Release date: June 26, 2013 | Fool’s Gold / Big Dada | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Website

But Dom, this album came out in 2013; why are you doing an ASIR about it now?‘, I hear you asking. Well, dear readers, it’s simply because the album was released in Europe on January 13, 2014 – exactly 10 years ago. Three cheers for technicalities! Anyway, since I’m admittedly not very knowledgeable about hip hop, let me quickly yield the stage to my colleagues.

Paul Williams

That first re-listen (in a number of years, I might add) of Run the Jewels’ self-titled debut album took me back to that first experience with this album in 2013. From the synth-y phasing in of the first track, bouncy snare beats and Killer Mike repeating ‘Run’ over and over again, I forgot how exciting this album was when it came out.

At a time in my life when the rap/hip-hop I was consuming was either Tyler, The Creator (who came out with Wolf the same year RtJ was released) or, on the other end of the spectrum, a lot of Pete Rock (I had, at the time, become infatuated with Lost & Found: Hip Hop Underground Soul Classics and basically anything else Pete Rock produced); Run the Jewels were something fresh, and entirely different for me to get my teeth into.

Everything from the production, to the bars, to the lyrics – both Killer Mike and El-P radiated sincerity and authenticity while maintaining a gripping and gritty ability to share their views. The swagger and assuredness that fill every inch of this LP is distinct from the get go. Both rappers have their own styles, both in rhythm and in lyricism, but they compliment each other and it works without it seeming like any work has gone into it.

“Sea Legs”, apart from being my favourite song on the album, stands out as a track where I feel like there is fantastic flow, topped off with a catchy, repetitive chorus. There are also some pretty excellent lines delivered by both rappers during this song. El-P says at one point ‘So I move through the room like an animal fooling a master/But I don’t got love for the hand with the food, matter of fact I am drooling at that shit/I don’t only bite but I’m rabid.‘ His lines showcase his undeniable rebelliousness but also the individuality of the producer/rapper.

This is a theme that Killer Mike mirrors later on in the song: ‘There will be no respect for the Thrones/No master mastered these bones/Your idols all are my rivals/I rival all of your idols.‘ The braggadociousness and confidence, while built from each of their individual accomplishments, is further developed and verges on hubris.

I love that they both have their own way of touching on the similar points in such different ways. It lends itself towards strengthening the overall storytelling of a song while maintaining versatility and freshness. It feels strange to say, but it feels like as artists, the duo feeds off one another in a very organic way rather than waiting for the other to finish so they can have their say. There is great balance on display here of their ability to let their styles shine but not overshadow the other.

The way the duo seemed to emerge with a full fledged ‘sound’ and energy to their music that isn’t just reliant on bravado for bravado’s sake alone. It’s a sound that comes from both El-P and Killer Mike grafting for years but never losing sight of where they came from, plus El-P’s crafty production work. As time has gone on they’ve developed this sound further, but if this had been the only album they ever came out with it would have been an excellent flash of brilliance.

Even after all these years, Run the Jewels, to me at least,  isn’t the sort of album I can put on and let run in the background; it constantly snaps its fingers aggressively in your face, keeping your attention from waning. Bopping your head along and C-walking (or attempting to in my case) round the house is almost a prerequisite as long as it’s done with the confidence and swagger that echoes the performances on this album.

Broc Nelson

There are some clear memories in entertainment that are embedded into my psyche. One was the first time I watched Adult Swim, up late watching cartoons, stoned, in my room when seemingly out of nowhere the weirdest sense of humor I’d ever seen started playing on my TV. To this day, watching the Sealab 2021 crew argue about robot hypotheticals while their whole lab implodes is hilarious. A few years later Adult Swim was dabbling in music, tapping Danger Mouse who found internet success with The Gray Album, and MF DOOM for their DANGERDOOM album. The timing was right when I began to take a deeper dive into hip-hop, and despite it being a large commercial for cartoons, DANGERDOOM became a staple in my album rotation for years.

Then, hoping to double down on that album’s success, Adult Swim released another hip-hop record… excuse me, R.A.P. record. This time they paired one of my favorite producers/emcees, El-P, with Atlanta star Killer Mike. R.A.P. Music introduced me to how good Killer Mike could be, his thoughtful, biting bravado sounded threatening and authentic over El’s synth heavy, almost industrial production. “Big Beast” still slaps harder than most tracks out there. “Reagan” is a captivating tirade against one of the architects of our modern dystopia. “Butane (Champion’s Anthem)” was the secret weapon of R.A.P. Music, though, giving El-P a verse alongside Mike; a harbinger of what was to come.

Inspired by their collaboration, El and Mike decided to continue working together. They announced Run the Jewels, and I have rarely felt so much excitement for an album. The hype was physically tangible. Chills and heart racing, I immediately went to find my roommate so we could geek out about it and listen to Company Flow in anticipation. The steps taken from talking psychic fries to one of the greatest hip-hop duos of all time are bizarre to look back on, but have been validating to anyone with subversive tastes.

