Run the Jewels - RTJ3
You think you know so much about music, then you hear something you haven’t heard before and realize - you know nothing. I knew who Killer Mike was (mostly because of Bernie Sanders), but hadn’t ever heard of Run the Jewels. When I heard Run The Jewels 3 for the first time, I was in a car with some of my best friends driving down the pacific coast highway on a beautiful shining day in LA. When the album started, it fit the scenery perfectly...it was fresh and happening, making the environment feel vibrant and alive. Since then, I have listened to the album multiple times and realized how provoking it is in the current climate, both politically and socially. Killer Mike and El-P are pushing you to open your mind; from government conspiracies, to protesting, to police brutality, to socialism, to legalizing marijuana, to money in politics, they are unapologetic in their declarations. I love that they are using their art as a way to affect change, not just in politics, but in people's minds.
Consistently throughout the album, they are killing it with the beat. The elements are simple, but the composition gives it layers and complexity that elevate the lyrics. Killer Mike and El-P both flow so smoothly over the beats, making it impossible not to nod your head in approval. At times, they use heavy, hard-hitting, distorted synths throughout, giving it a somewhat harsh and serious tone.
Over and over, Killer Mike doesn’t hold back in his political ideas. In “Talk to Me,” he states “born black, that’s dead on arrival;” in “Hey Kids (Bumaye),” “lift up our glasses and watch your palaces burn to ashes;” in “Thieves,” one of the hardest on the album, he declares “We just prey off in they deadly game//(It'll never change, it'll never change)//Too much profit in it and it stay the same//(The facts still remain, the facts still remain)//You can burn the system and start again.” He’s cleverly using the music as a platform to express his beliefs and challenge the listener.
RTJ raps about more than just political issues. El-P talks about the project and their friendships when he says “Me and Mike//we just think alike and can’t stop high fiving” in “Stay Gold,” then “It's all jokes and smoke 'till the truth start schemin'” in “A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters.” Their connection really reveals itself throughout the album. They also get personal and talk about losing loved ones and the trials of life in “Thursday in the Danger Room”; “life’s a journey, to live is to suffer.” On one of the catchiest tunes “Panther Like a Panther,” they brag about their skills alongside longtime rapper, Trina, singing “I’m the shit bitch.”
They utilize abrasive horns and brass sounds on top of a variety of drum kits, especially in “Legend Has It.” Each track has the same under-arching synths, one song flowing into the next as if it’s different movements from the same piece. The album goes from having classic hip-hop beats to spinning, fast, scaling sound effects, like in “Live from the Garden.” In addition to the rapid beats, El-P and Killer Mike show off their lyrical prowess on that track.
The album has a very dark, spooky vibe, especially in “Don’t Get Captured,” a song about police brutality, and “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost),” which is about systemic problems and the probability of riots and protests. This shit gets heavy, and the deep, dirty synths give you goosebumps when it all comes together.
As a whole, there’s hardly a lull in Run The Jewels 3. The lyrics are rich with references to pop culture, literature, politics, and history. Tracks feature amazing talent such as Danny Brown, Trina, and Kamasi Washington. The songs are deep and thought-provoking, but maintain an element of playfulness. We are living in a time where we need art and music to help us process all the bullshit, and RTJ has absolutely delivered.
by Amber Harris