An incredibly pointless comparison of two of the best hip-hop creations of the decade. Both by Run The Jewels. One featuring cats.
Does 2015’s Meow the Jewels im-purr-ove on its predecessor? Is Run the Jewels 2 a paw-fect rap record anyway? I know MTJ isn’t meant to bring any ill feline-s back at RTJ2, but song-to-song there are notable dif-fur-ences that ought not to be whiskere-d away. Let’s get comparing.
1. Jeopardy / Meowpurrdy
“I’M GONNA BANG THIS BITCH THE FUCK OUT!”
The kickoff of both game-changing albums opens with an appropriately declarative war cry. Killer Mike reintroduces himself characteristically brutally on the original, and leaves on the exclamation on the kittyfied remake. Only on MTJ, there’s Snoop Dogg and a Meow-Mix theme courtesy of El-P along there beside him. Then enter the felines. The kitty screeches are jarring, but the incredibly popping meow-meow-meow beat underlying KM’s killer opening verse is a blistering intro to a face-meltingly original and bizarre project. For a first track, Jeopardy hits it out of the park. But Meowpurrdy tears the park down, kills everyone in it, and builds a ten-ton statue of our Feline Overlords.
All hail Meowpurrdy.
2. Oh My Darling Don’t Cry / Oh My Darling Don’t Meow
“You can all run naked backwards through a field of dicks.”
Here is where RTJ2 has tapped you on the shoulder, you’ve turned around, and now they rap the god given shit out of you. MTJ, however, stabs you in the shoulder blades, then starts dropping angry cats on your face. Oh My Darling Don’t Meow is probably Run The Jewels’ most outright bizarre three minutes. From an odd opening monologue, to an evil-feline horror flick subplot, this track tests you more than any other. If you can get through the bloodcurdling screams, and the ghostly meows telling you to abandon all pretension ye who enter here, then MTJ is for you. However, I must say as a Track 2, Oh My Darling Don’t Cry is superior. The head-vibrating beats shake you to the core; the track balances weirdness (“YOU ARE NOW LISTENING TO RUN THE JEWELELELSSZZZ”) and vainglorious lyrics (“I do two things I rap and fuck”) perfectly. I’m giving it to Cry.
All hail Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.
3. Blockbuster Night Part I / Pawfluffer Night
“Tell ‘em fuck ‘em I never loved ‘em and salutations.”
As the opening hook of BNP1 tears into my earlobe, I know impartiality is going to be hard. I mean RTJ2 got me through some serious shit in November 2014. How can anything change my mind? Well, I didn’t have to worry. Though Pawfluffer Night certainly ups the darkness and the bite, it just loses all the shameless fun of the original. Zola Jesus’ remix manages to skimp on the cats (except an admittedly impressive background mew) and terrify a perfectly kickass track into a bad trip. Blockbuster Night Part 1 has it all the way.
All hail Blockbuster Night Part 1.
4. Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) / Close Your Eyes And Meow To Fluff
“A wise man once said: We all dead! Fuck it!”
The most LIVE track of RTJ2 just doesn’t let up. It feels like the perfect soundtrack to just what it describes: a brutal bloody prison riot. The pure lyrical genius in the 3:54 they bestow upon us is revelatory. Feast:
- We killin’ ’em for freedom cause they tortured us for boredom / And even if some good ones die, fuck it, the Lord’ll sort ’em
- I’m trained in vagina whisperin’, glistenin’ / Waitin’ for their christenin’, I know the neighbors can’t help but listen in
- Includin’ members of clergy that rule on you through religion / So strippin’ kids to the nude and then tell ’em God’ll forgive ‘em
Those must read strangely when they’re typed out but when Mike and El-P are shouting them at you under Zach De La Rocha’s beastly hook, it makes you want to smash a some chairs over some people.
MTJ flips the script. This is the best use of cats so far; possibly the best on the entire album. Geoff Barrow’s remix puts a hypnotic purr over most of this vicious track and masterfully contrasts danger, violence, and rage with the harrowing distorted sound of feline contentedness. The random meows also service the lyrics and the tones with grace, so much so that when they do take a break, during De La Rocha’s verse for instance, they seem less like computerized mp3 files and more like a chorus of effortlessly talented background performers, right there in the studio with our jewel running heroes.
