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Run the jewels fast and don't look back. Rabid rap dogs Killer Mike and El-P are coming up hard. "He hangin' out the window, I hold the wheel," Mike raps on "Blockbuster Night Part 1." "One black, one white, we shoot to kill."
Officially becoming the tag-team known as Run the Jewels last year propelled Mike Render and Jaime Meline into limelight that had evaded them despite long, successful careers. Killer Mike will sound vaguely familiar to just about anyone for his verses in support of T.I. and Outkast, but was always the protege in Atlanta's rap scene. El-P earned plenty of street cred producing and occasionally rapping on albums for his label, Definitive Jux, but he never quite floated up out of the underworld. Now also seems like the strangest breakout moment for two 39-year-olds two-decades deep into careers in an industry rapidly starving out all but the biggest stars. But as Mike makes clear on the gauntlet-throwing "Blockbuster..." this second record - self-titled in the style of Led Zeppelin - is much like the first.
"Last album voodoo, proved that we was fuckin' brutal. I'm talking crazy, half past the clock is cuckoo." Run The Jewels 2 maintains the same feverish pace of joyously deranged, vulgar and dark rhymes over more aggressive beats, right from Killer's intro, "I'm gonna bang this bitch the fuck out." Plenty of the tropes that many find despicable about hip-hop can be found throughout the record -- dick swinging, violence, banging bitches and kush -- but before running off to write your next indignant, self-righteous column, either toke alongside them or Mike can just get your attention. "No hocus pocus, you simple suckers deserve to know this," he says. "Top of the morning, my fist to your face is fucking Folgers." Generic themes like "You know you're favorite rapper ain't shit, and me I might be the closest representation of God you might see" and "good pussy, good marijuana that be my medicine" get deflated quickly by, "It be feelin' like the life that I'm livin' man, I don't control. Like every day I'm in a fight for my soul."
Relishing their punch-in-the-mouth reputation, it's all a bit over the top on purpose. The self-aggrandizing becomes absurd - part mocking their self-absorbed contemporaries, but mostly just having fun. "I'm the foulest, no need for any evaluation," El-P said. "I'm a phallus." An abundance of lines are crude enough to make even a pretentious hipster blush and giggle -- see the reference early in "All My Life" to a shopping mall, oral sex and pitas. But they allay fears when it borders on the downright sexist with a big wink at the politically correct. Don't give up on "Love Again" before Gangsta Boo laughs in Mike and El-P's face. Amounting to the dirtiest pillow talk made public in recent memory, the song details the egos on either side of a relationship, self-deprecating with tongue firmly in cheek, or likely someplace else - either hit pause and use your imagination or find out with headphones turned way down.
The cleverness also shines through in the abundance of cultural references, including what must be hip-hop's only Arrested Development citation in "Lie, Cheat, Steal." They make listening the second time, third time and the time after you Googled the lyrics all the better. Run the Jewels' collaborations are also engaging. Former Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker does much the same frenetic thing he did for that Soulja Boy remix, but the welcome return of Rage Against The Machine's Zack De La Rocha steals the show on "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)." After his unfortunate role helping launch rap-core, De La Rocha contributes the hook and even a verse with his usual vengeance on the album's biggest track, but for once he isn't the only one piledriving the politics.
Music is only partly responsible for at least Mike's rising notoriety. First name Killer has become a loud voice for change with from references to the forgotten Donald Sterling controversy in "Run the Jewels 2" to his recent tears onstage talking about his two young sons after the grand jury's decision in Ferguson. "You really made it or just became a prisoner of privilege?" Mike asks in one of many appeals for rising up against injustice. For all the glib references to violence, Mike's tale on "Early" about an interaction with police pulls not a punch and is starkly relevant. Inherent mistrust of the law and dark memories loom large for El-P as well.
"You know that's the law, deal done by the shake of claws," the New Yorker says. "It ain't a game if the shit don't pause." Honesty and hurt, alongside their generous helping of humor, makes the album a complicated listen, but it helps to remember it's all just "Murder, mayhem, melodic music."