And the crowd goes…
By Liam Menzies (@blinkclyro)
The Los Angeles riots in 1992, fueled by the beating of African-American taxi driver Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal of the four police officers who took part in the despicable crime, is an event that more than 20 years after it occurred hits too close to home for some. With police killing at least 100 unarmed black people in 2015 alone, more than five times the rate of unarmed whites, it’s no surprise that music has taken its place in the frontlines alongside other protesters to vent their rage and provoke change.
It’s hard to recall a hip-hop act that has reacted angrier than Run The Jewels who haven’t so much been at the forefront of this protest rather than orchestrate it all with a non-literal Molotov in hand. While protest music is nothing new, members Killer Mike and El-P have been pissed off well before RTJ1 dropped back in 2013 to critical acclaim, releasing That’s Life and Run The Numbers respectively which both displayed the artist’s quick wit and knack of butchering authoritative figures and corrupted individuals with one flick of their fiery tongues.
Not only that but Run The Jewel’s involvement wasn’t limited to just the music scene with Killer Mike advocating for the election of Bernie Sanders during the Democratic Primaries and El-P making a decision to stop wearing red hats due to a certain spray tanned devil with a bad toupee. Fast forward to 2016 and it seemed somewhat inevitable that an RTJ album was needed in what had to be the most politically charged year of the century, seeing the rise of Trump along with further divisions in America. It’s probably no surprise then that Killer Mike and El-P decided to drop RTJ3 ahead of its 2017 launch date, following the album’s message of doing whatever the fuck they want to do, summed up beautifully by El-P in an interview with Billboard when he said “Suck my dick, I’m going to say everything I want to say”.
The fact that Run The Jewels 3 had a surprise drop does not mean that the project was rushed by any means. “There are more songs and there’s more of an arc. Like he said, we really just took our time, and it really was just because we could. We had the time to do it. And there’s an arc in the record because you’re getting a year’s worth of our mind and our hearts” said El-P and he isn’t lying. While it’s easy enough to point out that RTJ3 is the biggest project the duo have hit out with, running at 14 tracks and clocking in at just under an hour, the aforementioned arc makes the record a far more interesting listen than anything the band has previously released.
The first part, in what I’m gonna call RTJ’s three act structure, focusses more on the duo themselves and fuck, it’s an experience. Legend Has It is by far the most braggadocious song that Killer Mike and EL-P have ever crafted with the former aptly rapping about the two being the murderous pair, even going so far as to say they “went to Hell and discovered the devil, delivered some hurt and despair” as well as featuring what could arguably be El-P’s best dick reference since Oh My Darling, Don’t Cry.
The track that flows in seamlessly next, nicely titled Call Tickerton after the automated concert ticketing purchase system, follows this theme of vanity with a constant mention of Run The Jewels live at the garden, an obvious nod to Madison Square Garden which seems more realistic than a fallacy at this point in the boys’ career. These two songs help display Mike and El-P’s well-documented skill at dropping killer verses with the fifth one on Call Tickerton by Killer Mike featuring some of the best lines to appear on RTJ3.
It’s not until we reach the seventh track Don’t Get Captured that things start to get noticeably darker, heavier and harder in not only lines and themes but sounds as well. Starting off with some ominous children laughter, we get some expert storytelling from RTJ, all kicked off by Mike as he greets us with a “hello from the little shop of horrors”, swiftly followed up by another pop culture reference, before spiraling into a telling of the gun violence epidemic in Chicago, something that he believes no one really cares about until they’re faced with it which harks back to another collaborative track Murder With Excellence by Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Unlike Hov and Ye however, Mike and El bounce off one another and intertwine these narratives throughout this track as well as the rest of RTJ3 with El stepping into the driver’s seat to talk from the perspective of a police officer with some rather suitable references to horror films to introduce the listener. It’s at this point on the record that it becomes clear that RTJ3 isn’t just a way for the duo to collaborate, rather it works as the culmination of everything they’ve worked on over the past few years to act as their platform and manifesto. Even when their views are seen as the anti status quo, especially Mike’s in regards to his words on Hilary Clinton which is referenced on this record, the duo manage to make a compelling argument in addition to abiding by their “responsibility to make dope-ass music to help push through this bullshit every day”.
As the record starts to reach its end, things start to slow down but don’t lack the punch RTJ3’s second act displayed as shown by Thursday In The Danger Room. As Mike put it:
I never would have done a record like “Thursday in the Danger Room” [solo]. You wouldn’t have heard a record where I was forgiving someone that murdered someone that I loved. I had probably carried that in my heart since I was a teenager, and it’s just not easy.
Death is the focus on this penultimate track and hearing two perspectives, one about watching a friend die of something you can’t prevent and the other related to gang violence, is a true testament to not only the variety Run The Jewels provide but also the power they possess with some truly saddening lines about “you never left cause I never let myself forget” backed up by a beautiful saxaphone provided by Kamasi Washington, known for his contribution to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. From the topic of death follows A Report To The Shareholders / Kill Your Masters, a song that masterfully encompasses all of what makes this record and Run The Jewels themselves amazing.
Bringing in Rage Against The Machine’s Zack de la Rocha helps to further push all of these political messages much like Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) did on RTJ2 with a vilification of society. Discussing the actions of obeying in the first half, the song breaks into anarchy when Kill Your Masters kicks off into full overthrowing mode with Mike’s lines about being Jack Johnson and Tiger Flowers managing to summarize the racial politics behind his anger but his ability both on and off the mic. The song is essentially a fuck you to corrupt and war hungry officials and authority who “twerk on graves” and can’t wait to load up the silos and make your babies glow.
“We’re in sync so much now, after two records and several tours – and this new one felt like we hit that point in the Rocky training montage when he’s just killing shit,” said El-P in an interview with The Guardian and RTJ3 very much feels like the point where both him and Killer Mike have managed to catch the chicken. Showing sincerity, awareness, and aggression all at once, RTJ are the epitome of every liberal’s worst nightmare: they’re an answer to the intolerance that has infected America since its birth and do not give a fuck who disagrees. Their music is sure to be the soundtrack to the revolution
Their music is sure to be the soundtrack to the revolution and what a fucking soundtrack that is.