The purpose and message of Killer Mike and El-P’s new album “Run the Jewels 3” is summed up well in a sample of Martin Luther King Jr. from his 1967 “The Other America” speech. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” Dr. King says. “Run the Jewels 3” is the language of that riot.
Killer Mike and El-P both began their careers in music as critical and controversial social commentators during the Bush administration over a decade ago. The duo have remained fiercely independent and wildly successful ever since, avoiding the creeping sort of commercial materialism that has watered down the message of so many artists before them.
“Run the Jewels 3” could have easily been more of the same from the duo. “Run the Jewels 2” already featured an unyielding critical analysis of American society. It was a well-crafted and exceedingly well produced protest album, each track was its own story, and the album tied those stories together into one coherent message. “Run the Jewels 3” manages to outdo the duo’s second album in every one of these categories. The production is that much better, the beats are less bombastic this time around, but the creativity and genuine passion is easy to see. In “Call Ticketron” an automatic ticket machine is mixed with El-P’s verses, and other similarly creative touches are sprinkled throughout the album. “Run the Jewels 2” was a well-aimed protest with the anger bubbling under the surface. “Run the Jewels 3” is a revolution with the violence now fully intertwined with the message.
“Run the Jewels 3” is a musical speech filled with anger, and an outlet of counter-cultural rage that never loses its focus. No stone is left unturned, and everyone is held to judgement, from lawmakers, rappers, CNN and the media to Killer Mike and El-P themselves. The album is topical and direct, and sharp and specific criticism is never held back. “The evening news givin’ you’s views. Telling you to pick your master for president. Been behind the curtain, seen the devil workin,” says Killer Mike in “2100,” released directly after the election of Donald Trump. The song is of course critical of Trump, but it would be errant to assume that that is as far as the commentary goes.
The album features sharp criticism of the now, but current events are not the main focus of the album. As the title “2100” suggests, “Run the Jewels 3” looks forward to an uncertain future fueled by an unstable, oppressive present day.The albums final track, “A report to the shareholder/kill your masters” is a fitting end and a heartfelt confession of how the duo see themselves.
Should you listen? Yes.
It is no exaggeration to say “Run the Jewels 3” is a masterpiece of artistic expression. Hip-hop has a way of embedding itself into a certain time and a certain cultural context, and this album is a way of experiencing the soundtrack of right now.