RTJ3 opens in a Twilight Zone type of space. The dark, dystopian world references bits and pieces of our own, but—whether or not the project is intended to be displaced to the year 2100 as one of the tunes alludes to—the work doesn’t directly address today’s headlines. This is not entirely new; since his roast of Ronald Reagan on R.A.P Music, Killer Mike has devoted much more time tearing down the whole of “fuck boy” than isolating particular fuck boys. The difference for this project is rap’s meanest duo is scared. Mike’s “The closest representation of God you might see” and El’s “motherfuck your permission” on their previous effort’s opener “Jeopardy” are replaced with “Down’s” “I hope with the highest of hopes/That I never have to go back to the trap/And my days of dealing with dope” and a chorus reading “I coulda died y’all.” The blistering attack on the ears of Run the Jewels 2 is molded into a harrowing journey with heavy, brooding darkness. The spirit of the duo still remains intact enough for some hyperbolic insults and comedy, but Run the Jewels 3 is certainly no laughing matter.
“Talk to Me” continues the anxiousness of the opener with El-P’s continuing mastery of acoustic and electronic blends: a raw drum sample introduces a quick and nervous Mike verse with the spoken word bible reading in the middle accompanied by dramatic low frequency piano notes. Next, we get a more methodically paced romp on “Legend Has It” before “Call Ticketron” rides in with raucous bass. “Ticketron” makes a little bit of a social comment as the constant “Live at the Garden” phrases are met with some of the most unsettling comments of the album: “I’m the shamalama doomalama danger dick’ll do your mama/Skeeter with the peter, never eat her, tell her see ya later.” Maybe the track showcases a bit of Run the Jewels self-deprecation as it turns out that no matter how disgusting the talk on RTJ projects gets, the duo only seems to be garnering more recognition, but I think the track leans more towards criticism of the behemoth entertainment industry. The moniker “Ticketron” makes the likes of Universal Music and Ticketmaster sound like bloodsucking robots and Run the Jewels exaggerate their heartlessness to shed light on the vicious industry climate that they have to deal with.
The next four tracks hang in a relatively similar place, but the Danny Brown feature is certainly welcome and Mike and El-P never fail to deliver a solid verse with entertaining rhyme schemes: “Say hello to the masters, on behalf of the classless masses/We showed up, ski masks, picks, and axes to murder asses.” “2100” returns to the heaviness of the opener. Mike opens with “How long before the hate that we hold lead us to another Holocaust,” again not necessarily directly addressing the modern political climate, but certainly capturing its mood. This combined with the longing 6/8 beat and Boots’ yearning “Save my swollen heart, bring me home from the dark” hook make for a centerpiece of a track.
The energy continues to accelerate for the rest of the project. Trina shows up for an asskicking hook on “Panther Like a Panther” with the guitar heavy “Oh Mama” almost achieving punk undertones. Even though these tunes offer a bit of confidence, there’s still an element of darkness within the production. As Trina yelps “I’m the shit,” anxious, distant synths provide a rather dark mood, then the strained, distorted guitars put a damper on the boisterous verses of “Oh Mama.” The dark undertones continue throughout “Thursday in the Danger Room” with Kamasi Washington offering a massive melody for the hook before “A Report to the Shareholders” drones on for six-minutes.
If Run the Jewels 1 and 2 are soundtracks to comic book movies, RTJ3 is the Dark Knight addition. El-P continues to construct unrelenting walls of sound, but these ones dangerous for all involved: the sky is grey, the world is ending and even Killer Mike fears for his life. There is a shade of rehashing the duo’s past. Although the deep piano notes on “Talk to Me” change the meaning of the track, they have appeared before in El-P’s sonic landscape. Also, the record has its fair share of dick jokes, but, overall, the Run the Jewels universe continues to expand and the duo seems to be digging deeper into their relationship with each passing track.
Killer Mike and El-P go heavier, but with a bit less fist to the listener’s face confidence.
free download available through RTJ website: https://runthejewels.com/