lot different than its precursors. They’re not trying to be heavier, or slower or more melodic or take it in any direction. It’s just an advancement of what they’ve realised they can do: make very loud, intricate and earnest music that is completely idiosyncratic. On this release, they meditate on unexpected success (Down), an uncertain future (2100, Everyone Stay Calm, Talk to Me), the power of money and poverty (Gold, Don’t Get Captured, Thieves).

Run The Jewls has been together since 2013, a supergroup consisting of EL-P, an acclaimed rapper and producer from NY who has been a perennial maverick of hip hop’s smarter underground and Killer Mike, an Atlanta MC who released the critically acclaimed R.A.P Music in 2012. They have released two albums to wide acclaim since. Mike’s also recently became a salient political figure, being a visible proponent of Bernie Sanders in this year’s earlier presidential election, and although he’s always had sociopolitical bars, he harangues with the force of a prophet on this release. El-P’s electric tapestry of post-industrial jigsaw pieces has gotten darker and more mechanised; it almost feels devoid of any human touch. The virtuosic delivery of both Mike and El completes these expressionistic sketches, bubbling with cartoonish excess. It’s a dark accompaniment to late-Capitalism, a paranoid travelogue where all the characters seem to exist in a narcotised confusion, but for the two antihero narrators leading us assuredly by the hand.

RTJ3 is a longer and more exploratory offering, with more sounds and glitches, smoking circuits, more flows, and more ghostly electric hooks. Everything about this album is chimeric and eclectic. It never stays in one tempo or tone for long, always content to throw a new flurry at you. They’re like kids constantly rediscovering themselves on every new song. It makes for a riveting listen, as nothing has sounded more alive or ‘now’ than this. It’s the perfect counterpoint for 2016- loud, obnoxious, and exquisite in its ugliness and imperfection.

The album opens with the dour, electro-church lament of Down (feat. Joi), where Mike’s typically fair ground flow, with its extreme dynamics and tempo variations, is let loose over some swelling chords. It’s a reflective and anthemic opening to a real salad of an album. There’s a simple, chopped and screwed boom bap beat on the melody with Mike’s flow tying the spaciousness together and they don’t really get more introspective than this, except on maybe Thieves.

The electro-tribal boom bap continues on the rocketing Talk to Me, an androids dream of electric soul that sounds like a disco classic fro another galaxy. Mike sings along with El-P’s masterful conductors batten on the chorus and you can really hear the difference between the two emcees’ styles on this track. Mikes running, fluid grooves juxtapose with El-P’s staunch, reverberating punchline prowess and somehow they fit together like it was predestined- like a yin yang.

Call ticketron shows RTJ moving forward. The beat kicks off like a thousand electric cicadas, taking the tempo way beyond any frantic sprint they’ve yet made. Ratting along at 5000 miles an hour it’s a disjointed, shadow-chasing piece that the two emcees effortlessly dance over. Mouths full of angry verbs fly from El-P like litter from the back of the A train, while Mike’s lacquered boom carries us over the broken spacecraft below. If RTJ3 didn’t feel as natural as their last two releases, it would almost be showoff-y, filled with track to make both rappers and producers scared, but not alienating to the listener. The beats are throwing back to El-P’s solo, even Company Flow days where chopped up, sci-fi movie sounds bubble up from the layers of production. It’s all very virtuosic. Danny Brown on Bombaye is a logical feature. He’s one of the only other rappers touching beats as asymmetric and jagged as RTJ regularly do. El, despite being adventurous and untethered,  always seems to bring all the separate elements together on the chorus to create something powerful that’ll get stuck in your head.

Stay Gold sounds exactly like hip hop will sounds in 25 years. It’s got all the same elements of that Golden Age of 90’s hip hop- dual vocalists; spelling out the song title as the chorus; a heavy beat with a catchy hook; but no-one could ever have imagined hip hop becoming so jerky and weird. The whole album sounds like it’s come from a parallel dimension, leaked out like some cosmic secret, and now we’re just standing in front of the edifice, wondering: what the fuck? Similar with Panther like a Panther, another gritty update to hip hop’s dirty rolodex. The album stays strong throughout. RTJ have the distinction of not making bad songs. It never feels like they give up, or offer anything that’s less than perfect and unique. They don’t get tied to progressing conceptually– it’s just one postage stamp piece of fine art at a time.

RTJ are so good at vivisecting their music that at every level it can be looked at it is consummate and interesting. This is definitely an album that rewards multiple listens, like their last two releases. It would be a cliche to cal RTJ3 ‘Thinking man’s’ hip hop– yes, it’s filled with verbose wordplay, proud political commentary, and El-P’s usual countercultural references, but, on a surface level, it’s danceable and compels you to move your body. El-P waves his producers baton and conjures hooks from Mikes caramel baritone. He chops up melodies to make melodies in melodies, fractals that are striking in their incongruity. It’s anti-social album, in both its anger and voyerism, like from two aliens who’ve watched the world from an excluded perch. It might be that 2016 does have a conscious. It might be here.


