Considering El-P and Killer Mike are the creative team responsible for two of the most critically acclaimed rap albums of last year, El-P’s “Cancer 4 Cure” and the Killer Mike rapped/ El-P produced “R.A.P. Music’, the fact that a collaborative effort is at least good isn’t a surprise
Both are hardened hip-hop veterans: El-P hustled hard in the Rawkus era of underground hip-hop and Killer Mike was one of the MC’s to help stake Atlanta’s claim as Hip-hop’s most influential city in the past decade.
So with great rappers and great beats, a great album is a foregone conclusion. What makes “Run the Jewels” an interesting listen besides that is the unique way that it works; as a team the rappers are easily the best MC duo since the Clipse. Their chemistry compares to the greats groups of the past; EPMD, M.O.P. and A Tribe Called Quest.
A recent stab at a similar concept, Kanye and Jay-Z’s “Watch the Throne”, shows how hard chemistry is to pull it off. Now mind you, Throne was perfectly solid album with even moments of greatness. However, in most of the tracks each of the MCs’ sound like they recorded their verses in entirely different coasts (which they probably did). In each of those songs one of the MC’s sounds like they are just dropping a guest verse as opposed to living in the project itself.
But El-P and Killer Mike fit each other like a glove despite their different rhyme styles. El-P’s words stutters out urgently as if he’s rushing to say all he can before he gets pushed off the stage (or, according to his dystopian lyrics, before the SWAT team catches him). Killer Mike is rough like a shot of expensive whiskey: harsh, smooth and immediate. They trade verses like old friends trying to outdo each other; each aping the others flows and rhyme schemes, pushing and shoving not only to outdo each other but to make each individual song great. At 33 minutes it’s a quick listen, but it’s so dense it seems longer; repeat listens just unveil more and more nuances in both the lyrics and El-P’s notoriously busy production.
Both rappers have spent most of their careers focused on pushing hip-hop music towards the future and the songs here are not much less experimental then their solo work. But their mastery of one of the classic aspects of mc’ing, rapping together, is what makes ‘Run The Jewels’ one of the best hip-hop albums of 2013.