Judging by the opening track you might think that Run The Jewels spent the two years since their last album in anger-management classes. Compared to the in-your-face opening line of their previous album (“I’m gonna bang this bitch the fuck out!”), RTJ3’s opener “Down” reflects on dark days trying to cope with “a pure absence of hope”.
But these aren’t downbeat observations. RTJ draw strength from those times, resolving instead relentlessly to assert themselves through their music. The anger of the previous two albums is still here, only much more focused.
RTJ3 sees Killer Mike and El-P settle comfortably into two different, but very complimentary, corners. Mike’s vocal style is fully realised as he effortlessly reels off rhythmic rhymes bristling with hostility made even more menacing by his Atlanta drawl. “Talk To Me” exemplifies this delivery with Killer Mike delivering bars that recall Ice Cube’s unbridled aggression on early NWA records. The content is bang up to date though, with the two-man crew taking shots at Donald Trump, the military and All Lives Matter along the way.
Similarly, El-P has found his place. The production on display here combines clean and fresh sounding samples with the thick, grimy aesthetic that made the last album so great. Tracks like 2100 manage to introduce new sounds without the track sounding cluttered. A word has to be said for the basslines on this album, which are so enormous that they should come with a health and safety warning.
Not only has El-P perfected his production, but this record allowed him to carve out a unique rap style which balances out Mike’s direct, no-nonsense approach. Where Killer Mike informs someone before he knocks them on their ass, El-P’s threats are veiled by frenzied, maniacal references that suggest he’s so unhinged he will savage anything that he disagrees with.
In short this album is a call to arms. Mike and El-P are the best at what they do and they know it, so they feel no danger in taking aim at the US’s oppressive economic structures or the CEOs who run that system. References to Malcolm X’s “The Bullet or the Ballot” speech act as a demand for protest — which may need to be violent. This is not a cheerful record, as the future of America’s “classless masses” (Killer Mike’s words) is looking tough, but it is an optimistic one; RTJ are clear in the belief that people have the power to realise their full potential.