While the opening track, “Down” has more of a reminiscing tone that looks at where both El-P and Killer Mike had first come from and how they, together, “Could have died y’all, a couple times I took my eyes off the prize, y’all.” But they also discuss the adversaries and obstacles they had overcome and what baggage comes along with that as well as the fame and fortune, “I know a few people pray for my demise y’all.” The accounts here seem to be entirely personal, where Run The Jewels had grown from each project and only become superior with each release.
“Down” is more of a gentle opener than the previous releases of RTJ, but is also significant in its own way. Rather than a complex instrumental and impressive punchlines, the writing takes more of a true to life style that allows everything to feel more flowing rather than abrasive. Run The Jewels 3 is welcoming to all in its first few moments, but soon transitions into the old style that fans of both Run The Jewels and the solo careers of Mike and El-P come to expect.
Run The Jewels contains an enormous amount of swagger and walks with an almost puffed out chest, Run The Jewels 3 is no different and contains the “We Will out rap everyone and leave you looking silly” type of attitude. From early pounding drums to the lyrics that have Mike describing, “Rhyme animal, pit bull terrier. Rap terrorist, terrorize, tear it up. Brought gas and the matches to flare it up.” To including El-P’s verse about how, “Brave men didn’t die face down in the Vietnam muck so I could not style on you. I didn’t walk uphill both ways to the booth and back to not wild on you.” Just the sheer amount of charisma that both Rappers present is almost unfathomable, it is certain that this was just as enjoyable to make for them, as it is to listen for us.
A giant of an instrumental delivers “Legend Has It,” relying primarily on a synthetic, lumbering voice that sways from side to side and some pounding 808 kick drums that slam into the listener at full speed make up the majority of the production here. This is where the chemistry of Run The Jewels shines through perfectly, El-P and Mike deliver an energized trade of blows where they almost tornado tag team the instrumental. Even Mike perfectly describes how Run The Jewels acts, “Half of a mongrel and mythical team, Villainous treacherous things. Legend says El is a spawn out of Hell, the myth is my mama’s a murderous queen.”
There is also a switch-up in the beat here where the stumbling voice is then abandoned and instead is picked up by a clicking, runny synth that creates this background chatter behind both Mike and El-P. Most of the tracks present on Run The Jewels 3 feature some significant switch up in either the beat or rhyming style of the MC’s.
There is an example of these lyrical switch ups on the next track, “Call Ticketron.” When entering the third verse from Killer Mike, he adopts a significantly faster rhyming style, explaining that he is, “…The Same lama doo ma lama, danger dick’ll do your mama. Skeeter with the peeter, never eat her, tell her see ya later.” Even El-P tries his hand at the faster style and describes, “Full clip, I’m a little bit sick, come equipped. Look at what I did for the grit, got it lit, what a cinch. Brought ‘em just a little pinch of the truth, and they flip.” The instrumental sounds like it uses the famous track, “It takes two,” by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock; instead of being upbeat however, the track is more of a supersonic creep that almost sound something similar to a futuristic New York; as the references to Madison Square Garden imply.
Following is “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” that features none other than Atrocity Exhibitionist, Danny Brown. Brown has been featured on an Australian tour with both Run The Jewels and Earl Sweatshirt, so he is no stranger to joining in on the Super Friends of Rap. Mike and El-P both deliver their verses and they are energetic, but Danny Brown completely snaps on this track in his usual fashion and takes the extra mile here. His verse includes some great lines about both, “Word architect, when I arch the tech, I’ll part ya neck,” and “Get pearl tongue like every day, so I Run them Jewels in every state. I kill a mic with Killer Mike, roll el’s out with a p’s wit El-P.” Brown is definitely the highlight of “Hey Kids (Bumaye),” and his verse perfectly segues into the next track, “Stay Gold.”
(I am going to break my writing character of pure 100% professionalism… and say Holy Shit… This track is incredible.) This is one of the best tracks that Run The Jewels had ever produced in their careers. The instrumental is heavy-hitting and down-right outstanding, it uses aggressive 808’s and a blazing hi-hat, only to switch up into a short-winded break down. The constant aggression found here is awe-inspiring, this along with the echoing, almost Morse code-like ding in the backing sections creates an ever larger impact on how powerful the instrumental truly is. Then, as Mike and El-P come into frame, the entire track feels perfect. Both verses set the mood into a fiery heat of slick rhymes that conclude with El-P delivering a line about, “Run down yellow brick roads toward riches, just be sure to not trust no wizards. The golden age is gone, admit it, all that’s gold is not gold that glitters.”
Now meeting the halfway mark on Run The Jewels 3, Killer Mike and El-P decide to show no single signs of slowing down and instead carry the energy from “Stay Gold” into the following track, “Don’t get captured.” This is where the political aspect of Killer Mike starts to present itself more and more, as he progresses through his verse, he describes, “Snow on The Bluff showed up, with the slums in the city blown up. Now the white folks showed up, everything bought, sold up… Politicians so corrupt, sold out black ass out. Really ain’t color, my brother here in Cabbagetown they put they white ass out. Truth been told, I’m out.”
This is where El-P can show his political analysis where he describes, “Good day from the house of the haunted, get a job, get a house, get a coffin. Don’t stray from the path, remain where you at, that maximizes our profit. Is that blunt? Oh well, hell, so’s this boot.” Run The Jewels have always had a hand in political rap even since before Run The Jewels had been spawned, here their claims are more focused on the present and more specifically, Police Brutality; thus, the “Don’t get captured” chorus.
