Getting new Run The Jewels early would seem to some like a Christmas f*cking Miracle to many but it really happened. We needed a miracle after the train wreck of 2016. On their latest record, RTJ3, Killer Mike and El-P deliver their most heady album to date. Over some amazing production, the duo displays their most cutting social commentary to date as well.
RTJ3 opens on the creepy dark cloud of “Down (feat. Joi)” before dropping its intense bass notes with Killer Mike’s vocals. El-P’s aggressive verse and the harmonic heavy chorus let you know from the get-go this is still Run The Jewels but they’re moving forward.
The album hits its first banger on “Talk To Me” with Mike and El spitting their verses viciously, digging into some heavy issues, while the bass and guitar pound ears.
Here the band shows some throwback production cues, mixing in some spoken-word vocal samples, as well putting their name in the music more than ever, which echoes throughout the album.
Moving to the slower drive of “Legend Has It” the duotake a more playful attitude, taking their heavy sound and flipping their vocals into the production in a mix of call-and-response and harmonies. The vocal matches continue on “Call Ticketron” that finds the band evolving their background through the album without ever feeling like it lets up, while the duo talk about the myths that surround them as they grow famous.
Mike and El flip this on “Hey Kids (Bumaye) (feat. Danny Brown)” where they take these myths and try to talk the people who view them as gods or monsters. The addictive composition takes all the right cues from Brown’s production book, and when his verse comes in it feels perfect.
Tracks like “Stay Gold” and “Don’t Get Captured” slow the almost seamless flow of the album’s production while the duo max-out the commentary of the album talking to the insincerity of wealth, wars abroad and on the home front. They spin this into magic on “Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost) (feat. Tunde Adebimpe)” with the eerily effective Rod Serling sample from the intro to The Twilight Zone making it hit all the harder when the world they’re talking about is our own.
In context of the recent election “2100 (feat. BOOTS)” is a painfully potent reminder of the possible apocalypse we’re headed towards but also reminds us to look towards hope, that we may still make it out of the next four years alive. The intense but contagious production continues on “Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix) (feat. Trina)” with a dark and catchy backing beat and fun hook from Trina.
The mood goes low-key on “Everybody Stay Calm” where Mike and El have clearly found their zone with clever samples. The track works smoothly as a dark and brooding track against a lot of the more beat heavy tracks on the record. “Oh Mama” switches gears and lets the beat take the wheel, and throws in some classic trumpet chorus hooks, along with a strangely catchy vocal line for a surprisingly fun pop-rap track.
There’s a somber mood on “Thursday In The Danger Room (feat. Kamasi Washington)” where the duo get very real for a track that talks about the horrors and struggles of daily life, especially for those surrounded by crime and poverty, with heartbreaking saxophone courtesy of Washington.
Closing on the two-sided “A Report To The Shareholders : Kill Your Masters” the duo’s at their most reference-heavy, comparing politicians to cartoon characters and themselves to lost Vulcans, with the messages ringing louder than ever. The intense backing track goes from smooth to dark and brooding, and a send off from Zack de la Rocha, returned from RTJ2, ends the album on a perfectly angry final note.
While RTJ3 may not be as banger-heavy as RTJ2, it’s a much smarter record that finds the band pushing their clever lyrics and production to new heights, being even more playful while they do it. The album flows seamlessly from top to bottom, with each featured artist fitting the tracks smartly without ever feeling cheap.
RTJ3 is available to stream or buy. The band has also made the album available for free download on their website.
Don’t miss Run The Jewels when they make their return to Montréal on the Métropolis stage, February 21st.