Tag Archives: run the jewels

Run the Jewels – RTJ4

20 Jun

With their debut album RTJ in 2013, hip-hop super-duo Run the Jewels broke the mold of what intelligent, anti-establishment rap would look like. Naturally, they then proceeded to create even better versions, with the well-received RTJ2 (2014) and RTJ3 (2016). In that time, Killer Mike and El-P have also been hugely successful in a commercial sense, sound-tracking everything from Black Panther to FIFA18.

But despite this commercial utilization of their music, Run the Jewels is, at their crux, an anti-establishment act. Like their pre-COVID planned tour-mates Rage Against the Machine, Run the Jewels excel in just that – raging against the Machine, whether that’s the police, racists, or the wealthy.

In the summer of 2020, the world is battling the triple threat of a global pandemic, racism and wealth inequality. In that environment, Run the Jewels’ latest output RTJ4 is prescient and essential – and to put it bluntly, the record of the moment.

Throughout the album, RTJ make mincemeat of current times with chilling lines that were, astonishingly, recorded sometime in 2019. On album opener “Yankee and the brave”, the zeitgeist fire delivers stinging burns. “Pardon them as they work until every pocket’s been picked and soul been harvested / I’m ready to mob on these fucking charlatans,” announces El-P, while Killer Mike follows up with a could-have-been-recorded-yesterday swipe at police brutality: “A crooked copper got the dropper, I put lead in his eye / ‘Cause we heard he murdered a black child, so none of us cried.” An eye for an eye indeed.

 “Walking in the Snow” sees El-P delivering a searing indictment of Trump-era pseudo-Christians (“Kids in prisons ain’t a sin? Shit / If even one scrap a what Jesus taught connected, you’d feel different”). The fantastic “JU$T” drops a deep thought: “The Thirteenth Amendment says that slavery’s abolished / Look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo’ dollar”; and somehow, this aligns perfectly with statues being pulled off their pedestals across the world just in the past few days.

But Killer Mike and El-P aren’t just eerily clairvoyant – they’re also eerily intelligent. We are so used to mainstream low-IQ rap that it’s honestly a thrill to hear clever, laugh-out-loud brags. For example, on “Out of Sight”, Killer Mike belts a stone-cold classic metaphor: “Colder than your baby mama heart when she find out you been fuckin’ with that other broad / And you ain’t got that rent for her”. Elsewhere, El-P casually drops the instant-classic line “Got a Vonnegut punch for your Atlas shrug” – pitting the socialist Kurt Vonnegut against the libertarianism of Ayn Rand (interestingly, of course, she herself clashes the same two archetypes on Atlas Shrugged, with Howard Roark and Ellsworth Toohey).

Yes, they’re intelligent. Yes, they’re anti-establishment. But lest you think this is a spoken-word recitation of the latest Jacobin issue, it must be said that this is, above all, a great music album.

Killer Mike and El-P are blessed with sonic gifts like few others.  “Out of Sight” in particular is a prime example of Killer Mike’s masterful flow, with four gerund-filled lines (“motivating, captivating, devastating…”) effortlessly hitting beats that you didn’t realize existed. El-P isn’t far behind; on “Holy Calamafuck”, for example, he plays with the same vowel sound on about 12 different words. The album is also packed with great riffs. We’ve already gushed about the fun single “Ooh La La” but don’t underestimate the hook on the aforementioned Pharrell Williams-Zach de la Rocha double-feature “Ju$t”.

Run the Jewels have been railing against all forms of injustice for their entire lives. But now, in a perfect storm of Black Swan-like events, the world has caught up to them. Like Killer Mike’s political hero Bernie Sanders, they get extra credit not just for saying the right things, but for having always said the right things – even when they weren’t considered right.

RTJ4 is prophetic, thoughtful, complex – and most of all, highly enjoyable. Whether this album is better than its predecessors is really up to the listener, but this one will always be memorable for perfect alignment with the moment in which it was released.

Best tracks: “JU$T”, “Out of Sight”, “Ooh La La”

Monthly Playlist: Mar. 2020

31 Mar

March 2020 will forever be known in the history books as the month that COVID-19 really stuck its hypothetical flag into Earth. Over a billion people are now in quarantine, leading to stranger-than-fiction outcomes like kindergarten classes over Zoom. There is, however, one silver lining to this whole scenario: humanity’s ability to find artistic outlets seems to have gotten sharper. Either that, or this was just independently a really good month for music. Read on for our top five tracks this month – and stay safe!

