Having each issued an impressive solo LP in 2012 – El-P the May-released ‘Cancer 4 Cure’ (Clash review), Killer Mike the entirely El-P-produced ‘R.A.P. Music’, recipient of a comedy 5/10 score in NME – one could forgive this pair for delivering a collaborative set of tentative consolidation, rather than a scene-shaping missive on the state of rap to come.
Yet the relationship that clicked so effortlessly on ‘R.A.P. Music’ has again realised a most-wonderful result. ‘Run The Jewels’ might not be branded as an album ‘proper’, given its free-to-download status – physical formats are also available – but to assess it in exclusively mixtape terms is to undersell its completeness.
These 10 tracks comprise a head-and-shoulders-above collection that immediately imprints itself as one of the best hip-hop records of 2013 so far. On first impressions, ‘Run The Jewels’ feels like everything its pre-release teasers – the Big Boi-starring ‘Banana Clipper’ foremost amongst them – have promised: hard-hitting production and snapped-tight, sharp-tongued rhymes from the headline MCs, whose voices seem to have become more complementary since 2012’s co-signs.
The former Company Flow man’s perhaps a beat-master first, MC second, to a contemporary audience; but his lines consistently carry significant bite – even if his opening bars on ‘No Come Down’ are close-cadence-cousins of those from ‘Stay Down’, from ‘Cancer 4 Cure’. But who really expected ‘Run The Jewels’ to break completely free of what’d immediately preceded it? It’s taken nine months for this set to come together, but it’s done so as both El-P and Mike have been promoting their latest solo wares.
So there’s some crossover between this and those. And who gives a shit, right? Because those albums were incredible and ‘Run The Jewels’ is loaded with quality. It finds its twin protagonists sounding wholly energised, fiery with passion for this project.
That enthusiasm bleeds into every facet: into the no-filler form of a quick-fire 33-minute run-time; the studied sequential flow of the tracks, serving to support an album-proper status; and the choice of guests, embellishing the vocal layers with, in the case of Prince Paul’s spot on ‘Twin Hype Back’, unforeseen adventures into humourous gentleman smut shaded by Molly-hitting hijinks.
Mike, meanwhile, is riding a wave of positivity post-‘R.A.P. Music’, and this sees him smash into these cuts with a hefty aggression balanced by an assured confidence in his lyrical content. Sure, he can swing his dick around themes of pimps and prostitutes; but there’s depth here that can’t always be found in the work of his southern-player peers.
‘R.A.P. Music’ never shied away from targeting political topics, and when he’s referencing slavery, single-parenting, religion and so much more in ‘A Christmas F*cking Miracle’, it’s clear that this is a lyricist both well-read and a demon in the booth. On the fizzing ‘36" Chain’ he moves from Jesus to hoes in a heartbeat, yet never loses traction. Everything’s with purpose, every line pointed. And everything connects, even if a creeping (but not dispiriting) sense of familiarity intrudes once the thrill of the first few listens subsides.
Standouts elsewhere include ‘Sea Legs’, an appropriately giddy number of undulating production peppered with blasts of bass, and the absolutely storming opening title-cut. This breathless exercise in introductory ego-tripping, entirely founded given its makers’ credentials, sets a tone that maintains for the next nine tracks.
Which, come their climax, propose a very attractive invitation: wanna go around these block-busters again?
Words: Mike Diver
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