Run the Jewels Have Bad Jokes with Serious Implications in New Single “Talk to Me”

"I might ghost ride a tank, take a ride to the bank" isn't even among the top-five-best lines in the politically driven first take from Run the Jewels 3.

What does a little bit of time get you? Run the Jewels 2 came out a mere sixteen months after the fearsome twosome dropped their debut (which itself was released a little over a year after Killer Mike’s El-P-produced R.A.P. Music), but it’s been a full two years since we learned which fields never to run backwards through. Run the Jewels have been running around for a while with RTJ3 teases, and of course, it’s not like they’ve (just) been sitting around Atlanta getting high and checking Twitter—between joints, they’ve cranked out Meow the Jewels, popped up on tracks from Big Grams, Miike Snow, and DJ Shadow, and have continued to promise to burn this motherfucker down at music festivals around the country—then proceeding to do just that.

Still, after the rapid release schedule of the pair’s first three collaborations, a two-year gap feels odd. But maybe necessary. This morning, RTJ released “Talk to Me,” the first single from Run the Jewels 3, as the latest entry in the Adult Swim singles series, and in a world that is two weeks away from deciding its next leader, it feels—well, not strategic (these guys aren’t convincing the Ken Bones of the world) but at least cathartic. And when you’re wound as tight as the US of A is right now, catharsis might be the best kind of release valve.

For all of the charisma that Jamie and Mikey share as shit-talkers, they’re always at their best when they’re taking things seriously, but in a campaign season that’s finally obliterated the false border between politics and entertainment, both rappers use the one to comment on the other at a level neither has really attempted since R.A.P. Music. “Went to war with the devil and shaytan / He wore a bad toupee and spray tan / So high now, hoping that I land / On a Thai stick moving through Thailand,” Mike raps in the opening verse, rolling together three of his four major artistic concerns in a handful of bars (unless Ole Scratch’s wearing a stripper with a spray tan, in which case: Michael for the cycle). “Brave men didn’t die face down in the Vietnam mud so I could not style on you,” El answers. “You think baby Jesus killed Hitler just so I’d whisper?”

The kicker, though, comes at the cap of Mike’s verse. Having already bribed his way back into the country after a customs agent discovers a joint in his passport (those damn Thai sticks), he’s marginalized but at least feeling himself—“Rap terrorist, terrorize, tear it up / Brought gas and the matches to flare it up”—when he issues an anthem not only for himself but for a people that, incredibly, remain fundamentally misunderstood by so many of their fellow Americans. “Born black, that’s dead on arrival,” he raps. “My job is to fight for survival / In spite of these All Lives Matter–ass white folk.” It’s a powerful moment from a powerful voice addressing a problem that, truth be told, sometimes feels like it may be even more powerful than that.

But: “This is spiritual warfare that you have been dealing with,” intones a grave sample after Mike fades out. “This is a fight against principalities and evildoers and unclean spirits.” The implication, from the boom in Mike’s voice and the joy in El’s answers, is that any battle can be won. Anything less disappears in a mist of spray-tan.

Read our cover story on Run the Jewels.

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