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'Run the Jewels 2': Headphone rap that nails it

'Run the Jewels 2': Headphone rap that nails it
"Run the Jewels 2" by Run the Jewel (Mass Appeal Records, Mass Appeal Records)

Run the Jewels is the team of two indie titans, El-P and Killer Mike, who have upended convention by remaining idealistically true, artistically adventurous and creatively emboldened well into their second decade as rapper-producers. The pair's second album, released as a free download last week, proves it 11 times over.

As smart as it is sonically imaginative and unpredictable, "Run the Jewels 2" proves the team's debut was less a fluke than a portent. Headphone rap of the highest order, tracks on this sequel hum and groove, laced with texture and hidden sonic accents. Psychedelic jams — but not in the hippie sense — including "Close Your Eyes (And Count to …)" and "Lie, Cheat, Steal" are both trippy and menacing, the product of two rappers whose understanding of cadence, phrasing and language as syllabic percussion is often awe-inspiring.

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"Crown" features a dark, minimal beat that propels an indictment of the military-industrial complex. Taking aim at politicians, El-P raps of soldiers as "the smoldering vessel of punishment born to do nothing but justify us / Give us your empathy we'll give you lust." Such skills permeate "Run the Jewels 2." The flaw? Lots of multi-dimensional, otherwise complex dudes rapping about women, but just the one featured female emcee, Gangsta Boo, delivering a one-dimensional verse about getting paid and pleasing her man.

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Run the Jewels

"Run the Jewels 2"

(Mass Appeal)

Three and a half stars (out of four)

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