Run the Jewels is the heavy-hitting, villainous collaboration of rappers El-P and Killer Mike. Independently, both Run the Jewels members have recently released very mature, complex albums, equally lauded by critics and their respective fans. Indeed, New York veteran producer and rapper El-P released his Cancer4Cure album in 2012, and produced Atlanta rapper Killer Mike’s 2012 album R.A.P. Music. The chemistry of the latter release led to a furthering of this partnership: enter Run the Jewels. The duo’s self-titled freshman album garnered them critical acclaim for their brash and cartoonishly-violent lyrics. Just a year after their debut release was made available freely online, the rap group have delivered their second full-length album, also free, via the group’s website.

The first track “Jeopardy” kicks off the album with grimey, menacing verses over eerie synthesizers. Jazzy, quirky saxophones accompany the verse’s climaxing rhymes, and are beautifully utilized by a hungry Killer Mike. The rap duo symbiotically share MC duties and provide a teaser of sorts for the more aggressive and complex sounds to be explored in the coming tracks, making “Jeopardy” an appropriate and poised introduction. Veteran beatmaker El-P, always mindful of mood and momentum, seamlessly joins many of these tracks. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” leads into “Blockbuster Night Part 1” and “All Due Respect” segues into “Love Again”, providing congruence and solidifying the album as a single, complete experience. The track sequencing, as a whole, is complementary to the crooks’ storytelling.

The selective, effective use of features on this album support varied, refreshing melodies without compromising any of the hard-hitting, aggressive bars or eerie beats. Drummer Travis Barker of Blink-182 and Transplants fame provides some dynamic, loose, urban-environment percussions on the vicious and sharp-spitting “All Due Respect”. The single “Close Your Eyes” features Zack De La Rocha of Rage Against the Machine on a hook that is looped directly into the song’s beat with some heavy bass. Although De La Rocha also has a concluding verse on this track, his delivery is somewhat stale and his technical delivery is disjointed with the lyrical content. Some slow, distorted, high-pitched vocals are delivered by producer BOOTS on the song “Early”. The vocals feel like a distress or warning signal and are subtly-tweaked to allow for both transitioning and a graded-sound building across this song. On the track “Love Again”, Three 6 Mafia’s Gangsta Boo prominently features over alternating simple and layered beats for some sassy, humorous, raunchy and carnal equal-opportunity gender sexualization and objectification.

Even impudent, violent villains can have a conscience, and Killer Mike and El-P provide a contrasting dimension to their thematics by exploring this on more sullen tracks. For example, the track “Crown” has Killer Mike reflecting, rather soberly and drearily, over his culpability in the role of a dealer providing narcotics to a pregnant woman. The imagery and incorporated dialogue flesh out the saddening and troubling portraits and plights of both the provider and user in a clandestine context maintained by drug use stigmatization. Likewise, “Lie, Cheat, Steal” is a dismal, cynical condoning of the use of thuggish, brutal means by the common man to combat the type of structural violence that is continuously renovated and cemented by big money and crooked politics.

“Angel Duster” plays out like final and definite words of advice for an acknowledged, soon-parting listener. Main themes of government corruption, religion and drug dealing are revisited over a gorgeously-produced beat, exquisitely ornamented with short and soaring vocals, clinking glasses, distorted, grimey bass and bluesy piano for a masterful, elegant album closer.

Laced with raw hooks and verses, Run the Jewels 2 delivers continuous, heavy-hitting and brutish rhymes over beautifully layered beats. The production quality, track segues, conscientious track sequencing and effective use of features make the sophomore release of the Run the Jewels duo, Run the Jewels 2, one of the strongest hip-hop releases this year.

Nameless Ponytail Score: 8.5/10

Favourite Tracks: “Angel Duster”, “Early” (feat. BOOTS), “Crown” (feat. Diane Coffee)

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Run the Jewels will perform Thursday, November 27 with Ratking and Despot at Club Soda. Doors open at 7 p.m., $23.50 in advance or $25 at the door.