“This is R.A.P.,” Killer Mike warned on his blazing 2012 record R.A.P. Music. But no mission statement no matter how loud or bellowing could’ve prepared anyone for this. On Run the Jewels, Mike and new-found bff El-P (who produced all of R.A.P. Music) don’t just beat the rap game into submission; they douse it in lighter fluid, strike a match, and walk off laughing. If “protect your neck” could be bandied about as a warning statement in 2013, it should appear scrawled across the front of this record in the largest font conceivable.
If you walked into this thing expecting some lengthy treatise on police states or crumbling economies tinged with a healthy dose of introspection or introversion, you’ve set foot in the wrong house and should turn back immediately. If Killer Mike and El-P accomplish anything on this album, it’s recasting rap threats as an art-form. Mike isn’t just 80s Tyson on the lurking production of “Job WellDone,” he resorts to 90s Tyson techniques and promises that “if I’m losing take a bite out.” El-P makes stream-of-consciousness “s**t-talking” oddly possible in his verse, painting scenes of Yetis walking out of the woods to “cop the album,” and emperors performing an about-face when they hear the duo’s tunes, “admitting they are nudists.”
But not every moment on the album isn’t “real bad guy s**t,” hell-bent on destruction. “No Come Down” finds Mike chowing down on a shroom or two before traveling to Ancient Egypt to make love, and checking out The Moon for good measure. The dance-floor seizure number “36 Chain” lets El-P ”spit grams at zombies,” and indulge his inner Michael Flatley. The propulsive drum beat of “Banana Clipper” proves a jump-rope for the two to perform their own rap double-dutch, trading off lines and verses like Siamese twins programmed to rock a microphone. When raps are delivered this tightly-wound and fully-formed, it’s impossible to do anything as a fan but stand up and cheer. Big Bio’s verse (which has been unfairly described by almost everyone out there as “an afterthought) is Daddy Fat Sacks at his biggest and baldest, accusing anyone who doesn’t get it of being “simply simple minded simple Simons.” Much of this album plays out as a blend of Southern-fried rap and nightmarish synths, like ATliens or Aquemini repurposed for the robot apocalypse, so what better guest to have than one half of the OutKast?
More than one outlet has drawn inevitable comparisons between this album and Kanye’s eye-brow raising Yeezus, with Sobhi Youssef of Sputnikmusic hilariously bemoaning “when Kanye West decides it’s f***ing brilliant to combine industrial and electronic influences with hip-hop, suddenly the music we’ve already been hearing since 1997’s Funcrusher Plus is bukkake-worthy.” But Youssef should honestly know better. Pure, unadulterated rap will never outmaneuver the type of juggernauts Kanye drops every time out now, no matter who’s behind the boards. Ye’s earworms bury their way into brain, Mike and El-P’s ravage every last lobe until you drop dead from an auditory overload. One isn’t better than the other; you’re just ensured survival when you take the path of the former.
For all the larger-than-life chest-puffing and sci-fi braggadocio, the pair still manages to deliver sincerity. Mike cops to being “stuck in a time capsule, when rap was actually factual,” on “Get It” letting us all know why he’s so doggedly committed to hip-hop. Further buried in the song, Mike identifies him and “Jamie” as the “new Avengers, here to you all your false idols are just pretenders, they’re corporation slaves indentured to all the lenders, so even if you got seven figures you’re still a n***a,” distilling the entire modern struggle into one barbed verse. “A F***ingChristmas Miracle” blends sleigh bells with thudding drums to produce a rap Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, but El and Mike melt the icy synths with personal narratives of pops becoming “vagrants,” steel and cement twisting into “nature,” and eulogize fallen friends “Pimp C & Camu Tao.” Behind every jack-move, there’s still a stick-up kid with a story to tell, and on Run the Jewels, El-P & Killer Mike tell the tale more vividly and with more fury than anything anyone’s released all-year.