Titanic rap duo Run the Jewels returned with their third self-titled effort on Christmas Eve 2016. Bestowing the gift of Run the Jewels 3 weeks earlier than expected, El-P and Killer Mike managed to deliver a collection even more satisfying than 2015's sophomore installment. Whereas RTJ2 was the sound of multiple slugs to the chest, RTJ3 is as streamlined and focused as a laser blast between the eyes. Furious and hungry -- with endlessly quotable lyrical zingers to spare -- RTJ3's potency isn't as immediate as RTJ2. However, once it digs its claws in, RTJ3 reveals itself as their best work to date. The interplay between Mike and El remains the main draw, their chemistry elevating them above most contemporaries as they bounce back and forth on agile verses packed with enough outrageous boasts to fill a how-to guide on making more prudish listeners blush. The familiar RTJ sound is once again provided by the production team of El-P, Little Shalimar, and Wilder Zoby, with BOOTS making his return on a pair of album highlights. This time around, the roster of guest vocalists is as inspired as ever. Soulful singer Joi Gilliam smooths the pair's edges on the slinky opener "Down," while a wild Danny Brown verse unhinges "Hey Kids (Bumaye)." Trina holds her own and balances the brutal testosterone attack on the filthy "Panther Like a Panther (Miracle Mix)," the spiritual sibling to RTJ2's "Love Again (Akinyele Back)." While familiar themes (drugs, murder, sex) flow freely, the pair manage to pause the over-the-top boasting on a couple of intimately powerful tracks. Following Mike's time on the political campaign trail and the United States' tumultuous 2016, RTJ3 pulls no punches in addressing police brutality and social unrest. "Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)" features TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and strategic Martin Luther King, Jr. speech samples concerning rioting. Brought together by BOOTS' guitar stabs and digital clang, "2100" protracts the fear and uncertainty of "Thieves!" with more atmospheric dread. Zack de la Rocha follows his standout appearance on RTJ2's "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)" with an explosive turn on the second part of album-closer "A Report to the Shareholders/Kill Your Masters." A call to arms, the track distills all their rage and frustration, as they declare themselves the "gladiators that oppose all Caesars." While "Shareholders/Masters" is the fiery political centerpiece of the album, standout moment "Thursday in the Danger Room" is the heart of RTJ3. An ode to a pair of fallen friends, "Danger Room" is a powerful moment of grieving and forgiveness. Kamasi Washington's saxophone adds warmth and gravitas, a bittersweet requiem that hits as effectively as Donny McCaslin's work on Bowie's Blackstar. In short, RTJ3 is near perfect in its execution. They're so good at this that it seems almost unfair in its effortlessness.
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AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung
feat: Kamasi Washington