Album Review: Run The Jewels—“RTJ3”

By Angelo Gio Mateo, Feature Photo via Pitchfork

If Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book (2016) represented optimism in this awful year, then Run the Jewels RTJ3 (2016) is its antithesis. Killer Mike and El-P are back with another hard-hitting and abrasive record. The album was originally slated to be released on January 13th 2017, but Christmas came with the gift of a surprise release, free for download on their website. According to their Instagram post, “we couldn’t help ourselves… after a crazy fucking year and with a full tour about to set off we asked ourselves what we were waiting for… and we just couldn’t come up with a great answer.”

While RTJ2 felt more urgent for its time, Run the Jewels is lavishing in their supremacy of the hip-hop game. El-P on the first track proclaims that, “Ya gonna need a bigger boat, boys, you’re in trouble.” On “Talk to Me,” Killer Mike is livid screaming, “I told y’all suckers, I told y’all suckers. I told y’all on RTJ1, then I told ya again on RTJ2, and you still ain’t believe me. So here we go, RTJ3.” Again, El-P’s harsh and tough production is key to the Run the Jewels’ sound. Yet it’s their lyrical skill that is on point on this album, as Jaime and Mike trade verses and lines like true crew cuts.

RTJ3 arrives just in time as we’re all seeking answers at the end of a year of tragedy and the album provides the soundtrack to our resistance, as the previous two records did. This is verbal violence on record. Gil Scott-Heron said, “The Revolution will not be televised,” but Run the Jewels chooses to record the Revolution. Killer Mike raps, “Say hello to the masters, on behalf of the classless masses. We showed up, ski masks, picks, and axes to murder asses. Lift up our glasses and watch your palaces burn to ashes. Fucking fascists, who the fuck are you to give fifty lashes.”  

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“RTJ3” Album Cover

There are glimpses in their lyrics that they would rather not have to deal with the violence. On 2100, El-P raps, “I just wanna live, I don’t wanna ever have to load a clip.” But they’re cynical and they feel they have no other choice but to fight. They sample Martin Luther King Jr. saying, “I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.” Killer Mike says that, “Politicians so corrupt, sold our black ass out” on “Don’t Get Captured.” On another song, he says, “Born Black, that’s dead on arrival. My job is to fight for survival.”

One of the highlights of the album is “Thursday In the Danger Room” with Kamasi Washington on the saxophone. It serves as RTJ3’s “Crown,” bringing some emotion to the record. Both El-P and Killer Mike rap about having someone close pass away – in El-P’s case, by some sort of illness, and in Killer Mike’s case, killed for his chain. It remains to be seen whether RTJ3 will be as much of a classic as RTJ2, but Killer Mike and El-P have delivered an album that feels necessary after a tough 2016 and as a soundtrack to revolution in 2017. Mass Appeal

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