With the year’s end quickly approaching, critics have noticed a lack of strong releases this year as well as weak sales. So far, Taylor Swift’s 1989, reviewed last week, is the only album within arm’s reach of selling one million copies. With the last two months of 2014 upon us, artists and labels are pushing stronger and popular releases in time for the holidays.
Of the stronger releases in this year-end push is Run The Jewels’ eponymous “Run The Jewels 2.” RTJ is a long-standing collaboration between Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and New York producer/rapper El-P. The alliance began as El-P served as the producers on Mike’s “R.A.P. Music” back in 2012. The duo released their first album/mixtape, the original “Run The Jewels,” last year.
“ RTJ2” comes back twice as hard as the first installation. The album is one of the most aggressive and violent rap albums in years. El-P’s industrial production serves as the medium for El and Mike’s vulgar and angry delivery. The beats sound like a more traditional version of the work of production duo TNGHT or as intense as noise-pop band, Sleigh Bells.
The lyrical content is vicious and sometimes political. The duo has made a hard stance against the police brutality made in Ferguson, Mo. and on “Crown,” Mike laments his time selling cocaine to a pregnant woman. The central lyrical theme overall is “anti-f*ckboy,” which is their term for idiots. The album’s lyrics are so creative and vulgar that it would be safer to keep them out of this article.
Run The Jewels is also backed by an interesting group of collaborators. Zack De La Rocha of Rage Against The Machine contributes a rare verse and vocal sample on “Close Your Eyes (And Count to F**K).” Beyoncé collaborator Boots appears on the anti-police brutality protest song, “Early,” and Blink-182 drummer helps out on “All Due Respect.”
“ RTJ2” is arguably the best rap album in a very weak year for the genre. The project is an amazing success for two longtime underground artists embattled with little recognition. The best part, the album can be yours for free off their website or you can buy it on iTunes. Run The Jewels will be performing at the Gothic Theater in Englewood on Tuesday, Nov. 18, if you don’t have a paper due or exam the next day.
On the side of popular releases out this week is Calvin Harris’ “Motion.” Forbes recently named Harris the highest-paid DJ in the world for the second year in a row, making 66 million dollars, more than twice of what David Guetta, the second-highest paid DJ made. The DJ likely made his money touring off 2012’s “18 Months,” which carried massive singles such as “Feel So Close,” “Sweet Nothing” with Florence Welch, and “I Need Your Love” featuring Ellie Goulding.
“ Motion” builds on this success; Harris’ music is bouncy and, you could say, orchestral. The songs are very intense, as mainstream EDM usually is. There is a somewhat addictive feeling to the songs, kind of like binging on Halloween candy, it gets you hyped up, but this can’t be good for you.
However, that’s where “Motion” fails. None of it comes off intelligent; it’s sheer mainstream pop. The song uses a typical EDM formula of verse-drop-verse-drop, the songs are pretty interchangeable by structure and sound, and there is no break from the sheer, sugarcoated intensity.
Harris, like RTJ, does pick interesting collaborations, especially for a major EDM release. HAIM appears on “Pray to God” and Big Sean contributes weak raps on the terrible “Open Wide.” Singer John Newman growls through the second single, “Blame,” and Gwen Stefani appear on “Together.” The one thing that Harris has on his competition is that he sings on his own songs, including the hit single, “Summer,” and “Faith.”
Overall, “Motion” is weak on creativity, but bursting out the seams with energy. The songs will likely find their way to your pre-games, house parties, and top 40 radio. You will likely not listen to “Motion” as a whole, but enjoy the singles to come.
Also out this week: Kanye collaborator Arca’s “Xen.”