The good fight continues on Run The Jewels 3

rtj3

Fucking fascists –
Who the fuck are you to give fifty lashes?

2016’s conceptually bold, socially aware releases weren’t just embraced by the mainstream – they set a precedent for any artist looking to maximise their platform. Run The Jewels’ latest might seem like another silver lining in a torrid political climate, but it’s really just business as usual for the hip-hop supergroup.

Since the first instalment in their self-titled trilogy in 2014, El-P and Killer Mike have been harbingers of revolution. Both are exceptional rappers with strong principles, touching on everything from drug wars to Black Lives Matter to reciprocal oral sex. In the wake of last year’s U.S election, their fight against oppression continues on RTJ3.

The duo’s music still sounds huge and extraterrestrial. It verges on intimidating, but there’s a lot of colour, and El-P’s beats are proud in their artificiality. On “Call Ticketron”, synths wriggle wildly, culminating in a sudden rave-y finale. “Panther Like A Panther” is a luminous fusion of trap and breakbeat textures.

A slow and sweet opener, “Down” reflects on a troubled past, and insists perseverance is the only option in surprisingly gentle terms. The skulking “Thieves (Screamed the Ghost)” is more resigned, with a tormented El-P begging for a night’s reprieve from the world’s injustices: “Some get to count sheep, some gotta count kids that they burying”.

Songs don’t come more charged than “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” – using a Congolese expression meaning “Kill him” to incite an uprising against influential business moguls – but RTJ3 is hardly inaccessible. “Stay Gold” wields a fun, spelt-out hook, digressing from politics entirely to paint a portrait of a relationship that’s dripping in gratitude. 

10/10

[Music] Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint (review)

Niki Minaj

Available to buy on iTunes

Review: There was a delightfully abrasive moment during Nicki Minaj’s guest turn on Ciara’s 2014 single “I’m Out” where talk of “big fat titties when they’re hangin’ out my tank-top” unexpectedly scanned as an ideological move that only the Trinidadian rapper could make. There was nothing smart about the image the lyric created, while the slippery zaniness with which it was delivered rendered it deliberately unsexy. But with Minaj’s name now synonymous with the current hip-hop landscape, it seemed she had shrewdly adopted the cartoonish arrogance of buddies Lil Wayne, Kanye et al in a manner that was apathetic to their male gaze, with indecorous terms such as “fat” and “hanging” instead holding up a positive reflection of the wordsmith’s perceptible body image.

This crass and brazen expression of sexuality was somewhat built upon on “Anaconda”, the inescapable, Sir Mix-A-Lot-sampling summer hit that served as the The Pinkprint‘s second single. The difference this time was that everything about “Anaconda” – from its meme-magnet artwork to its risibly gratuitous video demanded both our attention and our approval. The track’s reliance on creeping guitar plucks and culturally-embedded lyrics derived from “Baby Got Back” was disappointing given the manic energy Minaj poured into verses that stand toe-to-toe with similarly globe-trotting accounts of sexual conquests in Afroman’s “Crazy Rap” and Lil Kim’s “How Many Licks”. The Pinkprint’s clever sequencing follows it up with the EDM headache “The Night Is Still Young”, allowing for an immediate comparison that narrowly spares “Anaconda” from being labeled the collection’s most reductive effort.

This conspicuous pair of chart-friendly contingency plans are undoubtedly the album’s nadir, as even despite additional smatterings of on-trend radio fodder – such as the “Dark Horse”-aping Dr. Luke production “Get On Your Knees”, boosted by a sensual vocal from hook girl Ariana Grande – The Pinkprint primarily divides its attention between introspective mid-tempo R&B and tough, focused exercises in trap-inflected hip-hop. It’s an occasionally jarring dichotomy, but the overarching quality of the music allows such sins to be forgiven. Giving credence to her alleged Enya inspiration, “All Things Go” and “I Lied” get things off to a slow, ethereal start, but the lack of posturing within Minaj’s sensitive verses is refreshing. The similarly styled “The Crying Game” has prickly rock undertones that help further animate Jessie Ware’s bizarrely uncredited turn on the song’s chorus.

On the ballsier half of the album, “Trini Dem Girls” proposes exoticism (“Jamaica dem girls gonna park the pum pum”) over a laudably colourless, handclap-heavy beat, “Four Door Aventador” casts a spell with its mumbled chorus and smoky atmosphere, while the pondering trap beat of third single “Only”, featuring Drake, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown, oscillates between mild interest and tedium depending on who’s on the mic. (Note: Both Drake and Lil Wayne are better utilised on the twerk-ready iTunes bonus track “Truffle Butter”.)

On The Pinkprint, Minaj has refined almost every branch of her musical output, with the notable exception of her adventures in EDM, which really should have been left to fester on 2010’s Roman Reloaded. Its quieter moments surpass the aural mush she peddled on her debut, while the lion’s share of the more overtly hip-hop tracks show a sense of conviction unseen since “Roman’s Revenge”. Our only gripe is with a title that stands as nothing more than a tip of the hat to Jay-Z‘s The Blueprint. Sure, every fingerprint may be unique, but shouldn’t a woman as talented as Minaj be looking to leave a bigger mark on the world?

8.5/10