Violent Illness: A Review

So people I spend time with had been passing this bug around like it was a fragrant joint, and just as obviously I could smell it coming my way. Although I tended to wake in the early AM hours and flee to the hermitage of my parent’s house, the contagion still got me. I was cruising round the backyard with my dad, learning by rote all the details of some dilapidated car he was restoring, when the sickness hit me. The dull g-forces in my stomach had, in one powerful moment, become a cyclone of queasy movement. I ran to a grassy area and left the history of my poor diet all over the blades.

“You’ve lost all your colour!” Dad remarked.

“No I haven’t. It’s right there being eaten by Cupid” (my sister’s dog), I blurted with the same vomitary action. There’s something DNA-deep that prevents a young man from revealing to his pop how bad he really feels. Some dumb machismo or something.

Anyway, this was a situation that was no peach, because I actually had to make a rare appearance at a dinner later that evening, one which I really didn’t want to go to. Being there with a chaos of seismic action in my stomach would not make it a more leisurely affair. There was literally no way I was getting out of this engagement without losing a limb or severing a major artery so I returned to cursing my fate– a habitual gripe by now.

Since I had only made the one piece of gastronomic art so far, I decided that I was some special breed of human that was immune to the ailments of others and that I must just have coincidentally needed to spew. Yes, that was it, I take fish oil and drink spirulina and am robustly healthy whereas everyone around me lives minute-by-minute or faster. I can’t get gastro. How can something just induce your body to vomit if you don’t want to? It can’t, I decided, and I resolved to be well.

I jumped in my car and headed out to my girlfriends house, where I would assure her I was fine to come to dinner, pale faced and reeking of nausea or not. Driving there, wondering if  I would spew over the relative clean of the car’s interior, I felt my temperature tangibly rising, like I was driving into the sun. Soon as I walked into my girlfriend’s room she gave me a knowing look that said, “You’re about to let me down again.”

Well, yeah, I was. I am, in fact, so good at this I can do it without trying– even going so far as to make myself explosively sick just to switch up my M.O. I think she saw that I was stoically trying to fight this minotaur though, as I promised to still come, that shattered her frustration so that her voice broke down into all tender care.

“You’ll be okay. It’ll only last for 12 hours.” She reassured me, speaking from experience.

“You bitch, don’t tell me that.” I said muttered.

Long story short, she heads to dinner and I head to a bucket that has been conveniently stationed beside the bed where I am sweating/shivering like a cat that picks an unwatched place to curl up and die. I am literally vomiting in ten minute intervals until my stomach is as empty as my will to live. The gentle silence of death would be preferable to the pornographic mess I am/ am making. I lose all sense of time in a febrile shapelessness. Hours pass into seconds and I fall asleep and dream for a thousand years to only wake up and reject the water I had drunk 5 minutes ago. I am so dehydrated but my body torturously refuses to let me drink.

Here’s the jewel in the ornament; the high point or crescendo of my free perdition: I go to get up and take my sea legs to the bathroom when I hear, from the bottom of the bucket of nameless contents, a CLUNK. Was it a lighter falling in? No, I suddenly realise with some nerve-response intuition. I plunge my hand into the ordure up to my forearm and extract my phone, which I can see it still working. I’m so unbelieving I don’t even curse my fate. I just wobble out to the kitchen and chuck it into a wok-ful of rice someone was preparing to cook. Mia Culpa but I’m in dire straits friend.

At sometime around 5 AM I manage to full into a species of sleep and get maybe an hour or two of rest. When dawn finally breaks and I leave the room, unaccountably feeling much better. Almost like I hadn’t just lived out the opening scene of Apocalypse Now as a budget Martin Sheen. Like I hadn’t just been up vomiting consistently through a beetle-dark night, losing every ounce of water my body had managed to hoard.

All in all it was a cleansing experience. I’m sure my body lost many harmful toxins as well as all it’s moisture, colour and ability to compartmentalise. I also lost a phone, the replacement phone that was filling in for my other, long gone one. So now I’m phoneless and happy again. Take the good with the bad, like a Ying Yang.

Final review: Although it saved me the pain of going to a dinner and masquerading as someone I’m not and never will be, it did cost me a phone, create many hours of near-death agony, and result in my having to get my own emesis on me. The post-ayahuasca cleanness afterward was nice though, as well as the hearty sympathy that was meted my way with injunctions to relax. I feel ambivalent about this occasion, and almost unqualified to grade the illness fairly as I haven’t had gastro since I was in primary school. It’s definitely stepped its aggression up, which is a nice touch, while reducing the actual duration of the sickness. I guess the only way you can tell if this illness is for you is to go sample it yourself. It may not be a symphony, but it’s damn catchy.  6/10 would conditionally recommend.