2. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Apart from its surface appeal as a frequently funny album by two guys with tons of agreeable things to say, Run the Jewels’ second effort is a run-and-gun hardcore rap record at heart: just unrelentingly fast-paced, eminently vulgar (“This year we iller than a nun in a cumshot…”), and sonically unforgiving. It’s efficient too, the same length as Illmatic but swiftly plucking from hip-hop’s last two decades or so, whether it’s Killer Mike channeling a young Ice Cube throughout the album or taking cues from Future’s slippery “Move That Dope” verse on “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”. Though it starts with Mike hyping the album even more savagely than that kid who opens Chief Keef’s “Love Sosa” (“I’m finna bang this bitch the FUCK out!” Mike vows), it’s not all sheer force; behold “Crown”, which features one of the most personal verses of Mike’s career, as he remembers the haunting decisions he made as a drug dealer. Still, the appeal of Run the Jewels has to be their desire to absolutely terminate any and all competition.
“Chemistry” is tough to quantify, but these guys have it, isolated as they were in the studio with enough weed to fill a bomb shelter. No matter how many albums Mike and El make together, the bi-coastal narrative will stick: Mike brings the stomp of Atlanta and the South (not to mention his smarts as a former philosophy major at Morehouse College), while the New Yorkian El raps his ginger ass off in a slightly more traditional way and, on the beats, wields the serpentine, darkly psychedelic aesthetic of his Company Flow days and solo work. The result isn’t just “murder mayhem melodic music” but also a seamless mix of black and white, mainstream and underground (or maybe underground and deeper underground), and East Coast and Third Coast. That’s not to mention the room they make for even more diversity, as the guest list includes an out-of-nowhere Zack de la Rocha on “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”, Gangsta Boo spitting in the face of sexual double standards on “Love Again (Akinyele Back)”, and flawless Beyonce producer Boots lending his ghoulish vocals to “Early”. Just think: if only the social and political fuckboys that Mike and El routinely take down, from prison wardens on “Close Your Eyes…” to “fellows at the top” in general, had such fine people skills. –Michael Madden