“just a boy” by Alaina Castillo

Houston, Texas-based Alaina Castillo has been making her moves for a while now. Castillo shot to fame the new-school way, by racking up a massive YouTube following, before transitioning into her first traditional EP (2019’s antisocial butterfly). Three months into the year, the English-Spanish bilingual singer has already released five singles but it’s “just a boy” that may just give her the mainstream break-out she deserves. The song features Alaina’s silky smooth, pitch-perfect vocals that can give Ariana Grande a run for her money, layered over stripped-down guitar work. It’s the best of pop: sugary-sweet vocals, relatable lyrics, and heartfelt emotion.

“Ooh LA LA” by Run The Jewels (feat. Greg Nice & DJ Premier)

Rap duo Run The Jewels, consisting of Killer Mike and El-P, are back with a new jam called “Ooh LA LA”. The track has a laid-back, 90s rap vibe that perfectly complements the comfortable-brag lyrics. In particular, Killer Mike’s “First of all, fuck the fucking law, we is fucking raw / Steak tartare, oysters on the half-shell, sushi bar” is a standout, but really, the whole song is filled with such lines. What’s more, the song is well-served by a catchy-AF chorus. Run The Jewels are scheduled to release a new album this year, and had an amazing double-bill tour with Rage Against the Machine (titled, appropriately, “Public Service Announcement”) planned for 2020 – time will tell how much of that tour they are actually able to embark upon.

“P2” by Lil Uzi Vert

In 2017, Lil Uzi Vert shook up the world with, of all things, an emo rap song, entitled “XO Tour Llif3”. “Push me to the edge, all my friends are dead,” says Uzi on the chorus , throwing in side-note one-liners like “I might blow my brain out / Xanny numb the pain, yeah”. Late 90s emo rock bands probably ate their hearts out – here was a genuine and successful emo song, parceled in talented rap no less. In 2020, Lil Uzi Vert released his much-awaited (and much-lauded) album called Eternal Atake (read our review here). “P2”, coming in just before the end of the behemoth one-hour 18-track album, is in essence the follow-up to “XO Tour Llif3”, both lyrically and musically. Uzi retains the hypnotic, slightly-off kilter minor beats, and his lyrics take on an after-the-fact vibe: “I don’t really care ‘cause I’m done”. Great song, and great album.

“Faith” by The Weeknd

“Faith” is an atmospheric, textured track from The Weeknd’s new album, After Hours (read our review here). While most of the spotlight right now is on the lead singles – “Blinding Lights”, “Heartless” – it’s really “Faith” that finds The Weeknd (a.k.a. Abel Tesfaye) at his most genuine, fractured self. Set on heavy choir-like synths, “Faith” really explores the various pieces of Abel’s self-destructive tendencies. He goes sober for his new love, but threatens to go back to his old ways if she leaves him. When given a choice between Heaven or Las Vegas (a reference to a previous song, btw), he chooses Sin City. And if he ODs? “But if I OD, I want you to OD right beside me / I want you to follow right behind me,” he requests. “Faith” is almost a psychological study of a chronic drug abuser and what makes one stuck that way. Good music too – check it out.

“Break My Heart” by Dua Lipa

Technically, British-Albanian rising star Dua Lipa’s new album has been in the public sphere for a few months already. Unless you live under a rock, you must have heard her massive global hit, “Don’t Start Now”. The next single, “Physical”, did the rounds well too. This month, the new album Future Nostalgia was finally released, and it proved to be on par with both of those bangers. In particular, “Break My Heart” really encapsulates the vibe of the whole album: nostalgia for the early 2000s (when Dua was a teeny-bopper) masked in the touchpoints of today’s pop hits. Synth-pop beats and her signature husky voice bring back memories of Titanic-era Cher, perhaps, with some busy Gwen Stefani-esque attitude – but it’s all done in a way that feels modern, not retro. The perfectly-titled Future Nostalgia as a whole is a great ride, and “Break My Heart” is a good place to start.

Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels 2

4 Jan

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It’s nice to be treated like an adult. It’s somewhat strange to describe an album that is adolescent in its fury with that statement, but real talk is hard to come by. In a world that feels more and more bullshit, this is at least a flame to hold.

Killer Mike and El-P continue their screed against society with Run The Jewels 2 that their earlier mixtape set up and even if society has not improved, their music has. This album manages incredible consistency without sacrificing an ounce of passion along the way. This has the feel of vast work behind it. The lyrics are quotable to a fault, running such jewels as “We killin’ them for freedom cause they tortured us for boredom” and the excellent “You want a whore with a white dress. I want a wife in a thong”.

