The sequel to one of the best rap mixtapes in recent times does what many sequels do not. It improves the dynamic between the cast, it delivers smarter, more quotable lines, it takes aim at larger targets and it adds a whole lot of bang.
Run The Jewels 1 was the hardening of friendship between two very different but talented people, a cementing of the dynamic El-P and Killer Mike set off when the former produced the latter’s R.A.P. Music album.
RTJ2 is what happens when a producer-rapper/rapper hit a career high at the same damn time. Because this is El and Mike’s album, they own it. Because even though there are vocal guests: RATM’s Zack De La Rocha, singer/producer Boots and Three 6 Mafia’s Gangsta Boo, they serve the version of a banging lean record, rather than overcrowd it. De La Rocha’s rap on ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)’ is reinvigorating to hear and Gangsta Boo’s filthy rap on ‘Love Again’ is necessary to offset the lusty filth delivered by the core pair but they stay down. Guests step into the background of the Run The Jewels shot rather than pawing the tracks with their own prints.
RTJ1 established the brag, RTJ2 expands those in the line of fire now with an enhanced wordplay we know these guys are “fucking brutal” and individually “Don Draper with the paper might pull a slick caper” and “A dirty boy who come down on a side of dissonance / I can’t even relax without sirens off in the distances”
That line is indicative of El-P’s production techniques as a whole, and on RTJ2, they have found a new ground that serve the songs well but are packed with their own detail without getting in the way. El-P’s productions have always carried a weight that few can match but here, he’s approaching expert-level.
Fuckboys, the judicial system, guilt and police brutality are the topics that give a wider scope to RTJ2. The El-P line “You can all run naked backwards through a field of dicks,” is already immortal and he sounds like he’s having more fun than ever with lyrics like “I wear sweatpants to funerals, guns to lunch” on ‘All Due Respect”.
It’s Killer Mike who delivers his career best work particularly on tracks with wider vision like ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck’) (“Conditions create a villain, the villain is giving vision / The vision becomes a vow to seek vengeance on all the vicious”), figuring out who’s in charge on ‘Lie, Cheat, Steal’ (“Like who really run this? / Like who really run that man that say he run this? / Like who who really run that man that say he run this?”) or ‘Early’ where he adds personal touches (“my beautiful son’) to a police arrest in front of his family or ‘Crown’ where he repents a time peddling drugs to poor single mothers and the consequential guilt “Heard he was normal ’til three and then he stopped talkin’ / Since then, ain’t nothin been the same.”
Even when simply grinning and having fun Mike is at the top; “I’m talking crazy, half past the clock is cuckoo / You rappers doodoo, baby shit, just basic boo boo,” he says on ‘Blockbuster Night Part 1’.
Run The Jewels 2 is two buddies, operating at their creative peak. It’s more than another chapter, more than a sequel. It’s a sinewy distillation of more than a friendship, it’s a fruitful creative partnership that sounds like it’s been reinforced by steel foundations such is the wicked bulging energy contained within the album’s 40 minutes.
Niall Byrne is the founder of the most-influential Irish music site Nialler9, where he has been writing about music since 2005 . He is the cohost of the Nialler9 Podcast and has written for the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Cara Magazine, Sunday Times, Totally Dublin, Red Bull and more. Niall is a DJ, founder of Lumo Club, event curator and producer of gigs, parties & events.