Look: I get that El-P makes harsh beats with the occasional EDM trapping, and I get that this was released following the heels of the similarly harsh Yeezus that had hip-hop heads covering their heads with their hands, and I get that the duo takes a shot at Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne (ie. “Sea Legs”’ “Niggas will perish in Paris”), but if you’re comparing this to Yeezus, you’ve already lost the game of life. Like come on man; it’s like fish and STD’s, they have nothing to do with each other.
In case you haven’t already figured this out, this is an incredibly overrated record; decent, but overrated. Apparently, a single year is enough to make people completely forget about the existence of Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music and El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure, both of which were better records. Rapping wise, Run the Jewels isn’t as great as the former because Killer Mike has to share half the microphone time with a much, much worse rapper (El-P’s “I slap and I suck clits, I fuck in my church shoes / Humblest guy in the room, and I am in the room too” is the worst thing to happen on this album because 1) it makes no sense 2) El-P tries to force sense into it, “GET IT?”), even if it seems that being in Killer Mike’s constant presence has inspired El-P to rap harder than he ever has before. Moreover, with the exception of closer “A Christmas Fucking Miracle,” both rappers are just rapping about being the GOAT as if “Reagan” never happened. Beat-wise, Run the Jewels isn’t as great as the latter because they’re absolutely standard for an El-P production: for the most part, these are vague melodies hidden under really ugly-ass synths (the worst offender is “Twin Hype Back”; thank God for those tribal drums). Some random animal samples to be found to distract, including dolphins and dogs (“Job Well Done”) and cats (“Get It”).
There are three guests, and none of them really offer anything at all. Big Boi’s verse is as good as you’d expect a Big Boi verse to be, but it feels completely misplaced after Killer Mike and El-P spend the preceding 2 minutes trading machine-gun-burst bars with each other; like he only appeared because he owes Killer Mike one. Until the Ribbon Breaks is added to the ever-growing list of no-name guest features who have a range of one note brought in to sing hooks on El-P-related albums who you will likely never hear from again (case in point: Until the Ribbon Breaks also released a single later that year and no one cared) and spends way too much time singing that non-existent hook. Finally, everyone’s jumping up and down to hear from more Prince Paul, but really, half of the lines he contributes in his in-track skits on “Twin Hype Back” give me the case of the bad eyerolls. Does anyone really find a line like “I love to make love to your booty (…huge…pause…) HOLE!” funny? At fucking all? Hahaha, he wants to give a “tongue kiss” to your “hot pocket.”Whatever. The only remotely humourous lines he offers are the ones where he uses Uno cards and a Segway to pick up girls.
But I’m still giving this a B because some great stuff does happen: El-P and Killer Mike play off each other wonderfully on the title track and opener (El-P: “Sounds I make are the sounds of the hounds / That are howling, under your bed I’m here growling / Same time under the blanket you’re cowering”; Killer Mike: “Covering like cowards cowering on / Concrete showers in Rikers Island”); El-P manages to match Killer Mike flow-wise on the last verse of that same song and actually beats him (“In a urn or the dirty get tossed in / With a grin or a smirk get accosted / I’m a sin on the verse like a kid in a hearse / Or a nun in a cum shot, stop it”); the outro to “Run the Jewels” where a horn/saxophone comes in underneath everything else is easily the best production on the album. Meanwhile, Killer Mike manages to end a lot of verses with equal parts hilarity and menace. The most examples come from “Banana Clipper”’s “Producer gave me a beat, said it’s the beat of the year / I said El-P didn’t do it, so get the fuck outta here,” “Or worse yet be the reason your girl want a divorce / Be at your crib with your kids saying ‘Fuck your fort, lil nigga!” and “I sent they mom a little cash and a sympathy letter / Told her she raised a bunch of fuck boys, next time do better, BITCH.” But elsewhere, you have “Run the Jewels”’s “I’ll pull this pistol / Put it on your poodle or your fuckin baby / She clutched the pearls, said “What in the world!” / And “I won’t give up shit!” / I put the pistol on that poodle / And I shot that bitch” to “Twin Hype Back”’s “I’m fat but I dress nice and bitches finesse Mike / They suck the dick and squeeze on my belly like bagpipes” to “Get It”’s “I’mma be in Catholic confessions professing depression / I’m chin checking, chill stressing, on your button I’m pressing / Mike’ll fuck a rapper’s life up like Mo’Nique did to Precious.”
But the best verse on the album is Killer Mike’s verse on “No Come Down” where El-P’s tailors the beat not just to fit well with Killer Mike’s flow, but with the subject matter as well, getting more and more fucked up as Killer Mike consumes more and more drugs; “Right before we popped 3 caps and 3 stems / She popped that molly, rocked my body, I fly high and my co-pilot / Psilocybin, got me slidin, slipping into another dimension … In that lifetime we couldn’t have each other / So we killed ourselves and it killed our mother / True romance, in one lap dance / I was in my future, my present and past.”