Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Run the Jewels

  • Run the Jewels [Fool's Gold, 2013] *
  • Run the Jewels 2 [Mass Appeal, 2014] **
  • RTJ3 [self-released, 2017] A-
  • RTJ4 [BMG Rights Management, 2020] A+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Run the Jewels [Fool's Gold, 2013]
Beats ain't black or white, hard ain't black or white, sexism ain't black or white, etc. ("A Christmas Fucking Miracle," "She's Mine Pt 2") *

Run the Jewels 2 [Mass Appeal, 2014]
Peace to Killer Mike, Bing his Ferguson speech please, but I've been around too long to let a corticosteroid abuser like El-P get in my face about right and wrong ("Early," "Angel Duster") **

RTJ3 [self-released, 2017]
"Fear's been law for so long that rage feels like therapy," raps lost angry man El-P as if it just occurred to him. In fact, of course, rage has been the heart of his art since Company Flow, and rage is what his NYC-Atlanta duo was selling to the testosterone-stoked alt-rap subculture when it launched in 2013. True, they were funny about it, and Killer Mike added some give to the hard beats by sounding preacherly even when advocating atheism. And now, three albums into what was supposed to be a one-off, public acclaim, economic security, and the historical moment have transformed them--they're funnier, hookier, and kinder as well as brainier and more political. From Mike's opening "I hope, I hope, I hope with the highest of hopes" to El-P's culminating "You talk clean and bomb hospitals/I speak with the foulest mouth possible," they transform the Bernie love that turned Mike into an election-year player into a call for resistance. In a time when street rebellions are one inevitable response to DT's inevitable atrocities, we need somebody quoting MLK loud and clear: "A riot is the language of the unheard." So if Mike wants to waves his supposed "banana dick" in the process, all we can say is yes, we have no objections. A-

RTJ4 [BMG Rights Management, 2020]
Who knows whether this would feel so right absent a historical moment when trying to distinguish rage slavery from righteous anger is a waste of emotional wisdom? With trap on its opiated treadmill, the gangsta sonics that power El-P and Killer Mike's inchoate aggressiveness will feel tonic to anyone with both an appetite for music and a political pulse. One way or another every one of "us"--a term the moment demands--feels anger whether that anger is complicated by elation or anxiety, hope or fear, concern or frustration or curiosity or new ideas or any combination thereof. So RTJ's political intent alone makes their vigor invigorating. And their lyrics have never been sharper: not just the orange clockworks, Godzillaed Tokyo, and copper with lead in his eye, but two of the wisest political raps in the literature. One is "JU$T," where Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha help them expand on capitalism's commitment to slavery: "You believe corporations runnin' marijuana?/And your country gettin' ran by a casino owner?" The other is the protracted "A Few Words for the Firing Squad" finale, which has its doubts about rage. Take for instance this El-P quatrain: "I used to wanna get the chance to show the world I'm smart/Isn't that dumb? I should have focused mostly on the heart/Cause I seen smarter people trample life like it's an art/So bein' smart ain't what it used to be, that's fuckin' dark." A+