Friday, February 10, 2017

Album Review: Run the Jewels 3 by Run the Jewels

Adult Language

OK let's take a walk back in time. It's 1981 and Ronald Reagan has just been inaugurated as president of the United States. Violent crime is at an all time high, there is a drug epidemic sweeping the country, unemployment is high, things are bad. Then a war of drugs is declared, regulations are stripped, taxes are changed, the economy comes alive, and the wealthier begin to get wealthy at a pace much faster than those below them. By 1990 the economy is struggling, the war on drugs is seen by many as a war on poor African American neighborhoods, and crime is on the rise. That's when we get hit with Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet. It's a brilliant album that attacks pretty much everything. It was embraced by young liberal whites as well as the African American community as a brilliant attack on what was happening across the country. People will argue other albums of Public Enemy's are better and that may be true, but none were so important.

Then in 1992 when chaos is at the worst we elect a new president. He brings a different attitude and a different approach. Crime starts to fall as he pours federal money into the inner cities to increase police numbers as well as bolster programs for kids and parents. The economy recovers and once again the wealthy begin to get wealthy at a pace that outstrips those below them. That was over 20 years ago and now here we are in another time and another place. Crime is near an all time low. The economy is strong, but the wealthy have continued their rise while the rest have been held in place. Crime is low but rising, frustrations in both the inner city and rural America are growing as we are hit with another major drug epidemic. We have just elected a new president who used words like "carnage" to describe the country's situation and people seem more divided than ever as the Internet has helped to segment our population in ways never imagined before.

This leads us to the album Run the Jewels 3 by Run the Jewels. I want to make it clear I'm not trying to hold this album up at the same level as Fear of a Black Planet, but I do think this album is influenced by the times in much the same way Fear of a Black Planet was.

Brave men didn't die face down in the Vietnam muck so I could not style on you
I didn't walk uphill both ways to the booth and back to not wild on you
You think baby Jesus killed Hitler just so I'd whisper?
When you're safe and sound and these crooks tap your phone and now have a file on you?
What, me worry? Nah, buddy, I've lost before, so what?
You don't get it, I'm dirt, m#$%@r, I can't be crushed
--Talk to Me

Make love, smoke kush, try to laugh hard, and live long
That's the antidote
You defeat the devil when you hold onto hope
'Cause kinfolk life is beautiful
And we ain't gotta die for them other men
And I refuse to kill another human being
In the name of a government
'Cause I don't study war no more
I don't hate the poor no more
Gettin' more ain't what's more
Only thing more is the love
So when you see me
Please greet me with a heart full
And a pound and a hug

Where Public Enemy used noise and pop to create brilliant singles, Run the Jewels is layering an amazing amount of words on top of solid beats and again noise.  Unlike "911 is a Joke" which is easily a good pop song, these songs from Run the Jewels are dense and require focus to catch what is being said.

At being what it is, which is a statement about our times from their perspective it's brilliant.  It is so dense it does limit the album's appeal, but right now it feels like the perfect soundtrack for 2017.

Following the Rhapsody rating method I give it 3 out of 5 stars for Pretty Good.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review, interesting lyrics. The profanity eliminates Run the Jewels from my playlist, but that's about me--not them.

    There's going to be a surge of thought-provoking art now. There always is when stuff like now happens. People are amazing and wonderful that way. Here's a song that has stuck with me over the last week or so, "Maybe Both" by Sho Baraka:

    I'm on my knees, I'm praying, I'm on my knees
    But, now I'm an easy target for them to attack me
    Liberals and intellectuals justifying my anger
    But when the cameras ain't here, they ain't nowhere near
    Oh, so eloquent, watch them pontificate
    When the smoke clears, the blogs re-build real estate
    You sitting in your academic tower
    Tweeting around the hour while the poor fights the power
    Oh stop it, oh stop it, you and your non-profit
    With a heart full of promise based on bad economics
    Put your ballot in the air, pull out a lighter, then burn it
    We just give away votes, make them Democrats earn it
    Politicians don't care 'cause they don't see a need
    They won't care 'til we bleed on the same concrete
    We burning down the neighborhoods where we live at
    If we don't own it; well, let's do something to change that
    It didn't change Watts, it ain't doing much now
    Watch the philosophers argue while Rome burns down

    ... Sing a little louder, we can drown out the protests
    Rebuilding antebellum, they too busy to listen
    I hear disturbing things come from so-called "Christians"
    Quick to justify your man's death
    Because of a criminal record or how a man dressed
    Thugs, I guess, only perfect people get grace
    If that was the Lord's way, there'll be no one in the faith
    True flaw, America kills and hides behind the law
    They purchase this land with violence, but never count the cost
    Put a dollar to your ear, you can hear the moaning of a slave
    America the great was built off the labor that they gave
    Jefferson and Washington were great peace pursuers
    But John Brown was a terrorist and an evil doer
    Oh, yes, God bless the American Revolution
    But God ain't for all the riots and the looting?

    ... What's your standard? Where you stand?
    What's your views?
    What gives you the right to the think the way that you do?
    Is it school? Is it news?
    Is it man's wisdom? Is it religion?
    Why listen when you can make your own decisions?
    It's funny how some people see the Lord
    Some see him as a pacifist
    Some see him with a sword
    The Lord who hated sin showed grace to the thief
    Saved the lonely prostitute from being stoned in the street
    He was holy, but he hung with the sinful
    Drove out the wicked by flipping over tables in the temple
    He took a wrongful death, yet he remained silent
    But he said he coming back, and he is bringing violence
    Many people isolate him just to make him fit their cause
    Never too involved in a greater context at all
    So, are there two Christs totally unrelated
    Or, maybe there's one Christ, and he's pretty complicated