When Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike became a leading voice in black America’s condemnation of August’s Ferguson crisis, hoisted onto CNN and Fox News to discuss the police murder of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown as riots flared across the Missouri city, he described having “no new words to express my feelings and fear for the people of this country.” Maybe he felt he’d used them all already. This was, after all, the exact sort of chaos at the hands of oppressive state forces he and rapper-producer accomplice El-P have long been predicting the nation would soon succumb to: from Mike’s furious ‘RAP Music’ solo album standout ‘Reagan’ (“police terrorize whoever/mostly black boys, but they would call us niggers”) to El-P’s booming 2012 dystopian rap fable ‘Drones Over Brooklyn’.
On the pair’s second album, ‘RTJ2’, it’s like they’ve awoken in the grim future they warned of and it’s even worse than they imagined: a smoggy Orwellian sprawl dominated by “hucksters of spin” (‘Jeopardy’); where “the fellows at the top are likely rapists” (‘Blockbuster Night Part 1’) and “the only thing that close quicker than the caskets is the factory” (RATM frontman Zack De La Rocha’s searing guest verse on ‘Close Your Eyes and Count to Fuck’). ‘Early’ in particular, though written prior to the trouble in Ferguson, eerily echoes the strong-handed, eagle-eyed crackdown on protesters in the wake of Brown’s murder: over queasy keyboards and ribcage-quaking bass rattles, El-P finds his every move followed by CCTV, via “street lamps that stare when you walk.” “They recording,” he snarls, “but didn’t record the cop when he shot with no warning.”
Run The Jewels’ thrilling air of defiance on ‘RTJ2’ isn’t solely political. ‘Love Again (Akinyele Back)’ spends most of its run time detailing a lover who wants “my dick in her mouth all day” over a slow, stoned beat, before Tennessee MC Gangsta Boo turns the song, and rap’s traditional male-orientated sleaze with it, hilariously on its head, looping: “I put my clit in his mouth all day… his tongue is bomb and he love for me to ride his face.”
Cranking the urgency and confrontation of last year’s self-titled debut to neck-breaking levels of intensity, ‘RTJ2’ is an urgent, paranoid album for a violent, panicked time. It’s a bleak future Run The Jewels envision for America, but as long as Mike and El-P are collaborating, at least the future of hip-hop is in safe hands.