There are then no moments wasted as the following track, “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)” comes trailing behind. There is not a huge amount to say about this track as it almost seems like a continuation of “Don’t Get Captured,” but instead starts to go into further detail about specific events that had happened in both Mike and El-P’s life, almost referring to people who steal the greatest treasure of all, someone’s life.
Coming to “2100,” the last single that was released on Run The Jewels 3. Run The Jewels described the track as, “For our friends. For our family. For everyone who is hurting or scared right now. Here is a song we wrote months ago. We weren’t planning on releasing it yet but… well it feels right, now. It’s about fear, and it’s about love, and it’s about wanting more for all of us.” Then when looking into the lyrics where both lyricists describe, “The evening news giving you views, telling you to pick your master for president. Been behind the curtain, seen the devil working, came back with some evidence.” The verses go almost in tandem as El-P comes in and describes, “And I don’t know how much it really means to be right, and what a joy it’d be to see some peace in this life.” There is also a feature from BOOTS, who provides some angelic vocalization that only continues to add an additional layer of beauty into “2100”.
Switching the style back to the more rapid runs of Run The Jewels, “Panther Like a Panther (Miracle Mix)” opens with El-P delivering an acapellic performance before having the instruments launch the track into a frantic, jungle-style beat that uses different clicking of synthesizers to create this sprint of a chorus where Killer Mike, El-P, and Trina who is the featured artist on the track, chant, “I’m the shit, looking at the money like it’s mine to get.” This is then the platform to having Killer Mike come in with his verse, “Run The Jewels will arrive at arenas, bunch of blood thirsty hyenas to get revenge on the kingdoms that killed the dreams of the dreamers.” There is also a strange organ-like instrument that makes an appearance but only briefly before going back into the frenzy, shark fest of verses and immense pain that Mike and El-P bring.
Seguing from “Panther Like a Panther (Miracle Mix),” the following, “Everybody Stay Calm” is a slowed, but focused track that puts the centerfold primarily on the lyrics. As El-P exposes the track, he explains, “No sleep for the vicious, key up a cop car just to see mischief.” This is another track where punches are thrown by each MC, as Killer Mike responds, “Presidential suite, got a fuck boy jealous. I’m the Nelson Mandela of Atlanta dope sellers.” Almost as if the instrumental is being played underwater, it feels distant and dreamlike. The snare bounces resonate and continue to ring until the next time that they are struck, that is the similar notion when it comes to the bouncing synth bells or objects rather that continue to play behind the instruments as a subtle, but important aspect of the beat.
The next track, “Oh Mama” is more of a build-up to the last two tracks, but it features one of the better uses of the tag-team aspect. As El-P continues through his verse, Mike acts as a hype man here, “ [El-P] You acting like it’s safe when the revolution’s been… [Killer Mike] Called off. [El-P] There’s liars on the loose, if we listen to you we’re [Killer Mike] All Lost. [El-P] The takers of the jewels never singing a tune at [Killer Mike] All Soft.” The chemistry is such a wonderful aspect of Run The Jewels and it is impossible to imagine another duo in Hip-Hop that has that friend-partner aspect. This is the case in the second to last piece, “Thursday in the Danger Room.”
Kamasi Washington features here and delivers a wonderful addition with a saxophone ridden with raising the mood, making a significant change in the instrumentation; combining both live instruments and synthetic instruments as well. As mentioned before, the production is one of the most impressive aspect of Run The Jewels 3. It manages to combine such complex instruments together, as well as creating instrumentals that work in tandem together to create some of the most memorable tracks of 2016 and of Run The Jewels’ career. “Thursday in the Danger Room” is in similar style of “Down” where there are personal accounts taken into aspect and both Mike and El-P describe the feeling of loss, “And I guess I’d say I’ll see you soon, but the truth is that I see you now. Still talk to you like you’re around, and I guess I say you left too soon. But the truth is that you never left, cause I never let myself forget.”
Finally, coming onto the last leg of Run The Jewels 3; “A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters,” ends the latest saga in what seems like a down note. “A Report to the Shareholders” is a lovely sounding instrumental that is covered by a sullen sounding Mike and El explaining how to overthrow anyone who doubted them on their journey. Killer Mike explains, “It could all be over tomorrow, kill our masters and start again. But we know we all afraid, so we simply cry and march again.” Even El-P shines his political prowess, “It’s all jokes and smoke ‘till the truth start scheming. Can’t contain the disdain for y’all demons, you talk clean and bomb hospitals.”
This then leads into the last verse of Run The Jewels 3, handled by none other than Rage A
of the world, it’ll make all your saneness go.” Then finally, we come to Rocha’s verse who had been present on Run The Jewels 2, so hopes were at an all-time high; he completely delivered.
Rocha starts with a rather lyrical style to open his verse up, “Killer children of men on the throne, roving with no atonement. Got me feeling like I’m Clive Owen rowing through a future frozen.” Rocha then goes on to say, “Shit be grim, and De La born a reaper. Born in the beast and fixing feast tearing its features…We ain’t asleep, we rope a dope through the flames. Man, the world gonna ride on what’s implied in the name, Run ‘em.” With one of the hardest-smacking, bone-crushing, rap groups this world has ever seen, Run The Jewels makes their music seem like something of a lyrical, but aggressive dream.