It’s very hard to open up a discussion on this album without mentioning politics. No one wants to hear that word anymore, and honestly this album isn’t even a totally political record. But it’s still there, and the effect of what’s happened in the world’s political landscape over the past year has undeniably changed what this record is. Run the Jewels have always been loud, brash, and hilarious. But this time they have something to poke with their stick, and by doing so continue their hot streak of killer rap albums and work as the best duo in hip-hop.
Yeah, they did it again. Run the Jewels saw two collaborators experiment with the idea of a hip-hop duo on a mixtape after two impressive solo efforts together. Run the Jewels 2 saw two best friends throw away the industry garbage and just mesh, making the album equivalent of an action movie complete with foreign sports cars and 10 explosions a frame. So after a feat like that, what could Run the Jewels 3 hold? Well, it’s a little bit like a sequel. But this time things are dialed down a couple notches. There are no explosions, the bright mid-day sunshine is replaced with a constant dreary rain, and our protagonists are not trying to catch a villain but rather put a halt to the events the villain put in motion. If RTJ2 was Starsky & Hutch, RTJ3 is Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Basically, we have Killer Mike and El-P going a little slower than the past two projects were. And although they still manage to capture the same enthusiasm and grit, they do start to fall by the wayside a little bit. There aren’t bad songs, really there are none on here, but they definitely pale in comparison to the others and it’s easy to drift off and let it fall in the background. “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)” is a wonderful comment on the state of America’s race relations, especially Mike’s verse on CNN and the media, but it’s too low impact to really get in your face and stir you up like an RTJ track of this quality should. “2100” was a touching empowerment anthem to everyone feeling downtrodden and defeated, unfortunately it felt like it was trying a little too hard and ended up feeling like it’s sole purpose was to tug at your heartstrings. However, the lowkey nature does work to their advantage on one of the best songs the duo has ever written, “Thursday in the Danger Room” with Kamasi Washington. The emotion and pain touched upon especially by El-P is complemented perfectly by the lowkey beat.
Besides that, it’s RTJ as usual on these tracks and even better sometimes. Brushing aside the minor gripes of toning things down, we finally got to see El-P return to some classic Sci-Fi sounds that bring back feelings going all the way back to Fantastic Damage. It’s such a well refined mix blending the updated RTJ beats and old school El-P that it’s like a throwback and a trendsetter all in one. “Call Ticketron” is the best example where the two muse about selling out Madison Square Garden over old automated ticket dispenser samples and what sounds like the whir of a floating car.
Aside from the political musings and dystopian beats, it’s important not to forget what the majority of this album is: two guys having way too much fun rapping about whatever they want to. From El-P’s “unicorn horn” line to Killer Mike and “sama lama doo ma lama”, this thing is packed with over-the-top, hilarious, and cleverly braggadocios lines you’d come to expect from the two. You can imagine a smoked out room where they’re on take 7 of one line because they keep making each other laugh too hard to finish the verse. These aren’t two rappers that think they’re prophets and have something life changing and earth shattering to say. They’re two rappers who think they’re rappers and have some smartass lines about some things we’re all talking about.
El said it best on “Stay Gold” with “Me and Mike, we just think alike and can’t stop high-fiving”. It’s what this album boils down, two guys that just mesh well together. Sometimes they talk about sad topics, like 2100 or Thursday in the Danger Room. But most of the time it’s like “Legend Has It”, “Talk to Me”, “Panther Like A Panther”, or nearly every other track here; a couple guys cracking jokes and taking shots at the people they don’t like. They don’t have to prove anything here, they did that on RTJ2. This was a victory lap to celebrate what they do best in the face of some potentially tough times. A day or two after El-P had already tweeted out that this wasn’t some trilogy project and that the 4th album would absolutely be coming at some point. For now, we got a phenomenal project from a group that never disappoints. High five again boys, you earned this one.