Run the Jewels
released 3 jun 2020
political hip-hop
written 4 jul 2024

worthwhile political criticism is difficult, especially when you're not perfect (so, for everyone at all times). but criticism of poignant political commentators is usually a co-opting from the other side, infighting, or some combination; as much as there's warranted criticism to be made, it's seemingly for the most part a shrouding of warranted commentary from people trying to find that one 'hero' for the cause that's completely, morally and ethically, perfect.

but that's a worthless game; pick and choose elements all you want, it's fine. no one person, band, group, or entity will completely match well to you or to a competent ideology, and that's okay. that takes us to this album.

this is a flawed album, and it's probably never going to reach the breadth of recognition it should, and that's okay too; the sound designs compared to their previous three are forced together uncomfortably, loudly shifting and cuttingly breaking around almost aimlessly in its first few tracks before the real heavy-hitters make their space apparent. yankee and the brave (ep. 4) is one of their better openers, a shrewd storybook back-and-forth for a fantasy buddy show, and its amazing El-P production quirks are heard clear as day.

but those main heavy-hitters come later on: holy calamafuck, walking in the snow with Gangsta Boo, JU$T with Pharrell Williams and Zack de le Rocha, and a few words for the firing squad (radiation). there's merit to the other tracks, like the three preceding that final salvo with nearly as much combined poetic spite as that last track, but the searing observations and stories made on those tracks, laden with floor-rumbling bass and skittering extra percussion, are some of their best songs they've ever made, including both Killer Mike's and El-P's solo works.

ooh la la with Greg Nice and DJ Premier is the quick turn in the first half that often feels too playful with somewhat of an obnoxious hook, and as much as 2 Chainz feels like he fits with the surroundings of out of sight, those two songs back-to-back feel blatantly out of place, like they could've been excluded without much affect to what comes along right after.

because lines like "Got a Vonnegut punch for your Atlas shrug" from El-P on JU$T and "And every day on the evening news, they feed you fear for free / And you so numb, you watch the cops choke out a man like me / Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, 'I can't breathe'" from Killer Mike on walking in the snow are the moments that make the political emissaries behind this record's commentary worthwhile. as much as there can be criticisms of Killer Mike's appeals to peace when protests ramped up in the summer of 2020, it's hard to argue that his and El-P's hearts have appealed more often to the people that actually need it.

and if that commentary is appearing in their art more often than occasional faults of being against certain property violence and faulty community organization, i think their artistic points are still valuable. especially when it ends so personally, so tied to their person experiences with their mothers and sisters and the people around them that need support, the preaching kind of feels like it means more than even the two of them let on. even when their backs are to the wall, they'll still be recognizing that they're not perfect, but they don't have to be; they know the general direction we need to go in anyway.

light 4 / 5
created by hand, by nat!

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