When the album did drop, it was an immediate listen. Two of my favorite artists bonding to flex, even if it sucked it was gonna rule. Their chemistry on RTJ was incredible. They played off of each other, El’s paranoid rhymes embedded in each line matched Mike’s southern drawl and Atlanta toughness merged like espresso and chocolate making a madcap mocha of metaphor, meticulous beats, and mercurial emotions. They didn’t even bother with that many choruses, just bars. This isn’t dance music; this is R.A.P.

El had never sounded so accessible and precise. While Cancer 4 Cure, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, and Fantastic Damage will always hold a dear place in my heart, the one criticism I could have about El-P was that his dense rhymes and lyrics take a minute to unpack to get the full effect. He hasn’t dumbed anything down with RTJ, but he did hit the sweet spot of efficiency with his lyrics. This compliments Killer Mike’s more direct lyricism, but Mike also elevates his lyrics to headier regions. It was like watching The Undertaker and Mankind in Hell in a Cell – a matchup for the ages.

The guests felt so purposeful. The late Ikey Owens of The Mars Volta lays down keys on “Run The Jewels”, which also fills the classic album move of having a song on an album by an artist share the same title. Big Boi drops a verse on “Banana Clipper” that absolutely slays and proves that El and Mike can go toe to toe with legends. Until The Ribbon Breaks lends vocals on “Job Well Done”, foreshadowing future work with BOOTS and Mavis Staples. Prince Paul appears on “Twin Hype Back” to bring some weird humor into the horniness.

This shit is familiar now. RTJ have gained massive success and are a legacy act in the history of hip-hop. Run the Jewels feels like a blueprint for the albums and remixes to come. There is even a cat meow! At the time, and deservedly so, it sounded revolutionary. RTJ has only gotten better and more subversive with time, and the world is undoubtedly better off with the friendship of Mike and El. They deserve every bit of success and recognition. Few artists last as long as they have only to find their greatest achievement years into their careers. I’d raise my hands to celebrate, but they are stuck in the fist and gun position.

David Rodriguez

This was an inevitability with us also talking about R.A.P. Music and Cancer 4 Cure. In fact, in the latter article, I actually fucking said, ‘I hope to talk about Run the Jewels’ first album in this manner in the future and I get the impression that’ll happen at some point (*winks violently at Dom*).’ I may or may not have had insider information on that one, I honestly can’t remember, but it feels like a great disservice to not talk about the debut record of one of the greatest duos in modern rap. Right? Right.

Truth be told, even after the production glow-up of Run the Jewels 2, the experimentation (that ultimately didn’t settle well with me) of Run the Jewels 3, and the incendiary political pitchforking of RTJ4, this self-titled debut is still my favorite. I return to it the most over the years despite it definitely having that air of a debut project. But obviously Killer Mike and El-P aren’t new to this, they’re true to this. With as hard-bodied as their previous work is, Run the Jewels still managed to tap into a new level of fuck-upping and kick-assing that was nearly unprecedented.

Everyone whining that rap had gone soft in recent years only needed to throw this fucker on to soundtrack your next assault charge. In spirit, this is the same shit that Enter the Wu-Tang and Bacdafucup was on. Tight raps, gratuitously absurd violence, a New York state of mind (with respect to Mike’s Atlanta heritage), memorable beats – it really is the dystopian retrofuture take on a ‘90s hardcore hip-hop album thanks to El’s production that was still quintessentially him here, another mostly small aspect that was lost in subsequent RTJ projects.

Still, it’s the sonic equivalent of that one montage of scenes in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back where they go around the country giving shit-talking internet kids thee ultra beatdown. The phrase ‘dynamic duo’ exists for this very reason and it’s no secret that this project propelled both rappers’ careers into new spheres unheard of in their humble underground days. Like, fuck, while shit may have waned a bit over the years, I can’t think of another rap duo this millennium as well regarded as they are within all circles.

It’s easy to see why. These motherfuckers got bars for days. This is the apex of ignorant shit-talking, unparalleled by most doing longer than them or half their ages. Not only that, but their individual styles – flow, cadence, wordsmithing – are wholly unique yet also complementary to each other because as much as ‘dynamic duo’ fits Run the Jewels, so does ‘odd couple’.

Mike usually has a smoother, Down South™ approach to his rapping despite his booming, commanding voice that made R.A.P. Music such a magnum opus – maybe because of that. Words aren’t slurred, his slang is catchable (maybe that’s my 20-plus-year rap experience kicking in though), and he’s a paragon of power on the mic. Even with his seemingly contradictory approach to raw politicking, every verse reads like a manifesto, and this album isn’t even their most politically charged. You just believe what he’s saying all the time because it’s plain as goddamn day and in your face whether it’s about taking a blunt to his face or a kick to yours.

