Sunday, July 23, 2017 This Week's Paper

Band of the Week – Run the Jewels

Genre: Hip Hop, Rap, booms and baps
Recommend Tracks: “Get It” “Banana Clipper (Featuring Big Boi)” “Sea Legs” “Twin Hype (Featuring Prince Paul as Chest Rockwell)”

[This is the third in a weekly series of articles in which Tacoma weekly contributor Sean Contris will elucidate on relatively obscure bands that music lovers need to know about. – Ed.]

Yeah, yeah, okay, I know, I nearly missed the hype train on this by a couple of weeks. Settle down, sue me, whatever. I know that Run The Jewels has been an official active unit for a little over four months, and I know that everyone who has at least a remote interest in hip hop has already gone over to the website and downloaded their debut album FOR FREE and have given it at least one listen. If you are not one of those people, and you have not downloaded this album, then what are you doing here? No, seriously, stop reading this! I’m a crap writer anyway, go on, GET. Come back when you get some sense knocked back into you…

No? Still here? Ugh. Fine. Whatever. Can’t take my word for it, huh? No, really, please open a new tab, go to Google, look up Run the Jewels find the first link, legal or not, and just get this album. It’s that good, it’s that interesting and it simply MUST BE HEARD.

In the meantime let’s have a little history lesson.

Anyone interested in underground hip hop knows, has heard of, and probably loves the two members that make up Run the Jewels. On one side of the equation is the hulking and menacing Georgian rapper and Outkast guest star Killer Mike, famed for a long career that only recently made a grab for mainstream attention with 2012’s “R.A.P. Music.” On the other side is Brooklyn native mastermind and legendary El Producto (El-P), whose contributions to hip hop are too numerous to list here, but whose most noteworthy accomplishments include his work with Company Flow, producing Cannibal Ox’s 2001 masterpiece “The Cold Vein” and, like Mike, his similar grab for mainstream attention with 2012’s “Cancer 4 Cure.”

Like many of his other projects, El-P is the one working Run the Jewels from a production angle. His signature sound – cold, heavy, bassy and spacey – lines every note of this record but, unlike some of his quieter moments, the hip hop Renaissance man is at his all-out, balls-to-the-wall most aggressive. The sound behind Run The Jewels goes HARD. These are simply 10 massive sounding, masterfully produced, aggressive bangers. The blend of Mike and El-P creates a unique and nearly perfect blend of southern and east coast hip hop. The grit of the south and the cold accuracy of the east coast make for one mean combo, and if these songs were done by anyone not on the level of these two rappers, Run the Jewels would have been an insult to both very distinctive styles, sounds and cultures. Instead, we get the bass and the hook of “Get It” – instead, we get the ferocious “Sea Legs” – instead, we get an instant classic.

Though I do take issue with the fact that the production behind the record could have used more diversity, the beats do their jobs well, providing a dense sonic palate for what Run the Jewels is really about – the rapping.

Listening to Run the Jewels is like watching the most intense game of Jenga ever played. The chemistry between Mike and El-P is phenomenal, and for the entire 33 minutes that these two are assaulting your ears, they’re at war. A war pushed on by taunts and dares, trying to see which one gets the last laugh or the last great line. Though none of the lyrics on this album are particularly meaningful, and for the most part focus on the duo explaining why they’re so badass in elaborate ways, they still pull the best lines out of each other. And that Jenga comparison earlier – yeah, I didn’t make that lightly. The energy in Run The Jewels is like a rabid cheetah on speed, and for the entirety of this record, Mike and El-P are desperately attempting to one up each other, building on what the other says in a friendly competition of “my verses are better than your verses.”

On first listen, it is extremely difficult to see who ends up as the superior wordsmith, as both are on such a leveled playing field, but as you come back for future listens (and you will) it becomes clear that El-P is in a lane of his own. Though Mike is the more direct of the two, spitting vicious bars that are instantly memorable and gratifying, its El-P’s complex rhyme schemes and layered lyrical content that designates him as the one wearing the stolen jeweled crown. To compare him to anyone is difficult; he’s one part anarchist, one part thug, and one part science fiction nerd all blended into one of the most dominating voices in hip hop. And his flow, seriously, you need to hear this guy. Hard stops, soft stops, double time, triple time, all the while spitting verses, throwing metaphors and dropping allusions that will make the head spin.

Yes, Run the Jewels is a rapper’s record through and through. The guest stars that show up do their jobs well, but really, we didn’t need them. Yeah, Big Boi is always a welcome voice, and yes Until The Ribbon Breaks are great, but this is the Killer Mike and El-P show, and nothing can steal their spotlight. Seriously, if Tupac and Biggie dropped from the heavens and delivered verses on this thing, we’d still be focused on Mike’s hip hop history checklist on “Twin Hype,” the sheer gut punch that is the intro track, or the Jay and Kanye diss on “Sea Legs.” Yeah, they’re that good.

Mike and El-P are currently on tour supporting the record; if possible catch these two when they come back around. After watching them on stage at the Capitol Hill Block Party, I can personally speak for their wonderful chemistry. Live, the duo comes across as best friends, giving high fives mid verse and expressing their appreciation and praise for one another.

Run the Jewels is the stuff hip hop heads dream of, two artists at the height of their power messing around in the studio and turning out some of the most gratifying and powerful hip hop songs this side of the universe, and best of all, this stuff is FREE. Here, I’ll even give you a link: Now go on, get on this. You’ll thank me later.

Sean Contris is a student at Wilson High School. Oftentimes he comes too close to embodying the classical, and often times stereotypical, persona of a young male writer. Sean enjoys listening to a wide range of music and locking himself in his room to read sad Russian novels.