I spent a lot of this decade not listening to hip-hop, while also realizing I should probably make an effort to listen to more hip-hop. It’s just that most hip-hop is clearly not intended for someone of my demographic (and that’s fine!), while I’ve always found hip-hop to be the hardest music to listen to while writing or working, which were the main scenarios I found myself listening to music in the latter part of this decade. Still, there were a few artists that made such a splash that I just had to check them out, while one of those artists happened to be the unexpected success story that was Run The Jewels.
As I just demonstrated, I’m not particularly equipped to comment on hip-hop’s trends over the course of the 2010s, but it seemed to be a decade where the conventions of how hip-hop was delivered to its audiences was constantly evolving. First in the form of self-released mixtapes, and then in the manifestation of so-called “Soundcloud rappers”. Run The Jewels was an album I found myself downloading when it first came out, since it was self-released for free and I had liked El-P’s previous album Cancer 4 Cure. The songs here are all pretty short, while the album as a whole clocks in at just over a half-hour, so it feels like a bit of a hybrid between a mixtape and album, for whatever that’s worth.
Because this initial collaboration between El-P and rapper Killer Mike is so punchy and no-nonsense, it feels both like the two are laying the blueprint for greater things, but also sound as potent as they ever did. The subsequent Run The Jewels albums were a bit more fleshed out, both in terms of their production and songcraft, but also in how their lyrical themes became more complex and socially conscious. Here, we more or less get the sounds of two grown men falling in love with each other on a musical level, and in the process writing some of the most delightfully shit-talking-est verses imaginable.