In this final part of the RED cycle, we’ll be reviewing
1. Run the Jewels 2 – Run the Jewels
2. Matangi – MIA
Run the Jewels 2 – Run the Jewels by Nathanael feat. Sean Lim
Run The Jewels is a hip hop duo consisting of rapper Killer Mike and rapper/producer El-P (pronounced “LP”). Their first album as a duo was released in 2013 and was rather simply titled Run The Jewels. A year later, they returned with their second project, Run The Jewels 2. This album, like the first instalment, was met with rave reviews from critics and hailed as a ground-breaking release for hip hop. For this particular review Alt-V interviewed VJ student Sean Michael Lim from 14S43.The review represents his views (although we edited some stuff) and the rating and favourite tracks are all from him.
RTJ2 is significant because it’s a step forward for rap and for music as a whole. More than anything, the driving force behind the album is El-P’s production. El-P (whose real name is Jaime Meline) handles beatmaking duties on almost every track here and the results are fantastic.
It’s worth noting that this is the second album RTJ has dropped so far, and by the looks of it you’d expect it to be more of the same. The album titles are basically the same and even the covers are similar, except that this one is red instead of black. How then does a group live up to the expectations set by arguably the best hip hop album of 2013?
The first Run The Jewels was solid. The only thing that kinda didn’t work on that album was the lack of chemistry between Killer Mike (whose real name is Michael Render) and El-P. Despite the beats being en pointe, once the raps kicked in the disparity between the two became apparent.
From an already great first album, no one could fault El-P if he’d just stuck to the same stuff he’d already done. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? That’s not what El is all about though, and here he’s decided to increase the dubs. The synth goes hard, all the while maintaining that electronic style he’s become known for. Electronica aside, the hip hop isn’t lost either. One of the main components of traditional hip hop production is sampling (incorporating bits of other songs into a new beat), and El-P displays considerable skill here too. Just check the audio notes in the cracking whip of Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.
El-P knows that being repetitive isn’t a good thing as well, so he adds layers and sounds that remind the listener of his old sound but even more improved. Ultimately, RTJ2 manages to pull out an unexpected sound while living up to all the standards we wanted from such a highly anticipated project.
Lyrically, RTJ is also a progression over it’s predecessor. By and large, the duo set themselves out to be villains and the lyrics make them sound downright criminal. Dirty work is what it takes to get up to the top. They quite literally Lie, Cheat, Steal their way to the top, and no remorse is shown because, well, “everybody doing it”. There’s an irony here though, because instead of being seen as bad they’re seen as role models because of the step forward in music they took with this album.
Best of all though, the biggest leap that boosted RTJ2 into the upper echelons of rap is the duo’s vastly improved partnership. The verses flow smoothly into one another now, and they’ve included more one-to-one transitions. Whereas previously Mike’s harsh dirty-south bark contrasted with El’s erratic, sometimes spastic flow, it’s now become increasingly difficult to differentiate their styles. Sometimes, on the third or fourth listen you even hear little spots in the verses that sound just ever so different, and you realise that’s actually one of them spontaneously filling in for the other for a few words, possibly to let the other take a breath, or equally likely just because they felt like it. The flows are good throughout and there’s never a weak verse.
The songs are never boring. RTJ ensures that even when the beat gets dry they switch it up. They know when to take it hard and when to it take soft. The track listing is sick too. The first four songs are the most hard hitting intro on any album in recent years, setting up the rest of the album with an immediate right-hook to the jaw. A common theme of the album is a general (we can’t print this sorry) to the haters. RTJ just don’t give a (this too) about you all along.
Basically, it’s just too good. Even legends are not able to match their standard. Even Kendrick Lamar is put into contention with the release. That’s probably a good thing though, because even with a growing chorus of critics yelling that “rap is dead”, artists like Run The Jewels help push the boundaries of hip hop, ensuring that the scene has never been this exciting. It only took one year to make such a huge improvement, and with Run The Jewels 3 in the works, who knows what could happen?
El-P doesn’t stop. He’s a musical genius who’s made his mark in his music world. After years in the underground, he’s finally broke through with Run The Jewels. His production and beats are amazing, and the way he layers samples on the beat is so captivating it makes the sound one whole.
Ultimately the most important thing in hip hop is the beat, while the flow and lyrics employed by the MC come in second. RTJ does all this and more, with killer beats, tight flows and hard-hitting lyrics. They even find time to throw in some political references, and they hit the bullseye every time. They’ve hit all the criteria in every category with Run The Jewels 2 and we can only hope that they continue their meteoric ascent with their next project.
Overall rating: 9.2/10
Favourite tracks: Oh My Darling Don’t Cry; Blockbuster Night Part 1; Lie, Cheat, Steal; Early
Favourite Lyric: “Tip-toe on the track like a ballerina / Ski mask in a Pontiac Catalina / It’s obese female opera singer / You can run the jewels or lose your fingers” – Oh My Darling Don’t Cry
Matangi – M.I.A by Jillian feat. Lok Heng
Lok Heng was hooked on M.I.A’s music ever since he first watched her music video for ‘Sunshowers’ – one only needs watch the video to understand why.
M.I.A could possibly be one of the most unique and exciting female artists of the 21st century as her rich cultural background is one of the largest influences on her music and gives her songs their characteristic flavour. Although ‘Matangi’, her third album, sounds more commercialised and diluted than her previous albums, it does not feel like her artistic integrity is completely lost.
One of the reasons why Lok Heng is a fan of M.I.A’s music is because her music is also an expression of her opinions on pertinent political and cultural issues, making her a fascinating musician capable of producing not just good music but relevant, intriguing music that makes a powerful statement. An example would be her song ‘ATENTion’ as Lok Heng told me about how she actually produced this song and I was mind blown. I feel like this song showcases her artistry perfectly as the production and sound of the song all demonstrate her central concerns as an artist. According to Lok Heng, Julian Assange (the editor-in-chief of Wikileaks) was actually part of the production as he helped her with the songwriting by decrypting the entire internet and downloading every word in the language that ended with “tent/tant’”. The song was intended to be a statement on refugee camp tents and I think she did an excellent job of executing her concept as the entire production process and her lyrics speak for themselves.
I think that this line from the song pretty much sums up M.I.A:
”The fullest attempt in my intent/ Is to let you know what is important/ My existence is militant/ Cause my content bangs like it’s potent.” “
As Julian Assange said “I have become a fan of MIA because I think she is the most courageous woman working in western music, without exception.”
I wholeheartedly agree and I hope you’ve been convinced of it too.
Overall Rating: 8/10 (Lok Heng does not feel like this album is that good relative to her other works)
Fav Tracks: Karmageddon, ATENTion, Exodus, Bring the Noize
“YOLO? /I don’t even know anymore / What that even mean though / If you only live once why we keep doing the same shit? / Back home where I come from, we keep being born / Again and again and then again and again / That’s why they invented karma” – Y.A.L.A