Their flow is exactly what you need for an album with this weight and like Outkast or Run-DMC the two rappers have a great feel for the other. The album moves between story-telling about police brutality in the powerful “Early” to long, explicit digressions like “Love Again” with equal comfort. They’re as comfortable posturing as ranting and that leads to an album that never feels stale.

Raw passion alone would be enough to make this one of the strongest albums of the year, but the craftsmanship that they have poured into this as well pushes this far above the normal cut.

@murthynikhil

Outside Lands Day One – 8/8/2014

10 Aug

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Outside Lands is the largest music festival of the year for San Francisco. It’s cousin from the South, Coachella, is larger in every way, but it is still a big thing for those who stay in the City by the Bay. Normally I skip these things, but for this one that wasn’t an option. You’ll find out why below.

Run the Jewels

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My Outside Lands experience started with Run The Jewels, the hip-hop duo consisting of Killer Mike and El-P and they started it well. They came out aggressively and ran an intense set. Run The Jewels was one of the best rap albums of the past year and made for a fun live show. Killer Mike also took some time to respect the bay, remembering Mac Dre and calling Too $hort his father figure. They even brought out SF native and hometown hero DJ Qbert who ran the turntables like a champ. This was quite the opening to a day full of music.

Warpaint

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Next on my list was the excellent indie rock quartet Warpaint. Their sounds have the gossamer delicacy of fine silk and intrigue of a murder mystery. Simple to the point of being almost unadorned, their pop has a natural beauty that is incomparable. Unique and wonderful, their show was a delight.

Chromeo/Grouplove

Sadly, the show then hit its low point with Chromeo. They drew quite the crowd and an enthusiastic one at that. Their show however took all their flaws and magnified them. They lost what little charm their albums hold and came off as purely unintelligent and unlikeable in concert. The high point of their show was choosing to leave it.

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I crossed the field just in time to listen to Grouplove cover Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love”. They couldn’t do it full justice. Beyoncé’s voice is exquisite. Still, they tried and the result was worth the listen. They followed it up with a couple of mediocre songs and a couple of good songs. I’m not going to buy tickets to a full Grouplove concert anytime soon, but I could have done worse than to watch them for half an hour.

Tegan and Sara

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Next on the list were Tegan and Sara. The indie rock duo was more fun than anyone else in the concert. Their songs were upbeat and bouncy and they kept breaking up their set with some quite amusing banter. I was quite sad that I had to leave them early, but I wanted to make sure I found a good place for the next concert.

Kanye West

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I bought tickets to Outside Lands purely to see Kanye West and he did not disappoint. Intense, challenging and of unparalleled quality, this is exactly what I wanted from a Kanye West concert. I just didn’t know how well he would deliver.

He opened with “Black Skinhead” eliciting the expected crowd excitement, and the following hit “Mercy” kept the hype rolling, but it wasn’t until later that we really began to see what this concert could be. In the middle of “Clique” he broke off the song to speak about the hate he gets and how his listeners are his clique. Chanting the chorus took a new intensity immediately after.

His anger in “New Slaves” was nothing short of palpable. One of his oaths in that song physically rocked me back. The crowd naturally knew most of his songs, so he kept cutting them up into pieces and making the crowd go over certain parts multiple times. You could say he was a leader and we were followers.

Kanye West is not the kind of guy to pander during a concert. He did shout out to SF during “The Good Life” instead of the normal second set of cities with the Bay Area line. We must have gone over “Blood On The Leaves” five times because he wanted mosh pits for when the bass drops in that song. “POWER” was abruptly broken because he felt like switching songs. Kanye does what he wants, and that’s why I go see him.

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The later part of the show featured quite a few of his older hits. He started with “All Falls Down” to bring back the memories and then kept going. “Jesus Walks” still holds up as one of his best songs and works very well in a crowd. Also, “Diamonds of Sierra Leone” was quite the throwback. I remember watching that song on TV back when it first came out. “Touch The Sky” and “Stronger” also came out to represent one end with “Bound 2”, “All of the Lights” and “Run This Town” pushing the other. The man has quite the discography.

As always with Kanye though, a large part of his appeal is being able to relate with his sentiments. Often, it seems like he is the only angry person left in music. This time for me it was “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”. It has been quite a while since I last heard it and it was the right song in the right place. Shouting the chorus with the crowd was nothing short of cathartic and “I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny/And what I do, act more stupidly” hit all the right notes.

During an extended singing part of “Runaway”, Kanye stated that his songs are about promoting self-confidence and that being a fan of Kanye was being a fan of yourself. This is the kind of concert that makes you be both.

@murthynikhil

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