El-P and Killer Mike combine forces to create Run the Jewels, also known as RTJ. RTJ3 is the third studio album released by the pair.
Fast moving beats incorporate a variety of sound effects and utilize voice drops from Martin Luther King Jr., Rod Serling of the Twilight Zone, and a deranged pastor. This mix makes for a creative sound that is fun to listen to from start to finish.
These hyper beats are the foundation for raps about weed and beer, political unrest, and spiritual pondering. The three topics seem to blend together in almost every song. Part of this can be attributed to RTJ’s musical process. Great beats are created in the sound lab, then the crew comes together with some prepared lyrics and freestyles additional material. It makes sense that the topics on their mind surface repeatedly during freestyle recordings.
The tandem totters from mocking the existence of Satan and God to using God as the motivating factor for government to cease their abuse of citizens. They warn that eventually God’s wrath will come down on government officials.
In “Talk to Me” Killer Mike quips
Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan
He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan…
I move in a world of conspiracies.
Obey no rules, I’m doing me
Effectively dismissing a spiritual answer for evil, Killer Mike focuses on political corruption and deception. Since we can’t trust our leaders we can disregard their rules. A.k.a. I can smoke weed and plunder because the government manipulates me. This outlook frames a majority of the albums content.
In the next cut, “Legend Has It”, Killer Mike says
We are the murderous pair
That went to jail and we murdered the murderers there
Then went to Hell and discovered the devil
Delivered some hurt and despair
Used to have powder to push
Now I smoke pounds of the kush
Holy, I’m burnin’ a bush
Comically claiming that he and El-P faced murderers in prison and the devil in hell – Killer Mike misses the irony of his message. If RTJ murders murderers they view it as justice instead of more murder. This falls back into the worldview that RTJ can cast off any rules they wish. RTJ can murder who they deem evil, but the government needs to be accountable for their actions. “Thieves” is a pointed song against the government that starts with a distorted police siren and carries an eerie presence.
Can’t keep killin’ God’s children, mane
A pound of flesh is what you owe
Your debt is due, give up your ghost
When it’s convenient God is around to punish the government, but is only recognized as a token of generic goodness.
One song goes outside the prevalent album theme by talking about the loss of a loved one. “Thursday in the Danger Room” explores the hurt of losing friends by telling two very compelling stories. El-P starts by rapping:
Like how do you look in the eyes of a friend
And not cry when you know that they’re dying?
How do you feel ’bout yourself when you know that
Sometimes you had wished they were gone?
Not because you didn’t love ’em
But just because you felt too weak to be strong
You couldn’t bear to see someone
Who prided themselves on the strength to feel weak
The cruelty of randomness, hold it for ransom
That life will not fade in your dreams
Killer Mike switches gears from illness to the murder of a friend. He depicts the destructive wake of a family left without a dad, simply because a mugger wanted gold chains.
And he got no drama, but his baby mama
Is still on my line and she cryin’
I searched for the words to give her some comfort
For her soul and spirit and mind
I tell her that it’ll be fine
But deep down I know that I’m lying
The family came, took rings and his chains
In both cases the loss of life is viewed as random and senseless. Killer Mike doesn’t have answers for the grieving girlfriend, his outlook is to live life and enjoy it. Tragedy doesn’t fit well in this mantra. The best we can do is remember the good times with our friends and cherish them.
If you listen to only one track off RTJ3 I would listen to this one. Everybody has encountered loss and “Thursday in the Danger Room” emotionally connects with listeners in a way that other songs from this album don’t.
RTJ3 may be conflicted spiritually and contradict themselves, but they have a clear vision when it comes to marketing. RTJ’s 1st album was released as a free digital download in 2013. In a post Napster world music sales have been increasingly difficult to monetize. RTJ made the brilliant decision to give away their music which has created a loyal following. Today’s musicians must get creative by focusing on touring and selling merchandise to generate revenue. RTJ’s done that by creating their own craft beer, which coincides nicely with their music. These guys don’t miss a trick!
The anti-God worldview prevents the group from finding a permanent home in my music library, but I really enjoyed grappling with the music. RTJ3 is thoughtful enough to warrant listening through if you are a rap fan. The music is energetic, the lyrics are creative, and RTJ has fun as they share their thoughts about the world around them. I wish more of the music captured the candid confessions of “Thursday in the Danger Room”. Most of the tracks stay in the shallow end of enjoying life, but are so doggone enthusiastic it’s easy to overlook. Rap fans will be pleased with the third installment from Run the Jewels.