I don’t know that I’ve ever been later to a party in my life. Sometime around the awful cultural lull that is Christmas to New Year’s Eve, I was desperate for new material. I’d heard of Run The Jewels, but they seemed like the kind of group that was fell exclusively within the domain of Brother J; raw, angry, seething. For whatever reason, an inherent sense of fraternal opposition or otherwise, I’ve always consigned bands I presumed were aggressive to the Not-My-Style pile. Brother J could have System Of A Down, Audioslave, loud Silverchair. I would stick to the comfortably sanitized. Until, inevitably, I didn’t. And what a Christmas miracle that equivocation became this year.
At a loss with nothing to listen to as the mistletoe closed in, I headed for the reasonably familiar but kept-at-a-distance duo, half Brooklyn native El-P, half Atlanta local/Bernie Sander’s pal Killer Mike. ‘Run The Jewels 3′ dropped unexpectedly on Christmas Eve and is, allegedly, their most refined effort at incisive social commentary, vicious rhymes and banging beats yet. I say allegedly because I’ve never heard any of RTJ1 or 2. So I’ll have to take the critics’ word for it. Putting out political rap or even vaguely conscious rap was both a seemingly obvious choice and a loaded exercise in late 2016. Thankfully for RTJ, they’ve honed their critical muscle since their debut LP dropped in 2013, and before that as solo artists and under various guises. As a result, their third effort doesn’t come across as forced or overzealous but perfectly timed, studiously crafted and expertly executed. And to think I’ve missed three whole years of this.
I choose ‘Call Ticketron’ to showcase today not because it is the apotheosis of the intermingling of all those creative and political juices but precisely because it isn’t. Refreshingly, RTJ know when to take themselves seriously and when not to, thus sparing an adoring audience from overdone proselytizing or funboy bullshit or both. Which is not to say that this is RTJ in chill mode. That itself is a contradiction in terms. On the contrary, as with most of the album, ‘Call Ticketron’ is unrelenting, with a mosquito-buzz Bangladesh-style beat persistently in your ear when the trademark baritone of Killer Mike or El-P’s sharp wit (favourite line: ‘Kid’s cook s’mores off the crotch of our targets, kumbaya bitch’) are taking a break. An unshakable, singular purpose, applied with the same devastating effect to the duo’s forays into social commentary as it is to their potshots at detractors, is similarly arresting. Most impressively, a full week after the trees have been tossed to the curb and two weeks of ceaseless repetition later, ‘Call Ticketron’ continues to resonate, losing none of its vital energy. The track’s central refrain, ‘Run The Jewels – live from the Garden’ might have been tongue-in-cheek when thrown together but I have no doubt Killer Mike and El-P will find their way to Madison Square soon enough. And you know which bandwagon fan will be among the first on the line with Ticketron when that day comes.
Run The Jewels – Call Ticketron