Run the Jewels have, for the past two years, been blowing up beyond their wildest dreams. Early this year, I wrote a guide to how that happened. One of the biggest appeals of the duo is that they can so effortlessly jump lyrically between rap mafioso bravado, science fiction, social consciousness and a bizarre, stoner sense of humor.
Last year they talked to the AV Club about their ridiculous love of action movies, particularly ones starring Steven Seagal. That sense of humor carried over into the announcement of the release of their second album, Run the Jewels 2. A thoughtless joke about making a remix album with beats made up of cat sounds if given enough money was contained therein, and turned into a reality when their fans actually ponied up the cash.
Internet culture has put money into countless equally silly projects. There was the potato salad Kickstarter. There was Clickhole's GoFundMe to buy Bob Dylan a Sleep Number bed, which raised more than $1,500. And then there was Meow the Jewels, which Run the Jewels were “forced” to make when fans raised $65,783 dollars toward the project, well more than the $40,000 they asked for in the first place.
Obviously the album couldn't be any good, though, could it? Maybe as a novelty, but it was a joke, right?
Like most, my initial reaction was to write the project off as something that would be hilarious for about five minutes, then we'd all move on and wait for Run the Jewels 3 to drop. Then some serious names started to get involved. When I saw that some of the remixes would be done by producers like Geoff Barrow of Portishead and Just Blaze, I started to become more interested.
The day came on September 25. I received an email letting me know that I could now download Meow the Jewels for free on RtJ's Web site. I did so diligently, and now, with a few weeks to process it, I can finally say that, yes, this remix album is actually great listening.
While reactions have been varied, no one can seem to really get a handle on how he's supposed to feel. Many sites refused to give it a rating, citing it as a novelty project that could not be rated against “normal” music.
However, having digested the new beats, I feel confident in saying that I actually love this project. The oddest part is that the cat sounds play very little part in the actual record. When I was listening to it, my brain started to tune those out and allowed me to appreciate the brilliant beatmaking lying underneath. With the all-star cast of remixers, we shouldn't have been surprised there would be some stellar beats here, but past the initial shock of the gimmick, it really holds up.
El-P's own new beat for “Jeopardy,” here titled “Meowpurrdy,” is one of the heaviest he's ever put to tape. It's pure blissful chaos. Just Blaze's “Oh My Darling, Don't Meow” features new spoken-word clips that remind me of a DOOM record, adding a new layer of storytelling along with a savage new musical background.
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Boots, who originally featured on “Early,” remixes that track as “Meowrly” and actually improves on the original in some ways. Prince Paul takes on “Lie, Cheat, Steal” and gives it a truly creepy landscape that is, unlike other tracks, mostly made up over cat wails that, in this context, sound like a broken theremin.
Most remix albums don't completely work, and Meow the Jewels is no exception. Some of the beats are too slow for the original vocals to completely match up. Some of them just aren't that great, which is typical when every track has a different producer, even on most rap albums where an all-star lineup is utilized. But overall, as a Run the Jewels fan, I was more than pleased with it. It holds up just as much as any remix record, and offers a fresh new take on one of last year's greatest records.
When Run the Jewels and Boots play tonight at House of Blues, they probably won't utilize any of these beats, except perhaps as a joke. That's probably for the best, since the whole record was initially just a throwaway joke anyway. But I for one think the world is a better place for its existence.
Run the Jewels and Boots take the stage tonight at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline. Doors open at 8 p.m.