The union of Brooklyn rapper/producer El-P and Atlanta MC Killer Mike has been one of divine praise, so much so that it’s now become difficult to disassociate one without the other. Both of their solo offerings in 2012 were graced with each other’s presence and, understandably, they were both shining examples of the 2012 hip hop resurgence, with enough fan and critical praise between the two albums that even a remote possibility of the two rappers joining forces in other, grander ways was now commonplace amongst the music community.
The result, as we now know, was last year’s Run The Jewels, an incredibly breezy and delectable effort from El-P and Killer Mike that not only revealed the sheer force these guys had together, but it also solidified the notion that a sea change was happening in hip hop, one where a collaborative/super-group status could once again exist and be a thing to get giddy over instead of one to groan over.
What was thought to be a one-off album before the rappers returned to their solo work, Run The Jewels appropriately contained the reverence of other one-off albums, so it became quite a surprise when the duo announced their return with a sophomore record a mere year-and-a-half later. The aptly named RTJ2 became available a few days before it’s initial October release, and here we are now, days after that initial release day, having felt privileged to not have only listened to one of 2014’s best offerings early, but also the hip-hop album of the year to beat.
Its act of sinister hip hop is apparent from the get-go on “Jeopardy,” with Killer Mike yelling into ours ears, but also directed toward El-P, exclaiming that he’s ready to record as if “history is being made.” That’s a valid opinion, considering how the track immediately delves into head-banging lower-register synths under Killer Mike’s bravado, followed by El-P’s threatening verse — more threatening than the slashing cut-off that ends the track. It’s a natural segue from where their debut ended, and it prepares us for the barrage of solid gold compositions that follow it.
From “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and on, RTJ2 takes off and never stops. The aforementioned track’s thumping bass and glitchy samples evenly match the dope-as-fuck attitude El-P and Killer Mike know how to imbue. It flows straight into the album’s single “Blockbuster Night Part 1,” whose instrumental hook is appropriately that of “blockbuster” status. The duo topple one another with better verse after better verse with a “do-or-die” mantra.
And yet, it’s Rage Against The Machine’s Zack De La Rocha who owns everything as he stacks up on the next track, “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck).” As impressive as it is having De La Rocha featured on any track, it’s just devilish when he drops the track’s final verse, which calls out just the right amount of wrong, making you want to reach out to recapture his lyrical genius from past outings.
The rest of the album tackles a variety of hip hop styles, from boom bap and gangsta rap, while still maintaining its East Coast roots, and that ambition is greatly successful, such as the tracks “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” “Early” featuring Boots, and “All Due Respect” with Travis Barker from blink-182 on drums. They act like a trifecta capable of their own EP, running the gamut of Twista-tempo raps to slow-jam experimental soul without a kink in its step.
RTJ2’s flow impresses as we get from points A to B and gives us an encompassing journey through swagger, but its production is equally bold and ultimately makes the experience so enjoyable. There is an unspoken bond between the duo on how much is necessary to get their artistic statements across, and considering the technicality of its instrumentation and their vocal deliveries, RTJ2’s content is precise in its estimations.
There is the old adage that a sequel is “not as good as the first,” but there are some exceptions to the rule. RTJ2 is an exception; it ups the ante from their debut, with El-P and Killer Mike just being a bit more adventurous and having more fun seriously. Zeroing in on immeasurably slick production with insane spit, great wordplay, and guests whose contributions exponentially add to the wealth that already exists, it’s exactly like their debut record, but here, they’re having their cake and eating it too, and now they’re the rappers and producers we have to answer to.
And now, the wait for Meow The Jewels is on.
“Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” “Blockbuster Night Part 1,” “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck),” and “Early” feat. BOOTS