A Bombastic and Heartfelt Letter to the Duo’s Peak at Greatness
Run the Jewels, hip-hop’s tag team composed of Killer Mike and El-P, dropped their third album that blast a Kalashnikov spray at anybody in their way while lending a voice and a megaphone to those left speechless.
The swagger of Brooklyn’s underground and Atlanta’s trap pair like bread and butter for a duo that only know how to raise the bar above the rest. “Run the Jewels 3” aims its sights to prove that the third installment in a trilogy can be the best. At 14 tracks, the project succeeds by delivering hard-hitting bangers and analog synth arrangements that could inspire political and personal revolution.
The production on this album becomes the third member of the group as El-P fills every track with dense sounds that add texture and weight to every gut-punch and one-liner.
“Bullyin’ bastards and beatin’ on beats / Sounds like a day at the beach, preach,” raps Mike on the Ric Flair tinged track ‘Legend Has It’. Horns and abrasive record scratches creep into simple drum and bass that crescendos into a beat switch signaled by crowds chanting, “RTJ!” The drums slam and the flows murder as if they just launched off the top rope at WrestleMania.
Another standout track, ‘Don’t Get Captured’, describes the morbid reality of those who choose to pull a trigger, whether for profession or necessity. The John Carpenter-esque synths score the snuff film nature while 808’s bust through to mimic gunshots. The song is haunting and a testament to Run the Jewel’s dedication to balance humor, intelligence, and morbid reality. “Is that blunt? Oh well, so’s this boot / We live to hear you say, ‘Please don’t shoot’,” El-P spits from the perspective of a cop who is prideful in beating down the little guy.
Run the Jewels enlist their most diverse selection of features yet, ranging from Detroit’s horror-house M.C. Danny Brown, to Miami legend Trina. Saxophones swell to an emotional climax from L.A. jazz icon Kamasi Washington on the track ‘Thursday in the Danger Room’, which amounts to the best produced and most vulnerable track in the RTJ catalogue.
If the first two Run the Jewels albums set out to prove greatness, “Run the Jewels 3” is their victory speech. El-P and Mike have blown the hinges off of the door for their third outing, with no signs of slowing down any time soon.
“Run the Jewels 3” released on physical and digital on January 13, 2017.
The Cubic Zirconia of Trap
Imagine the largest and most extravagant ring available. The stone embedded in the gold ring is perfect. Instead of a ruby, sapphire, or any beautiful gem, the ring is holding a cubic zirconia cut to appear as a flawless diamond. Migos’ latest album is that ring “Culture” loses weight and punch under close inspection, even with the presence of fine-tuned, glamorous production
When Atlanta’s own trap trio dropped chart-topper ‘Versace’ in 2013, the crew has been riding their own wave ever since. Each verse ends with an adlib. Every track is host to infectious hooks that define what it means to head bob. Their impeccable triplet rhymes surf over some of the punchiest sounds made possible by veteran producers who never come up empty on how to use an 808.
Migos’ latest release, “Culture”, is no different. The project is obnoxiously catchy while Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset effortlessly roll of each other. The issue with the project is that Migos’ have already proven themselves as hit-makers. The word “talent” is synonymous with the group, yet they have not seized the opportunity to evolve past what they are clearly capable of. The end result is a perfectly serviceable trap album with all bark and barely any bite.
That is not to say there is zero enjoyment or quality to be found across the album’s hour long duration. Where this album excels is in its ability to stun with some of the most creative production coming out of the Atlanta trap scene. As per tradition with recent trends in the genre, the production credits act as features themselves. Frequent Gucci Mane collaborator Zaytoven is behind the boards on the song ‘Big on Big’ with his talented flavor of mixing harmonizing piano with dirty snares. Cardo, the brains behind Schoolboy Q’s ‘That Part’ and Jay Rock’s ‘Vice City’, orchestrates hard-hitting sounds of impending doom on the track ‘Deadz’. The album bounces and flows like a river filled with codeine and Sprite.
Migos work well when paired with far more interesting characters in the trap scene. Travis Scott spills onto the cocaine-dusted canvas of ‘Kelly Price,’ one of the project’s best cuts. 2 Chainz pulls up and rattles the track ‘Deadz’ with his signature brand of offbeat flow with a flex and a shrug. “Might buy a bowling alley, I got money out the gutter / Fully automatic, and it don’t don’t stutter.”
The album’s closer, ‘Out Yo Way,’ is a refreshing step in the right direction for the group’s evolution. Backed by a murderous baseline over a light-hearted flute tones, the track pays respect to the women that set them on the path to stardom. Each member takes full advantage of their flow, but Offset rips this beat to shreds with a verse that comes off as an earnest gloat in an effortless, rapid-fire flow. “Everybody said that we would fall away / Nobody thought that we would go up / But we blew up, blew up, blew up.”
The album was released on streaming, digital, and physical on Jan. 27, 2017.