Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 3 Review

Ever since El-P and Killer Mike came together in 2013 to form Run The Jewels their motto has been clear; rebel. Against what exactly? Well, while some examples are quite clear, to me, the duo has left that rebellion open-ended, choosing instead to instill within the listener a need to speak out against the change you want to see. Their music is aggressive, antagonistic, and by all hell, if any conservative outlet caught wind of the duo outright signaling to kill your masters on the final track here, their fear over Beyonce's 'Formation' would vanish. However, their latest act of insubordination was quite tame and giving, choosing to release Run The Jewels 3 three weeks early just as Santa was coming down the chimney. Really, it should've been expected given El-P and Killer Mike's track record of goodwill, continuing to release all their music for free, again, as an condemnation of our capitalistic society. In some ways, their message has run its course, exhaustingly overused and redundant. That being said, there's no stopping a riot, and with RTJ3, the duo have reached a new, bombastic level. Sure, the messages are the same, the production is too, but if there's one thing to learn when all hell breaks loose; it's always entertaining.

Truth be told, for the first time in his immaculate career, I was questioning El-P heading into this project. An incredibly selective artist who used to produce one album every five years making a change this daunting would surely reflect in the quality of the music. And while RTJ1 and RTJ2 held up, the latter swimmingly, the lead singles for RTJ3 felt flat, tame, and unoriginal. 'Talk To Me' was, and still is, prototypical Run The Jewels with nothing remarkable to boot, '2100' worked as election pandering but wasn't album material, and 'Panther Like A Panther' was geared (pun unintended) directly to the Gears Of War trailer in which it premiered. It wasn't until 'Legend Has It' emerged, acting as the unequivocal banger, where some of my festering doubts submerged themselves. Really, the reasons for those doubts still exist as they're spread quite often across RTJ3. Most prominent of which is sonic and lyrical redundancy. For a group hellbent on rebelling, you'd think they try the same with their own music, yet RTJ3 finds itself harping on the same rituals found in its previous two iterations. However, simply put, with originality a far cry away, the success and quality of RTJ3 lies solely on the talent of its two creators.

RTJ3 also follows similar structuring to its two predecessors, introducing the new LP with lyrical finessing before diving into a handful of ferocious bangers that eventually, exhaustingly, dissipate into well-crafted political and conscious deep cuts. Like 'A Christmas Fucking Miracle' and 'Angel Duster,' the two-part 'A Report To The Shareholders : Kill Your Masters' ends the album off incredibly strong. Unlike those two aforementioned closers though, RTJ3 has a contesting brother track in 'Thursday In The Danger Room.' Both of these, in all facets, excel. Lyrically they find El-P and Killer Mike reflecting on lives gone array in a fucked up system, whether on the streets or behind bars. Not only that, these two efforts see El-P's production range on full display, moving ever so slightly back to his solo material, akin to 2012's Cancer 4 Cure. That's not to say his efforts beforehand aren't outstanding. 'Legend Has It' fails to remain calm, fluctuating with wonky instrumentation similar to 'Oh My Darling Don't Cry.' 'Stay Gold' and 'Oh Mama' find El-P lurking in the shadows of Industrial, screeching and scratching machines against one another. And 'Call Ticketron' and 'Hey Kids' showcase his talents with an undulating low end, causing everything to quiver at the sight.

While there's nothing I can concretely say is the best on RTJ3, what can be considered the worst between the three LP's are the hooks. It was, and still mightily is, something El-P and Killer Mike have struggled with throughout their entire careers. A bulk of RTJ3's choruses regress to RTJ1 level, with their use of stale, repeated hooks acting as placeholders or duration-passers. Lowering my standards, I can only muster two successful choruses that attempt to be as good as their verse brethren; 'Down' and 'Thursday In The Danger Room.' Almost everything else reiterates the titles verbatim, sung, typically, in poor fashion. To Run The Jewels, it's a necessary evil when it doesn't have to be. The laziness pours out of songs like 'Everybody Stay Calm,' 'Kill Your Masters,' and more, hurting the overall project, especially in the long run. If it weren't for their high-quality verses, which are found throughout the LP, and El-P's consistently appetizing beats, RTJ3 would be utterly lacking in catchy moments. Even Danny Brown's verse on 'Hey Kids,' a surefire fascination point, disappoints with 16 bars that feel painfully phoned in.

Suffice to say, I've done quite a bit of complaining in this review. You can attribute that to my persistence on originality, something lacking here. However, where other artists would simply dissolve under the weight of their own regurgitation, Run The Jewels hone their craft, focus on their best aspects, and put out another quality project that, despite its glaring weaknesses, once again declares them the best duo in Hip-Hop right now. I've refrained from speaking on their lyrical tenacity, as, much like their former works, it's better to be heard than explained to. Thematically, some standouts occur with 'Don't Get Captured,' which satirizes power tripping cop mentality, 'Thieves,' which deconstructs the misconceived notion of rioting, and 'Down,' which finds the duo accepting their successes and growing from them. Not to mention, again, the stellar closing tracks. There's plenty of juicy moments to be found here, whether they're flawless song transitions, clever beat switches, or noteworthy one-liners (Killer Mike's "uterus" line stands out). Another event-filled LP came down our stockings this year, and although Run The Jewels 3 is not as political and disobedient as you're led to believe, El-P and Killer Mike's latest offering sums up 2016 just as we're about to bid it adieu.

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