All relationships require work, but the friendship between Killer Mike and El-P looks easy. After first teaming up for 2012′s political noise-rap throwback masterpiece, R.A.P. Music, which saw Mike rapping with startling precision and pugnacity over El-P’s minimalist bomb shelter symphonies, the duo spent much of the next year taunting everyone with all the fun they were having. They gave hilarious interviews. They toured together. They penned gushing tweets. And now they’ve released a collaborative album, Run The Jewels, that also serves as a document of their ever-evolving bromance. Think of it as an aggressively worded invitation to a party you’ll never want to leave.
On Run The Jewels, Killer Mike and El-P position themselves as misfits. Tossed out of the castles (or thrones) of modern hip-hop and left for dead, the two have carved out their own niche of post-apocalyptic survival rap based around the odd synchronicity of El-P’s buzzing, synth-heavy productions and Killer Mike’s brick-throwing delivery. What’s refreshing about the album is that the two never sound bitter or annoyed by the circumstances they find themselves in; at one point Killer Mike even says, “Producer gave me a beat/Said it’s the beat of the year/I said El-P didn’t do it/So get the fuck outta here.” There’s always a loyalty among thieves, and El-P repays Killer Mike handsomely here, delivering some of his most visceral and invigorating production work.
Run The Jewels is a rambunctious, flying elbow drop of an album. Where R.A.P. Music and El-P’s 2012 effort Cancer For Cure were notable for their grand ambitions, tackling primarily political and existential concerns, Run The Jewels mostly wants to kick you in the shins and steal your lunch money. In the first two minutes of the record El-P says he’s hiding under your bed and Killer Mike threatens to shoot your poodle. Tracks like the Big Boi-featuring “Banana Clip,” the menacing “36″ Chain” and the monstrous “Get It” thrive on a similar diabolic energy. On the album’s swirling, world-weary anthem “Sea Legs,” a fired-up El-P turns to dog imagery again when he raps, “I don’t only bite but I’m rabid/Try to pet my fucking head again and I’m gonna put a tooth through the flesh of the palm that you jack with.”
Of the two rappers here, Killer Mike gets the most quotable lines, turning simple statements into punchlines (“I’m fat but I dress nice”) and investing each syllable with a sense of rhythmic possibility; you’re never sure exactly which word in a given line he might decide to pluck like a stray beard hair. Possibly groan-worthy zingers like “So motherfucking greedy, gritty/Mama said she couldn’t breastfeed ’cause I was biting at the titty” land with a seismic force. Even the album’s detours into smoke-filled psych-rap (“No Come Down”), gross-out sex talk (“Twin Hype Back”) and dread-soaked nostalgia (“A Christmas Fucking Miracle”) all work thanks to El-P’s complete control of tone and ambiance. Despite abandoning some of the more layered and mannered production flourishes of his solo work, El-P still packs these songs with stray details—the roar of a tiger, those gorgeous organs, the squeal of a dolphin—that can be jarring on first listen but gradually reveal themselves to be essential.
Given its ambiguous distribution method (free here but also available on vinyl via Fool’s Gold) and its relative short length (33 minutes), it’s tempting to dismiss Run The Jewels as a curio, a blip in two long careers that just happened to catch each other while hip-hop itself was in the middle of a transitional phase. There’s a certain amount of truth to that: When compared to their individual solo albums Run The Jewels can feel a little slight. Then again, El-P announced yesterday that a sequel is definitely happening. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.