Run the Jewels Run the Jewels 2

[Mass Appeal; 2014]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: NYC rap
Others: Def Jux, Dungeon Family

Run the Jewels 2 opens with Killer Mike promising to “bang this bitch the fuck out;” it’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that he and El-P deliver on that promise. RTJ2 has received near-unanimous acclaim, and in fact, according to aggregate scores, it’s been evaluated as the best record of either artist’s career. Whether or not that’s true, RTJ2 is certainly more consistently entertaining than its predecessor. If banging bitches the fuck out is the MO, then El-P and Killer Mike cling to message better than even the most loyal GOP constituent.

But before delving any further, let’s stop to consider that introductory phrase just a little bit more. “I’m finna bang this bitch the fuck out” is the studio-ad-lib-as-locker-room pep talk, a homosocial ritual wherein power is consolidated through denigration of the feminine. It’s an honest presentation of the ways men revel in their physical and social privileges when there aren’t any women around, and as such, it sets the tone not for righteous, radical anger, but for the reinforcement of the status quo. This language of hypermasculine aggression is hardly new, yet over the 39-minute span of the record, El-P and Killer Mike offer up countless gleeful additions to its vernacular.

On the album’s first track, El-P calls his rap peers “vaginas for the fame;” on the second, he exhorts the naysayers in the audience to “run backwards through a field of dicks;” and on the third, Killer Mike brags about “killing cunts in [his] Colosseum.” You might notice a theme here. It’s tempting to cite every instance of these two men instructing their audience to eat dicks, but as on the record itself, such an exercise would quickly prove wearisome and redundant. Ultimately, my frustration is less with the presence of such violently-gendered phrasing than with its prevalence and the binary system such phrases represent.

The monolithic, exaggerated nature of RTJ2 is what makes the record unimpeachable from a neutral critical perspective. The milieu is narrow and well-defined, musically and lyrically. For all the threats and insults that inundate the listener, they’re delivered with a palpable sense of enthusiasm, and though both El-P and Killer Mike are often prone to nihilism, glimmers of compassion shine through their future-shock façade. The writing on RTJ2 is almost uniformly excellent, funny, smart, economical. There’s something to be said for two masters of their craft talking jazz for the joy of it, but to me, the question remains whether or not this kind of jazz is played out.

Maybe if RTJ2 was less smart or less funny, I’d be more forgiving of it. I’m willing to overlook plenty of casual misogyny in the art I consume, but it’s harder to swallow when the artists are waving their radical bonafides so proudly. My longstanding fondness for these two rappers is what ultimately makes me feel so ambivalent about the music they make together. There’s no room for femininity in this particular collaboration, Gangsta Boo notwithstanding. In fact, “Love Again (Akinyele Back),” the Gangsta Boo guest track, demonstrates RTJ2’s gender problem most clearly. The song plays at equality, allowing Boo the chance to rap as hard or as graphically as her peers, but where she is willing to conform to the dictums of the masculine perspective — women wanting dicks in their mouths all day, and whatnot — El-P and Killer Mike only offer wordless ad-libs while she swaps out dicks for clits in the final repetition of the chorus. The message is perfectly clear: Gangsta Boo can be both sexual subject and object, whereas El-P and Killer Mike are subjects only. After all, what would you call a male sexual object other than “fuckboy?”

The worst thing I can say about RTJ2 is that, despite the numerous threats leveled against police, politicians, clergy members, and corrections officers, it’s still conservative enough that I can imagine Paul Ryan blasting “Blockbuster Night, Part 1” or “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)” while getting hyped in the House gym. For all the ways that it rightly articulates social justice concerns, RTJ2 refuses to utilize any rhetoric but that of masculinist invective, and the world has enough angry men in it already. So, even though I recognize that El-P and Killer Mike’s roles are performative — and these are Alec Baldwin-in-Glengarry Glen Ross-caliber performances — when presented with the option to listen to dudes shouting at me for 40 minutes, at this point in my life, I’d just as soon put on 1989 instead.

Links: Run the Jewels - Mass Appeal

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