El is more strange and complicated, but not enough to obscure what he’s saying. I love all rap, but not equally – that heady, abstract shit goes over my head real fast – so it’s refreshing that El manages to really skirt that line of weird and wild even when he’s talking about ruining your shit Brooklyn style, it’s done with an astute vocab that you could call classy and learned if it weren’t for all the griminess and profanity (to be clear, I prefer it with that stuff). His sociopolitical commentary is more underground insurgency than revolution in the streets, eyeballing blatant injustice and scheming to undo it from behind the scene if possible, hacking and dismantling obelisks of oppression before opps even know what’s up. El is my GOAT white rapper ever and a very, very high shoo-in for all time GOAT period, and his versatility is a big reason why. If you don’t get why I purposefully make that delineation, maybe I’ll tell y’all about it sometime.

I could spend all day talking about individual tracks and my various favorite quotes from them, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll speedrun a personal awards show about it. “Run the Jewels” wins (One of) the Best Album Opener Track award for how into it we get with Mike and El very quickly, very hardly. “Banana Clipper” wins two awards: Best Feature with OutKast’s Big Boi throwing in a pretty cool verse at the end full of flexing, and Tightest Flows award. “36” Chain” wins Most Laid-Back Beat – it churns with minimalist industrial influence and is borderline chiptuney with those synth runs. “Get It” wins Best Overall Production for its use of samples and hollow synths that color the space between the dick-knocking drums. And, last but not least, “A Christmas Fucking Miracle” wins the award for (One of) the Best Rap Song… Ever.

If there’s any criticism I have for Run the Jewels, it’s for “Twin Hype Back” which is a good enough song on its own filled with some of the most vividly violent bars from both rappers, but it’s the Prince Paul feature that really drags the track down to nearly skippable territory. On the track, Paul resurrects his character Chest Rockwell from his work in Handsome Boy Modeling School and elsewhere – he’s a womanizer/sex pest who’s likely very into the whole pick-up artist thing and while I can appreciate the throwback to hip-hop’s past – the song’s title alone refers to an oft-forgotten hip-hop duo Twin Hype – he just talks about drugging a woman he brought home and it’s very, VERY heavily implied that he rapes or at least wishes to rape her during the song’s spoken word interludes.

Nothing Mike or El say on “Twin Hype Back” even refers to Prince Paul, Chest Rockwell, or anything he does which leaves me wondering why this even exists in the first place on an objective level. Just a deep cut hip-hop reference? Again, I get it, cool, but this is just fucking wack and creepy – by far the least well-aged thing on this album. If it’s supposed to be satire or something similar, I don’t hear it. I don’t think Prince Paul’s continued this character since and thank fuck.

It’s really hard to overstate how hip-hop this album is. While it doesn’t encapsulate all that hip-hop and rap is, it is heavily informed by all that hip-hop is. A rebellious spirit, a technical prowess from all involved, and a stated purpose. And if that isn’t enough, all you have to listen to are the shoutouts that Mike does at the end of the album, mentioning and referencing Spice 1, Ice Cube, along with the late Pimp C and Camu Tao – key contributors and statesmen of the genre from all over its growing spectrum.

This is a deeply important album for many reasons, including many I didn’t cover – maybe my pals went into it more. I actually wanted to get deeper into it than this, but this is about all I can muster currently. If you’re a rap fan who has somehow not heard this album yet, I don’t know what else I could say to convince you. It’s not for everyone, but for everyone it’s for, it’s something great. You could be next. I’d like to end by quoting the second half of El-P’s verse from “A Christmas Fucking Miracle” because it’s one of the best verses I’ve ever heard and they are genuinely inspiring words I frequently think of when life is fisting my peehole:

Don’t fret, little man, don’t cry
They can never take the energy inside you were born with
Knowing that, understand you could never be poor
You already won the war, you were born rich
You can only take the energy you had
Going back to the realm or the home where your lord is
Whoever, whatever that lord is
Couldn’t give a fuck if you ever made fortunes
Fuck anyone ever tryin’ to run that bum shit
Send ’em to the flames where the orcs live
Them and the lost minds thinking they’re smarter than us
Don’t understand love’s importance
And we can weaponize that, bring ’em back to the truth
Where the ashes and dust got formed in

Daniel Reiser

I remember when this album was announced. Cancer 4 Cure just released, R.A.P. Music just released, and my devout following of Def Jux made it impossible for me to ignore the Mind Slut’s latest endeavor with the one who moves with the elegance of an African elephant. Excitement was high, and my expectations were locked in.

When it was released for free, as with every album, what I didn’t expect was these two villains to river dance cleats on my face with such audiological fury.

Killer Mike and El-P synced up when Mike asked El to produce R.A.P. Music. El jumped on a verse for “Butane”, Mike returned the favor in dropping a stellar verse on “Tougher Colder Killer”. They never considered Run the Jewels to be anything other than a one-off. When the goblins were awakened everything changed that, and that effort turned into a stellar run in rap that was unprecedented by all accounts.

The underdogs made it, they didn’t give a fuck who was watching the throne, because they came to run the fuckin jewels, and walk around like they got 36” chains, and left this def jukies life more fucked up than Monique did to Precious. I’ll stay forever grateful.

Dominik Böhmer

Dominik Böhmer

Pretentious? Moi?

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