Album Review: “Run the Jewels 3” By Run the Jewels

In 2013, Killer Mike and El-P formed Run the Jewels, the exhilarating hip-hop duo that gave both third-decade music veterans the widespread media love and voluptuous public adoration they both deserved decades prior. Only a year later did they produce Run the Jewels 2, their ruthless, ebullient, heart-pounding collaborative masterpiece. By 2014, they were already legends. In 2016, Run the Jewels return not merely with a vengeance, but with a dutiful desire — nay, an outspoken obligation — to provide our smoking media landscape and tumultuous political landscape with the earthquake of violent social commentary, vigorous righteousness and sheer dopeness this past year of confusion, chaos, distress and loss deserved so desperately with Run the Jewels 3.

RTJ 3 isn’t here to solve our problems; that’s not their responsibility. But Mike and El-P have a mission, and they’re not taking it lightly. It is, at once, the group’s most resilient endeavor and their most accomplished album to date. The contagious silliness, outright joy and unabashed sense of fun that’s infused throughout RTJ 2 is a little more absent this time around. Even the addictive “Nobody Speak,” their recent hit with DJ Shadow, is goofier and more bombastic than anything found in this late 2016 album. It’s justified, though. RT3 is an angry album and a merciless one, but it’s also a soulful and vigilant one. On the eve of Trump’s America, Run the Jewels’ lack of fucks is more valuable and necessary than ever in their early inception — and they know it.

RTJ 3 isn’t as rambunctiously entertaining, nor as feverishly energizing, as RTJ 2. Killer Mike and El-P aren’t trying to top themselves, however. Instead, they’re cementing their legacy. Unflinching, brooding, visceral, emotive and relevant as all hell, Run the Jewels’ latest isn’t quite as hilarious, obstreperous, memorable or instantly quotable as their previous work, but who gives a damn? RT3 isn’t the album that defines them, but it’s one that rightfully proves their worth. They’re truly the shit.

Reflecting the darker, more oppressive reality we’re forced inside, RTJ 3 is a more somber, weathered and aching collection than we’ve heard from the Run the Jewels duo prior. “Don’t Get Captured,” “2100,” featuring BOOTS, and “Thursday in the Danger Room,” featuring Kamasi Washington, for instance, seem more remorseful, hurt and longing in their political-fueled message spewing. Continuing the good fight against injustice and criminality amongst the innocent and crippled, Mike and El-P are noticeably saddened and more distressed than ever, yet their never-flaying endurance and optimism is layered throughout, which makes even the gloomiest tracks play as hopeful and volatile. Their buoyancy is beaten, but they’re still persistent. They need to be. 

Thankfully, their insubordinate, self-aware sense of humor isn’t lost either, even if it’s not as easily found, and it’s doubtful it’ll ever fade entirely — even in the darkest of times ahead. Music is, as always, an outlet filled with deep-seated, unrested political headiness and sophomoric, pot-fueled bliss for the lyrical gentlemen behind Run the Jewels, yet RTJ 3 is decidedly more mature, grounded and heartbroken, no matter how you cut it. Things look bleak, and it won’t stop looking that way. Mike and El-P don’t ignore that, nor do they want to. Yet, “Panther Like a Panther (Miracle Mix),” featuring Trina, reflects that lighthearted boisterousness that was found enthusiastically throughout their latest collaboration, and some of the good-natured punchiness that defined them prior is found in “Talk to Me.” It’s a stern album, but it’s not entirely solemn.  

RTJ 3 isn’t the towering, thunderous album that ultimately became RTJ 2, but to consider it a lesser effort would be a fool’s errand. Rather, it’s an impacting, steadfast achievement all its own, and one that will only continue to elevate the duo’s skyrocketing cultural status. The world is a dreary, nullifying mess. Run the Jewels know that and reflect that, yet they’re here to give us the compulsive beat — and spit those vicious rhymes — that’s essential to our eventual development.

They’re more vital than ever these days.

Stay gold, Run the Jewels. We need it.

Rating: 8/10

Will Ashton is a simple man. He enjoys reading, listening to smooth jazz, eating burritos, a nice drink amongst friends and, of course, the art of cinema. His writing can be found at The Playlist, CutPrintFilm, We Got This Covered, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, MovieBoozer, Monkeys Fighting Robots, Heroic Hollywood, Indiewire, HeyUGuys and elsewhere. He's also, you know, a writer for hire. Reach out. Say hello. Friend him on Facebook. He's actually pretty nice — if I do say so myself. One day, he'll become Jack Burton. Just you wait and see.