In retrospect, it seems so clear now. Run the Jewels wasn’t important when they collaborated with Zack de la Rocha. They weren’t important, when they were receiving higher festival billing, nor were they when they performed on late night shows. Their importance appeared as Killer Mike began turning up during the 2016 election cycle, campaigning behind Bernie Sanders. Killer Mike was a regular staple in Bernie’s campaign, and Sanders returned the favor by introducing Run the Jewels at Coachella. In a year that the nation still feels hungover from, Run The Jewels 3 is a much needed cup of coffee with a shot of whiskey-a little energy along with the hair of the dog that bit you.
Instrumentally, Run the Jewels exist in a world of simplicity. Beats such as “Legend Has It or “Talk to Me” are built on simplicity. They never distract from El-P or Killer Mike’s vocals, but they enhance the experience. Beats like “Stay Gold” are more crowded and could have hurt the song, but they’re built on vocal samples like “Close Your Eyes” from RTJ2 were. Sometimes, the beats do aim to feel as large as a movie score. “Thursday in the Danger Room” or “A Report to the Shareholders” feel like they were taken straight out of a Tarantino movie.
Nonetheless, Run the Jewels have always shined through with their lyrics. The duo have always been cocky and hyper political, and both those aspects are present. Still, this is important, because it feels like Mike and El are actually allowing themselves to feel vulnerable here. During “A Report to the Shareholders,” El-P says:
When I started this band, didn’t have no plans, didn’t see no arc
Just run with the craft, have a couple laughs
Make a buck and dash, yeah
Get a little dap like “Yeah I’m the fucking man!”, yeah
Maybe give a little back like, “Here, I do what I can”
It’s all jokes and smoke ’till the truth start schemin’
In the two years since Run the Jewels 2, people began to actually look at hip hop as a serious art-form with heavy political statements. Killer Mike was an active proponent of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, so much so that one of the leaked Clinton emails mentioned him. In a year that it seems like the apocalypse is impending, Run the Jewels closes the album with a rallying call to revolt, and it feels almost uplifting.
All in all, Run the Jewels 3 is a hopeful album. It celebrates success, but it also encourages positivity. It’s interesting to hear the album go from “Call Ticketron,” a song that only celebrates the fact that RTJ are big enough to perform at Madison Square Garden, to “2100,” an election night anthem that feels like it says that the worst isn’t over. As we’re only a few weeks away from Donald Trump’s election, this album is more important than ever. It’s hip hop for all of those in fear, and El-P and Killer Mike can both offer comfort and encourage a revolution.