Here's the long and short of it: Run the Jewels is the hip-hop record of the summer. The music industry might want you to believe otherwise, but the reality of the situation is that there will be no better rap record than the latest collaboration between El-P and Killer Mike. In terms of real, true hip-hop — you know, the kind with the funky beats and a rapper who can actually write a rhyme rather than just ending every line with the same word — no record burns hotter, blazes brighter or rocks tighter. It is a party record for people who care about bigger things than just partying; it's futurism for people with a sense of history, hip-hop for people who need more from their records than a couple of MDMA references and the hook from another pop song. Run the Jewels is a much-needed challenge to the rest of the art form's practitioners: Step up your game, or get trampled.
And this not just the Scene being contrary for the sake of stirring up shit — the small sector of the hip-hop community still concerned with artistry is all up on this record. In terms of record reviews that are eloquent, accurate and able to capture the whole goddamn zeitgeist in one fell swoop, we'll have to defer to our buddy John Gotty over at The Smoking Section, the locally based and well-respected hip-hop/culture blog. He managed to take the scene — the fans, the artists, the hype cycle — to task with a handful of characters, calling bullshit on the hand-wringing and overthinking that had pitted Kanye's Yeezus against J. Cole's Born Sinner in a battle for the soul (and the speakers) of the summer. "Run the Jewels > the June 18th releases," Gotty tweeted. Simple, elegant and true — the hype machine has got its knickers in a twist over all the wrong records.
No disrespect to Yeezy and Cole, but they never stood a chance — you can hire all the publicists in the world and generate all the hype and controversy you want, but at the end of the day, that doesn't make a rap record great. It will make a rap record into a trending topic, but will it make you want to listen to it again and again? No. Run the Jewels, on the other hand, is one of the most repeat-listen-worthy hip-hop records to hit the streets in years. It is one of the most sonically and conceptually astute albums in recent memory, a guided missile of bomb beats and rhymes that manages to push the genre in new directions while never losing sight of its underground roots. That, and El-P and Killer Mike can also rap circles around J. Cole and West — probably even with both hands tied behind their backs, blindfolds on and ball-gags in their mouths.
When El-P — a former Company Flow member, Def Jux Records founder and one of hip-hop's foremost futurists for more than 15 years — comes out spitting "Me and Mike will go twin hype," he's not talking about the sort of hype that the marketing department dreams about. He's talking about how they'll "dance on your windpipe / Put your fuckin' jazz hands back in your pants or get them shits sliced." It's hard to imagine that there are a lot of commercial electronics companies champing at the bit to get in bed with that sentiment (à la Jay-Z's Samsung deal). When Killer Mike — who was hands-down one of the best artists to bless Bonnaroo this year — barks that he "sent their mom a little cash and a sympathy letter / told her she raised a bunch fuck boys, next time do better" on "Banana Clipper," it's aimed at a generation of rappers who would rather be corporate lackeys pushing consumer goods than actual artists. Run the Jewels is a take-no-prisoners affair, stomping mushmouthed egotism and wack rappers, trampling the weak shit that passes for hip-hop these days. Run the Jewels is a tour de force of funkified genius, a stone-cold classic in the era of the endlessly disposable. It's the rap record of the summer, obviously.