This is volume for the voiceless, a silver bullet for the wolves, and a redistribution of sovereignty. It’s venom to immobilize cheaply uniformed imposters, flatulent greedheads, and cynical buffoons perverting the truth on cable news. When institutions lacked authority and insurrection seemed permanently imminent, El-P and Killer Mike hurled 11 grenades, offering redemption through untrammeled rage. If justice remained elusive, retaliation could be had as fast as closing your eyes and counting to fuck.
On the brimstone tablets of Run the Jewels, destruction is the first commandment. The others are equally timeless: never compromise art for the sake of temporary commerce, protect the purity of your teenaged ideals, never worship false idols, and always smoke the finest medicine. So for 38 minutes, the most scorched-earth tag team since Ax and Smash eviscerate crooked cops and Grand Dragons, spineless politicians and the grandly disappointing competition. It’s the middle finger in rap form, with regional differences resolved through the harmonious alienation of Pimp C’s “fuck the law” and Biggie’s “fuck the world.”
Anger isn’t enough. If you’re going to be a revolutionary banging on your adversaries, your adolescent convictions have to be seared with the wisdom of adulthood. Identifying targets is easy—artful rebellion on the edge of 40 isn’t. But their experience lends authority and accuracy. They’ve seen enough cycles to know that corruption can’t be cleared like clogged arteries. They seek answers that transcend gestures of momentary appeasement. As Mike bellows, you can unmask and depose Donald Sterling, but the “man behind the man behind the man behind the throne” remains anonymous and omnipotent.
The subversive attitude extends to the production. The nitroglycerin reprisals of Public Enemy and early Ice Cube have been stripped for parts, re-assembled, and converted into lethal infernal machines. This is the modern soundtrack for sedition. Guerilla army rap. Or, in Mike’s estimation: MJG meets the Weathermen. Blast it loud enough and the roaches will wave white flags and the walls will crumble into paste.
In an era when the great rap group has become an endangered species, Run the Jewels have forged a truly collaborative partnership. This feels like the by-product of two best friends bouncing ideas off each other, buoyed by blunts and the occasional fistful of psilocybin. The effect reminds you of vintage OutKast, two unique and equal talents that became indivisible—accentuating each other’s strengths, curbing each other’s excesses, and finishing each other’s jokes. Despite its Molotov politics, Run the Jewels 2 doubles as a old-fashioned swaggering shit-talking rap record; they flex and banter like they’re openly gunning to be cast in a Pulp Fiction remake.
It’s been long held that discontent is the first sign of progress in a man or nation, but Killer Mike and El-P have been ornery and irate for far too long to sustain patience. Occasionally, you receive the anti-heroes you need, and this was the year when we realized how right they’ve always been. No other album distilled such unrestrained fury, nor reminded us how frustratingly little has changed. When this record’s truths become unrecognizable, we’ll know that we’ve finally made progress. We can chart our evolution from here. —Jeff Weiss via Pitchfork