They’re both genius! But on second listen, whew, And Meow to Fluff is such a creative barn-burner of a piece, and those purrs are just so haunting and comforting at the same time, that MTJ wins this one.
All hail Close Your Eyes And Meow to Fluff.
5. All My Life / All Meow Life
“If you’re girl’s fine, nigga might eat her, man / I’m talkin’ middle of the mall like a pita, man”
All My Life is a fairly tame track. Certainly coming after Close Your Eyes, a tough act to follow. The track goes more mellow, but keeps that classic RTJ strain of danger in its malevolent bassline. All Meow Life, while maybe the least creative MTJ title, is far from the least creative MTJ track. Nick Hook goes a bit bonkers on the ping-pongy backbeats, and the cats take too much of a backseat, but it’s a solid mix. The boppiness gets a bit much, though, so All My Life takes the cake this time.
All hail All My Life.
6. Lie, Cheat, Steal / Lie, Cheat, Meow
“Could it be the man behind the man behind the man behind the throne?”
RTJ2 continues to be killer. MTJ starts to get silly. Whenever you take the piss out of something not entirely whimsical, it will start to get awkward eventually. No one does a Schindler’s List parody. Or a Selma parody. Or an all-meerkat remix of To Pimp A Butterfly.
So the all-feline remix of Run The Jewels 2 hits some odd incompatibilities once or twice, and Lie, Cheat, Meow is one of them. The original is a light-hearted but straight-talking condemnation of the tragically imbalanced and destructive stratification of the United States. Questions of exclusivity, deceit, and double standards based on race, social status, and wealth are the meat behind this excellently misleading track. So having meows and kitty screeches in the background just makes it all sound creepy, not clever. Still, it’s a great song either way.
All hail Lie, Cheat Steal.
7. Early / Meowrly
“You do this and you ruin my life.”
Now is when it starts to get very out of place. I didn’t set out this morning to write a condemnation of Meow The Jewels for being a trite and “problematic” sideshow, but as RTJ2 continues, I can’t help but see the whole project differently. One of the many points of genius on that album is that, as you listen, Killer Mike and El-P weave in more and more revelatory and prescient lyrics and themes until the second half reminds you that rap is fun, but there are real problems we’ve got to fix, together, and this medium is one of the most emotive and poetic ways of spreading the word.
Early may be the most poetic piece on the record. Not a fun track, though arguably it’s got a pleasant, trippy quality. But it’s a terrifying account of police brutality and the violence of this world. Killer Mike’s opening verse is harrowing and expressive. Boots’ guest vocals are haunting and powerful. El-P’s lines are just as important; his presence reminds that the white voice ought to be there for the Black movement (“Truth’s truth when denied or not”), but not stifle or try to take the lead when it’s not their time. The song ends sorrowfully; we don’t know what happens to Mike’s innocent narrator. But we can, unfortunately, guess.
So that brings me to Meowrly. The absurdity of the title appropriately mirrors the absurdity of remixing such a powerful cry with… cat sounds. I can’t help but remember when some troglodyte actually remixed Eric Garner’s final words. It was just wrong. Not only the wrong time, not only the wrong place. Just wrong. Now, Meowrly is not as horrifyingly ill-advised, not by a long shot, but the original just didn’t need remixing. It’s impossible though, because MTJ is such a fun and delightful idea (and I am by no means saying it shouldn’t have been done) but it runs up against these powerful songs and threatens to trivialize one or two messages. Thankfully, Boots’ remix keeps the cat sounds purely complementary and devoid of snark or silliness. It’s not bad, just slightly uncomfortably placed. Still, one wonders how awkward it must have been to turn a harrowing, poetic plea for decency in our time into a kitty-tinged remix called Meowrly.
All hail Early.
8. All Due Respect / Paw Due Respect
“Hey little buddy, where’s your mommy?”
This is a hard choice. Both tracks are just phenomenal. But for very different reasons. All Due Respect is frenetic, tribal, and spunky. That powerful chant stays with you, and makes you want to dance around with reverence. Paw Due Respect is the polar opposite. I love Paw Due Respect. It uses lovely cat meows so well, so calmly, so sweetly. Killer Mike’s cheeky, verbose lines have an all-new air of sweetness over the nice cats’ melodies. Even El-P’s rape-van-references and abuses hurled at single-parent families come off as cheekily funny rather than sinisterly, sadistically humorous. Blood Diamonds did quite a job here.
