There’s something about a rap super-group that seems to work so much better than in any other genre. Kanye West and Jay Z’s recent collaboration, Watch the Throne, was able to highlight both of the MC’s styles without any egos getting in the way. When MF Doom and Madlib got together to create Madvilliany, what resulted was one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. One of the most influential rap groups ever, Wu Tang Clan, was able to combine nine different personalities into a flowing, forceful masterclass of talent. The duo of El-P and Killer Mike are no different, and their new effort, Run the Jewels 2, under their group name Run the Jewels, is on the same level as any of the aforementioned material.
After beginning the album with a slow-burner, Run the Jewels 2 hits the listener with a tight sample that forces you to bob your head on “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.” El-P then dishes a straight-up diss to the law. As further overdubs layer El-P and Killer Mike’s flows, the upgrade in production from their debut album is flaunted. On the next track, “Blockbuster Night Pt. 1,” the beats keep rolling as an army march-like thump ushers in Killer Mike. Once the introduction is over, the beat drops, and again the only proper response is a head nod.
The fourth song, “Close Your Eyes (And Count to F– ),” includes a surprising cameo appearance from Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine. He provides the backbone of the track, a sample of him preaching “run them jewels fast,” as well as a solid verse that showcases his slowed-down tempo. Again, the quality of production is astounding for an underground hip-hop crew.
On “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” the music backing the two rappers is an excellent complement to the flow of Killer Mike. A soft progression of notes back him as he spits “I love Dr. King but violence might be necessary.” Political messages are rife in the lyrics, and the aggressiveness in the presentation does a fine job of asserting the bold views of the two MC’s.
The first half of the album is full of material that rivals anything else Run the Jewels has done. The second half isn’t as successful, however. “Early” feels more like a pop song, which doesn’t fit with the hard-natured aesthetic of the album. An appearance by Boots, famous for his contributions to Beyoncé’s self-titled LP, seems forced, and his whiny voice does not sound good with the baritone of Killer Mike, who also has his share of lapses on the latter parts of the album. His flows in “Crown” seem to contrast the personality he built up on earlier tracks, and the auto-tuned vocals at the end are completely out of place.
All of that doesn’t diminish the positives of Run the Jewels 2, however. The minor gripe I had with the group’s debut was that it had spotty production, and the beats and music accompanying the rapping suffered as a result. El-P and Killer Mike have certainly learned from their mistakes, as the former’s progression as a producer has paid off tenfold. With this album, Run the Jewels join the ranks of spectacular rap super-groups.