Run the Jewels new album documents the Black American experience
Run the Jewels 3, released at a pivotal moment in history, highlights the weight bearing down on Black society
Dropped online over Christmas and finally available in physical formats, RTJ3 could be to the opening days of 2017 what Blackstar and the death of David Bowie were to the beginning of 2016; a tone-setting shift in the game which definitively sets the mood for the rest of the year. It's clearly a classic of some degree or other, and its legend will only be enhanced by a mood which feels redolent of times to come. It's by turns dark, apocalyptic, brutal, defiant and stained with bursts of oil-slick humour. There's also no question it's a first rate pop record, although where it uplifts, it gives the sense of straining to its feet despite the weight pressing down upon it.
The opening 'Down' is a song drawn from the depths of the personal and not the political, as Killer Mike pleads over the sustained chords of a ghostly church organ 'I hope with the highest of hope / that I never have to go back to the trap / and my days of dealing with dope'. It's fearful of being kicked to the bottom, sure, but it tells us when you've picked yourself up once you can do it again. After it, 'Talk to Me' slams into action, a breezeblock beat and a flurry of scratching as Mike lands back in the USA; 'went to war with the devil and Satan / he wore a bad toupee and a spray tan … born black, that's dead on arrival / my job is to fight for survival.'
The urgency of El-P's beats and the density and righteous anger of Mike's raps are attention-devouring as a 'breaking news' ticker. 'Call Ticketron' is a stoned, violent post-apocalyptic fantasy, 'Hey Kids (Bumaye)' a call to arms ('say hello to the masters on behalf of the classless masses / we showed up, ski masks, picks and axes to murder asses') steeped in crowd noise and reverence for the dynastic gangster ferocity of The Godfather. 'Don't Get Captured' imagines street life as a warzone and 'Thieves Screamed the Ghost' evokes the tension, danger and uncontainable anger of a riot, with the unusually icy vocal of TV On the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe giving way to Martin Luther King's 'a riot is the language of the oppressed' quote.
From the overt chronicle of end times '2100' to the avaricious booty-electro of 'Panther Like a Panther' and the weirdly soulful groove of 'A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters', none of this record is an easy listen and precious little of it offers comfort. Yet in its often unknowable rage it documents the underside of the black American experience in a manner we haven't heard since NWA and Public Enemy first broke big.
Run the Jewels 3 is available to stream and to buy Fri 20 Jan.