If you were wondering when the remarkable golden run of El-P and Killer Mike’s recent output was going to end, the answer is not yet. Following 2012’s one-two punch of Cancer 4 Cure and R.A.P. Music (which was produced by El-P), the duo combined for what should have been a simple victory lap with the giveaway Run The Jewels album. The only problem was that the combination was so effective that both rappers were tempted to join forces again for RTJ2, and thus Run The Jewels has become an actual thing rather than a fun side project.

Not only that, but RTJ2 improves on its predecessor in every way. It’s even more lyrically direct, the production sounds meaner and tighter, and the whole thing just feels weightier. As a duo, El-P and Killer Mike are a compelling clash of styles and personalities, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Andre 3000 went to do a little acting. Yes, they are that good. With the help of Adult Swim they have risen from underground legends to something akin to hip-hop royalty at a time of their careers when their best work should be behind them. It is a hell of a renaissance.

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The tone is established early on album opener “Jeopardy,” which comes on with intent, menace, and confidence. Killer Mike delivers the line “You know your favorite rapper ain’t shit / and me, I might be” with the conviction of a man who knows he is effortlessly outstripping the competition at the moment, and it’s Mike who steals the show on the vocal front. El-P’s style remains a little closer to spoken word, but the odd clunky line does not stop him from being a compelling force on the mic, and his production skills remain second to none.

That is never more evident than on “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck).” The former is built on little more than a chopped-up hook, booming bass, and two rappers ranting about how things are (frankly) not that great, before a mid-song switch in energy and tempo that sounds like the production is trying to keep up with the intensity of the flow. The latter is absolute dynamite, a stunning protest song with production that is heavy as hell without being cluttered. A guest vocal from Zach De La Rocha sees his inimitable delivery taken down a notch or two in intensity, seemingly aware that the song’s message comes across loud and clear without the need for added volume.

Thematically RTJ2 features a lot of cynicism and nihilism, but the tone remains one of defiance and anger rather than surrender. The pair engages heavily with politics in a manner that should not be a surprise in modern hip hop but is sadly a pretty rare commodity these days. Musically they prove that they can dial things down on the likes of “All My Life” and “Early” without diluting the power. Hell, they even prove on “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” that they can graphically tackle the subject of oral sex with an odd sweetness and a display of equal opportunity (Gangsta Boo gets to be just as lewd as the boys).

Only on the album finale “Angel Duster” does it feel like a song is outstaying its welcome, but for the most part RTJ2 is seamless, efficient, and hard-hitting. It has clearly been put together as an album statement rather than a mixtape, a collaborative missile rather than a career-spanning resume. Run The Jewels keeps moving forward, and in the always-competitive world of hip hop, they are leaving everybody else trailing.

Tickets to the upcoming Run The Jewels show at The Echo on November 13th are still available.

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Run The Jewels