You know shit is bad when Run the Jewels take it upon themselves to chill us out. Of course, by any normal standard, a song where someone declares “I’ll pull my penis out and piss on their shoes in public” is not exactly going on yoga playlists. But for a Killer Mike performance, that one’s several hundred scovilles less vein-popping than most anything on the first three Run the Jewels albums. The world hasn’t gotten any better since El-P and Mike’s duo unveiled RTJ3 at the outset of Donald Trump’s presidency — not one bit.
(Hopefully, you’re reading this from inside quarantine because we’re now in a Black Mirror episode.)
Having said that, raging forever just doesn’t sound healthy. El-P recently got married. Mike has his own family. Eventually, when you run out of blood vessels to burst in your eyeballs, you have to figure out how to function, even if it’s during an apocalypse. Danny Brown’s excellent collaboration with the dynamic duo last year, “3 Tears”, hinted that they’d turn this corner with some smack talk fit for barstools rather than back alleys.
So “Ooh La La”, our second taste of the long-awaited RTJ4, at least slows the dynamic duo down to normal hip-hop speed. Boom-bap, of course, none of that Auto-Tuned mumble for these grizzled vets — no thank you. DJ Premier, the greatest boom-bap producer of all time, graces the cut with his royal presence, along with veteran Greg Nice from Nice & Smooth, and a prominent sample from Gang Starr’s “DWYCK”. That’s the same tune that spawned the mysterious “lemonade was a popular drink and it still is” line that Jay-Z flipped to wink at his wife’s scorched-earth infidelity opus on Fat Joe’s “All the Way Up (Remix)” because New York rappers have their own semaphore.
From Company Flow through Def Jux, El-P has rarely ever produced a more traditional Brooklyn-sounding rap song than this, complete with a de-tuned piano sample and dust-caked drums worthy of classic RZA. El-P shouts out Russian rifle company Kalashnikov while Mike gets his Action Bronson on by comparing women’s genitals to oysters and devouring both. “You want maximum stupid, I’m the guy,” El-P grins. Just because they can do this kind of rap in their sleep doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. This week, we all needed two misanthropes having fun, because now we’re all misanthropes desperately searching for same.
For Fans Of: Gang Starr, for starters, haunt this old-school tribute from guys who are getting pretty up there themselves, or Mobb Deep, who weren’t as funny or loose. “Ooh La La” hints that RTJ4 may have more in common with Danny Brown’s loosey-goosey masterwork uknowwhatimsayin? last year than any previous work by El or Mike, and that’s frankly exciting as fuck.
Best Moment: With “I’m a dirty dog, ha ha ha ha ha,” Killer Mike sets the bar high for 2020’s evil rap laugh sweepstakes, right before correctly knowledging Ol’ Dirty Bastard as the mock-villainous innovator of the form.
Where to Go From Here: If you’ve already digested Run the Jewels’ three hungry, testosterone-pumping full-lengths, don’t fret. There’s a whole boom-bap throwback movement occurring right now thanks to Roc Marciano, KA, and the guys in Griselda, whose best offering thus far is Benny the Butcher’s solo The Plugs I Met last year, a grimy, funny little diary entry. “Ooh La La” also recalls the best moments on Action Bronson’s 2018 White Bronco. You know, like when he compares his haircut to Dominican folk art.
Other Great Songs This Week: This week saw quite a few promising comebacks, and my favorite is “Pardon Our Dust”, from D.C.’s un-categorizable (jazzy? electronic? indie?) Beauty Pill, whose Describes Things as They Are five years ago (rightfully) made Time’s top 10 albums of the past decade. The first new song from Bright Eyes in nine years, “Persona Non Grata”, erupts with euphoric bagpipes(!) on the chorus. “Martin” skillfully integrates Car Seat Headrest’s seasoned live band with stuttering bedroom-pop textures. And, despite the sad news that she’s gravely mistaken about vaccines, M.I.A.’s first new song in four years, “OHMNI 20209″, reignites the hyper-sampled chaos of Kala and keeps mutating. Finally, Earth’s poet laureate Bob Dylan has emerged with his first new original in eight years: a 17-minute retelling of JFK’s assassination that name-drops countless jazz and rock icons, “Murder Most Foul.”
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