On their third full-length record, Run the Jewels 3, hip hop duo Killer Mike and El-P create something that, at its very core, is a protest album. However, it’s anything but a peaceful one. Positioning itself in direct opposition to recent political and social tides in the United States, RTJ3 is a penned manifesto of revolt.
RTJ2 scratched the surface of the pair’s significance, a unique combination of equal parts high school bully and voice of the people.
They have previously called themselves the “new Jules and Vincent,” alluding to the main characters of Quentin Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction, and it’s a comparison that still rings true. In many ways this album is another chapter in the great pulp fiction that is today’s world, with Mike and El being cast as assassins.
Killer Mike fires the first shots on the album’s second track, “Talk to Me,” which includes one of many slams against U.S. president-elect, and global laughingstock, Donald Trump.
“We return from the depths of the badland/ With a gun and a knife in our waistband/ Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan/ He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan.”
The next track, “Legend Has It,” is essentially an auditory “fuck you,” featuring a criminally vicious beat behind traded verses of vibrato and unrest.
The remainder of the first half of the record touches on everything from kidnapping moms from jazzercise to the exploitation of uneducated masses before taking a sharp turn into a more politicized tone.
As they urge you not to get captured, RTJ tosses out two songs that have massive amounts of significance, beginning with “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost).”
The track is a stunning meditation on the killing of African-Americans by police. Mike, as a black man, echoes the pain of his community, while El speaks from a white perspective of not standing idle in light of the violence.
“Some get to count sheep, some gotta count kids that they burying,” raps El-P before the track turns into a Twilight Zone-inspired story of the dead returning to life to retaliate against the law enforcement that took their lives.
The powerful song shifts into “2100,” which was released a couple days after Donald Trump was elected in November. It is a landmark chilling statement, opening with a plea from Mike, questioning “How long before the hate that we hold lead us to another Holocaust?” Frequent collaborator, BOOTS lends beautiful, yet pain-filled vocals to the solemn track.
With a few more breaks into their usual playful and lyrically acrobatic nature, the pair taps into two of their most essential and telling tracks.
On “Thursday in the Danger Room” they speak on dealing with the death of friends, El speaking on a friend he watched fade away fighting cancer, while Mike raps about a friend that was shot and killed while having his chain stolen.
“And I guess I’d say I’ll see you soon/ But the truth is that I see you now/ Still talk to you like you’re around,” say the pair on the hook.
The album’s two-part closer, “A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters,” is the project’s final triumph.
A deeply personal first half features the two reminiscing on the struggles of going from their respective underground careers to gaining national attention. Mike, in particular, goes out of his way to rap about his time in a limelight whirlwind while supporting 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.
They face the possibility of playing the “score for the World War” and at the apocalypse, they’ll “play the encore,” foreshadowing unrest and fear surging after the election.
The second half of the track taps into RTJ doing what they do best; a thunderous beat and a theme about attacking oppressors. Adding some help from Zach de la Rocha, the trio urges you to “kill your masters,” a lasting message to close the album.
If it’s true that all good things come in threes, than this record is no exception. It shows that consistency is key and for the two vets, the technical rapping and and subject matter is as good as any of the pair’s previous work, together or separate. There’s extra kudos to be rewarded to El-P, who was at his absolute best on production. After more than 20 years on the cutting-edge, it all culminates in one album for the underground legend.
RTJ surprised everyone by releasing this album three weeks ahead of schedule, dropping it on Christmas Eve, fittingly sneaking it in before the end of 2016.
Although the “official” physical release is just getting underway, Run the Jewels 3 is the perfect bookend to one of the worst years ever.