Hip-hop is a genre that thrives on freshness and the shock of the new: hot rappers rarely get more than three years in the spotlight, and late-career renaissances are unheard-of – which makes the ongoing, mainstream-nudging success of Run The Jewels all the more extraordinary. A pair of 41-year-olds with four accumulative decades in the game are the most buzzed-over act in rap right now, and they just rounded off an ecstatically received triptych of albums with their most bar-raising, industry-quaking collaboration yet. Up is down, black is white and all bets are off.
A quick synopsis for newcomers: rapper/producer El-P first emerged in 1997 as leader of New York futurists Company Flow, whose extraordinary debut album ‘Funcrusher Plus’ helped set the template for the ‘backpack rap’ wave that revolutionised late-’90s hip-hop. He went on to forge a solo career in the noughties, honing his razor-sharp, super-smart take on rhyming and beat-making to unfailing critical acclaim. Killer Mike, meanwhile, made his name on the swaggering post-Outkast Atlanta rap scene, unleashing four solo albums of heavy-yet-graceful hip-hop before calling on El-P to produce his fifth – the bombastic, old-skool-referencing ‘R.A.P. Music’. The pair forged an instant bond over a shared love of hip-hop that balances aggression, humour, innovation and defiant political awareness.
It’s the latter that is ‘RTJ3’’s defining quality. Amidst all the braggadocio and rapper-wounding one-liners, ‘RTJ1’ and ‘RTJ2’ always maintained a rage against machine, but the slow-motion horror-show of the last 12 months has focused Mike and El-P’s political ire like never before. Trump, police brutality, viral poverty and America’s accelerating descent into darkness are all grist for the mill – hip-hop has seldom sounded this righteous since Public Enemy.
‘RTJ3’ is purpose-built to inspire and soundtrack insurrection over the coming months and years – as El-P scowls on ‘Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)’, “Fear’s been the law for so long rage feels like therapy”. Not that you’re ever at risk of enduring a worthy, hectoring lecture. There’s tonnes of fun to be had from absorbing the duo’s fury, and El-P’s sci-fi beats are as thrillingly big ‘n’ bad as ever. But if 2017’s nightmarish status quo has you feeling powerless, anxious or alone, ‘RTJ3’ is the therapeutic rallying cry you need right now.