All Due Respect has an impressively eclectic mix of sounds and layers of musical clout, but I just love Paw Due Respect so much. I love cats.
All hail Paw Due Respect.
9. Love Again (Akinyele Back) / Snug Again
“That’s what you want huh? Well let me tell you a little story”
The most gleefully feminist rap track I’ve heard in a while. Yes, I know that sounds insane, but look at it this way. The two men banter on about how girls want to fellate them constantly… then Gangsta Boo demolishes them with her own, female dominance that blows their male bravado out of the water. Top of her lungs, she beats them back with stories of the men constantly paying for her things, pleasuring her every which way, serving her every whim, and kissing her feet. You may not call it feminism, sure. But it’s a step forward for the mainstream rap game. Probably my favorite track RTJ has ever done. The “dick” to “clit” flipping-of-script is just, fucking, genius. Sorry. I love this track.
So Love Again is hard to top. Snug Again, right off the bat, doesn’t have those trippy, sloppy-yet-tailored sonic swaggers the original soars from. But the cats keep it funky, and similarly bizarre, which is only right considering the borderline exhibitionism these lines satirize and glorify at the same time. Bizarre is the only way to go for outright, glorious lasciviousness. Snug Again is solid; its best sound is, again, the clever use of purr-cum-baseline. It’s a commendable remix, of a genius project, but the original just can’t be beat.
All hail Love Again. (And all hail Gangsta Boo.)
10. Crown / Creown / Creown
“Won’t be the same type of man that puts cocaine in this lady’s hand”
Crown is a beautiful song. Killer Mike recounts shame, forgiveness, redemption, and resilience. El-P comes in hot with premonitions and haunting lyricism.
The Alchemist’s MTJ remix of Crown is very, very weird. A catchy but unsettling march of meow-meow-meow’s leads the verses forward. The random, cartoonish backgrounds are appropriately disturbing, but come off a tad disrespectful of Mike’s confession. It’s all too jokey to be notable. Crown beats The Alchemist’s Creown.
But! There is a bonus track! Massive Attack’s 3D’s bonus remix, also called Creown, features a similar marching beat is also quite weird. But this is a much more happy weird; the kind of thing you can wig out to without being struck with cartoonish nonsense like in the first remix. This is manicured nonsense — much different.
Still, Crown is much more personal and beautiful than Creown 1 and 2 put together.
All hail Crown.
11. Angel Duster / Angelsnuggler
“You want a whore with a white dress / I want a wife in a thong”
We have come to the conclusion. Angel Duster, a soaring, definitive signature at the bottom of the new constitution of game-changing music. It’s got brilliant music, some of my favorite RTJ lyrics (“I’m twice as hot / As about half of hell”), (“You say you wanna be my leader
I think you wanna be my God”), and a closing battle cry of “RTJ!” to remind the world these two are the authorities on how to turn collaboration into rap genius.
The chorus is an inspired address:
A little toast for the no ones
With a nod to the masters
To the ones with the riches
From the ones who the rags fit
Angelsnuggler has a nicely complementary sound with such well-crafted lyrics. The purr returns for one last hurrah, before settling down for a nap. The cats bid farewell, and we will miss them.
But that musical crescendo of RTJ2’s Angel Duster is so victoriously orchestrated, such a brilliant sendoff to a brilliant album, that it takes the top spot.
All hail Angel Duster.
Run The Jewels 2: 8
Meow The Jewels: 3
All in all, Meow The Jewels is undoubtedly a fun, jaunty project that proves the weirdest ideas can become commendable art.
But I have today been reminded that Run The Jewels 2 is a near-perfect creation. It’s sonically brilliant; never a dull or ill-advised moment. It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s revelatory, it’s pedagogic at times. It was the soundtrack of the Black Lives Matter movement to me, and it commanded my perception of this last year and a half so artfully that I count Run The Jewels as one of the most influential artists in this part of my life. Because of that album.
Thank you, Killer Mike and El-P. ❤