Once part of a thriving ecosystem of artists, rap duos have grown extinct in the modern landscape of music. The two-man teams we see these days are usually presented as one-off collabs or money grabs meant to milk a little extra profit from fans while each member only has to do half the work. That’s why Run The Jewels finding success is a wonderful outlier, as they exist as the opposites of everything the industry loves to prop up and, as a result, makes them the underdogs that fans are inherently drawn to. Why El-P and Killer Mike mesh so well together is they have a resilient bond and working chemistry that are in full bloom with their latest release, Run The Jewels 3. They’re both rap vets who’ve been through enough trials and experiences alone to understand how the dynamics of a group give them strength and support as they work to deliver their messages to the masses.
The two year gap in between projects has been filled with change. In 2014, RTJ2 signaled a change on the horizon, one where people assumed a positive outcome was on the verge of happening. Now, America and the world as a whole are in a dark, discomforting place at the moment as terror attacks continue across the globe and the U.S. awaits inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. While most rap today is preoccupied with turning up in the face of gloom, Killer Mike and El-P embrace the darkness and, with their new album, end up creating a ray of light that makes the future seem not as disconcerting as it once appeared.
The Atlanta-Brooklyn combo has always rapped in the face of corruption and injustice, continuing down the path they forged previously in their solo careers. Their joint work as Run The Jewels takes on a stronger meaning because it’s when they’re together — a black MC paired with a white MC — that it becomes more apparent how much more alike than different we all are, regardless of the racial and social economic boxes society tries to place us in. As a united front, their music and mere presence leads their legion of fans in the fight against hypocrisy on all levels, by helping bring the enemies of freedom into focus and directing where people they should be looking, denoting why they should pay attention, and suggesting ways to counter those forces.
Their outspoken approach is a luxury the group created for themselves as captains of their own ship. The fact that their new album released three weeks earlier than expected, on Christmas Eve no less, is a testament to their we-do-what-we-want-when-we-want formula. Their approach is simple, best summed up in one of El’s recent tweets that read “Our goal is to consistently release bad ass, fucked up, raw music with style that grows at its natural pace and stays true to us.”