There is no shortage of drama or urgency in Run The Jewels' third full-length record. The collaboration between El-P and Killer Mike may have seemed at its inception like a novel and likely short-lived side project, but four years later the duo comes out swinging harder than ever--delivering lyrics rich with bravado and sizzling with political aggression. The result is fourteen white-hot and damn-near flawless tracks that seem to boldly announce the group's intention to wring the most out of this collaboration and stick around for the long-run. Run The Jewels 3 has set the bar absurdly high for 2017 hip hop releases.
There are a number of qualities here that make this record undeniably special. Though it comes as no surprise that the production here is spectacular (when one-half of your duo boasts El-P, your record getting mastered properly is essentially a given), the value of this cannot be overlooked. There is an intensity to the mixing here--a lacquered sheen that makes already superb performances crystal clear and overwhelmingly immersive. Few albums come to mind that make you feel this convincingly like you're in the studio. The in-your-face feel to this complements its philosophical underpinnings perfectly. As the duo delivers poignant reflections on the political unrest in America, it's appropriate for the group to just about tie you down and demand your attention. The brilliant production is especially valuable because it enables every single lyric to be digested from the very first listen. Considering just how many words there are on this album, it's a remarkable feat to make every one of them as bold as a marquee announcement. But when the writing is this good--when the music of language is understood this profoundly and when the verses can convincingly be equal parts tongue-in-cheek braggadocio and caustic social commentary--it'd be a sin to let so much as a single word go unheard. Though the confidence is comically overstated throughout the record ("I'm fucking magic, in fact I'm a warlock of talk / I got a unicorn horn for a (stop)"), the record itself serves to earn the group every bit of fanfare they make claim to.
Though the album is not devoid of cameos from other artists, Run The Jewels also manages to buoy most of this release on their own. The handful of artists who are featured add distinct performances that bring to the table details the duo aren't able to provide on their own, like Danny Brown's unmistakeable nasally vocal stylings or Kamasi Washington's soulfully jazzy instrumental arrangements. There's no need here to parade out a who's who of modern hip hop for what seems like search engine optimization purposes; there is more than enough talent to keep a reasonably lengthy release afloat.
Run The Jewels 3 is brash, intelligent, and endlessly entertaining. The artists have clearly outdone themselves, but considering they have managed to improve upon each of their releases, there's no reason to believe they won't be able to wow us in new and exciting ways as they continue to work together. There's nothing here that should have been done differently--nothing that's lacking or excessive. The samples are electrifying, the writing is inspired, the musical identity is unique. Hardly a song goes by that Run The Jewels doesn't announce their name for listeners, but certainly they do this purely for sport. Certainly they know there's no need for this when you've crafted something that's going to earn you devoted audiences for a long time coming.
Label: Run The Jewels, Inc.
Magic Moment: As "Talk To Me" (possibly the lyrical pinnacle of the album) winds down, Killer Mike punctuates El-P's final machine-gun-fast verse with one of the record's most aggressive flashes. He just about bears his teeth to directly challenge listeners: "I told ya'll suckers, I told ya'll suckers, I told you on RTJ 1, then I told you again on RTJ 2, and you still ain't believe me. So here we go: RTJ 3." The track becomes the de facto opener; even though the true opener "Down" is an exceptional track, "Talk To Me" is baptism by fire.
The Pair to Start With: Call Ticketron, Stay Gold
Buy It, Spin It, Spurn It, or Burn It: Buy it