Run The Jewels – RTJ2 (Mass Appeal)
On the night a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury decided not to indict killer cop Darren Wilson, Killer Mike stepped in front of a St. Louis crowd, brave enough to look half-broken. He cried and fumed and gave the sort of speech that bounces around in your chest cavity for days afterward. One minute later, he was doing a goofily berserk full-body fat-guy dance. Both versions of Mike, the incisive speaker and the committed party monster, are on full display on RTJ2, the second album from Mike and El-P’s Run The Jewels duo. RTJ2 opens with Mike in full-blown profane motivational-ranter mode — “I’m finna bang this bitch the fuck out.” It ends with a clangorous, expressive piano solo from a dead man. In between, we get about 40 minutes of frantic, chaotic, merciless, gloriously fun rap music. It never lets up, and yet there are so many ideas and feelings and moods within that storm. It kicks you in the head, and it leaves you with plenty to think about.
The story of Run The Jewels coming together was already a feel-good epic before RTJ2: two underground rap veterans from vastly different scenes coming together, finding common ground, discovering a shared ferocity that jolted both of their careers to a different level, becoming best friends in the process. These two had chemistry from the first moment, and a year and a half on a shared tour bus has only deepened it. On RTJ2, Mike and El sound more like each other. Mike’s delivery is more knifelike, more apt to cut against the flow of the track. El has concentrated his once-cluttered flow into pointed bursts of on-beat double-time. His beats are slower, thicker, more composed — even if they do still sound like a giant angry robot’s death-scream.
Lyrically, both of them are having even more fun on RTJ2, coming up with convoluted and extreme ways to say “fuck you,” sounding like they’re doing whatever they can to impress each other in the studio. But there’s more pathos and feeling in what they’re doing, too: Mike recounting a nightmare arrest on “Early” and lamenting the consequences of his actions on “Crown,” El grinding his noise-synths onto mournful melody on “All My Life” and “Angel Duster.” They’re operating at the tops of their games here, and if you’ve been lucky enough to see them on their recent tour, you know that’s a scarily impressive sight.
RTJ2 dropped, as a free download, at 3AM on a Friday morning in October. If you were still up, or if you happened to wake up and check Twitter in the middle of the night, that was it; you weren’t going back to sleep. This is a hard and physical and immediate album, a blast of musical adrenaline through your ribcage. It has heart and depth and nuance, but it also kicks like an enraged rhino. There’s no album from the past year more likely to make you feel like you could throw a bulldozer through a fourth-story window. And that’s why it’s our favorite album of 2014. –Tom [LISTEN]