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  • 01Jul

    On El-P & Killer Mike’s “Run the Jewels,” Jay-Z’s #MCHG and everything still remaining the same

    runthejewels

    In under five days time, Jay-Z releases his latest album Magna Carta Holy Grail, and officially assumes the position as the President of Hip-Hop Culture. There wasn’t really much of an election, Jay assuming the position like more of a king, his court of Prince Kanye West of G.O.O.D. Music and his royal lineage of Roc Nation attending him as he prepares to sit at the throne and state the royal decree of regulations for the new, “improved” and now wholly corporate hip-hop culture as a whole. While all of this takes place, two feudal lords of kingdoms within the Nation of Hip-Hop, Killer Mike of Atlanta and El-P of Boston merged talents, “ran the jewels” and established that – as much as on the surface of the culture everything may be clean, regal and “improved” – that there’s still space within “new” rap for the old tricks to still have application, relevance and excellence.

    The Fool’s Gold Records released collaboration between veteran performers Killer Mike and El-P strikes an important balance at a key moment in rap’s near 40-year history. 2013 has featured Macklemore dominating the Billboard pop charts with songs that while saccharine on the exterior, pack an underrated lyrical punch. Furthermore, both Jigga and Mr. West appear to be content with rap in commercial music’s least successful era, creativity-over-commerce the apparent push. For all other rappers, though, these are difficult times. Neophyte emcees appear forced into cookie-cutter molds when signed to labels, or are like Mac Miller and being safe, yet spectacular as indie artists with mainstream distribution.

    If a veteran, you’re  either rapping like Lil Wayne for corporate marketers to remember the space in which you derive your marketability, or like Will Smith, Ludacris and so many more, content to fade gracefully into safe money acting gigs.  Certainly you’re not working with a developing independent hipster record label and attempting to make timeless music for a niche marketplace. That’d be insane. But if you’re the middle child of the Dungeon Family and classic rap’s favorite boom-bap practitioner – and if you still have the desire and ability to execute as you did ten or 15 years ago – there’s an outside chance that you could have the dark horse candidate for rap’s most significant release of the year.

    At ten tracks, Run the Jewels is as long as Kanye’s Yeezus, but an infinitely more populist ear-wormer. Things get heavy when Big Boi joins the party on “Banana Clipper,” as from the moment that Killer Mike states that he “moves with the elegance of an African elephant,” and Big Boi warns of rappers “getting dumbed-down by the local radio stations like simple Simon,” you realize that this is neither pop nor avant garde, but just damned great music. The album continues to intrigue and entertain in a manner most refreshing, then on “Twin Hype Back” Prince Paul joins and, as has been the expectation over the past twenty-five years of rap music, things get weird. Instead of love raps being delivered by saccharine and suburbanized angels with dirty hearts like J. Cole and Drake, grown men discuss bein’ dope and gettin’ pussy. Prince Paul resurrects Handsome Boy Modeling School character Chest Rockwell here for an appropriate level of rap nerd nostalgia porn, but in being discomforting yet undeniable, it fills the song’s (as well as the album’s) expectation.

    If you believe the argument that rap music’s eventual end was to be the finest example of black culture being powerful and a socially undeniable agent-of-pop cultural change, then Jay-Z’s ascension to the Presidential Throne should be expected. However, in this midst of this revolutionary fervor, it’s important as well to note that the entirety of hip-hop culture was not mortgaged in this evolutionary development. For as much as rap is about re-writing the rules by which society progresses, it’s just as much about making folks “Ante Up” like MOP, and also “Run the Jewels” like El-P and Killer Mike, arguably 2013′s best rap duo.

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