As another well executed, yet always controversial Grammy season closes, we can’t help but think about the contenders for the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in 2018. There are a few chickens that have to home to roost, namely, one of the best rap groups of this decade, Run The Jewels.
On Christmas Eve of 2016, the duo of Killer Mike and El-P gave us all a wonderful surprise as they digitally released their third album, Run The Jewels 3. The project came one month ahead of its original January 13, 2017 release date, which was when the physical copies landed at retailers. We are now well into February and the album has become one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the yera. Although some may consider their previous effort slightly more superior, we still need more time to decide.
With three hard hitting masterpieces that are almost akin to the consistency of the original Star Wars trilogy, we need to see Run The Jewels take home “Best Rap Album in 2018.” And frankly, they deserve nothing less. To understand where I’m coming from, let’s go back to that tense and hostile time between 2014, arguably one of the worst years of all time for hip-hop albums up to the 2015 Grammy Awards. Rap was still reeling from the snub of Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. That year, Macklemore wrongly became a pariah of the culture because of his victory, and Igloo Iggy Azalea’s nomination for her god awful, yet now ironically title debut album, The New Classic, helped lead to a growing concern that the genre would totally white-washed by “mediocre white rappers.” Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the violent and tragic murders of Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, John Crawford III, Eric Garner, Yvette Smith, Kajeme Powell, Rumane Brisbon, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tyree Woodson, McKenzie Cochran, Jordan Baker, and the one that really set the tone for Black America that year, Michael Brown.
The United States was burning that year as the country dealt with the Ferguson uprisings, Eric Garner’s unjust murder by police, the Supreme Court ruling of Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby and the Republican takeover of Congress. While artists such as T.I., J. Cole, and Common lead the way with politically and socially charged music, none of their albums captured the deep angst and frustration of Black America and its allies like Run The Jewel’s sophomore album Run The Jewels 2.
RTJ2 is a wild and highly lyrical raucous effort with a tight chemistry between the duo — combined with a layered soundscape of dark, brooding, urgent, and somewhat experimental production from El-P and Little Shalimar. The end result is a near perfect album that not only encapsulated the darkest fears, concerns, and realities of most African-Americans across the country, but expanded on that new found freedom that the duo gained from making RTJ1. There is also some unapologetically naughty fun to make the album well balanced. You had songs and well fleshed out visuals like “Early” featuring Boots and “Close Your Eyes (And Count To F**k)” that vividly addressed the growing onslaught of police brutality through the lyrical marathons of Killer Mike and El-P. Then you had songs where the duo goes all the way left and raunchy like the Gangsta Boo assisted, “Love Again (Akinyele Back).” All in all, it stands as a fire album that, despite having universal critical acclaim, including being recognized by Rolling Stone as the 8th spot on its Top 50 Best Albums of 2014 list, it became one of two rap albums that were wrongfully snubbed in the Grammys “Best Rap Album” category. (what’s good YG?)
There are several arguments that could be made about why RTJ2 was snubbed. Was it because it was an independent album? That’s not a justifiable reason because there have been several indie artists over the years who won Grammys in different categories. Or was it because the album was released as a free project at first? It’s debatable because while it could have been a legitimate reason for all we know, one has to also consider it eventually was for sale later on because as it states verbatim in the Grammy rules for eligibility.
“Recordings must be commercially released in general distribution in the United States, i.e. sales by label to a branch or recognized independent distributor, via the Internet, or mail order/retail sales for a nationally marketed product. Recordings must be available for sale from any date within the eligibility period through at least the date of the current year’s voting deadline (final ballot).”
Or maybe it could be a simple as the album had not been submitted at all. But regardless of the reason, the snubbing for damn sure was not because it of its quality. In 2016, things have changed as the “indie” folk hero, Chance The Rapper reportedly helped lead a successful campaign to have including free, streaming only albums to be eligible for nomination (though The Academy of Recording Arts insists that he did not play that much of a role at all), which undoubtedly includes RTJ3 as it fits all of the proper criteria for nomination in the 2018 Grammy Awards.
Some would argue that RTJ2 is slightly more superior than its third installment, as it still received unanimous praise with some reviews giving it slightly lower marks. I counter argue that the album only has a more expansive world view and focused approach that’s based on liberty, revolution, and two grizzled, mortal superheroes — who are now watching the beginning of a horrific civil war happen right before their eyes. Run The Jewels did not need to do anything too much different than before, so the project’s bleak elements give it a slight edge without dramatically outshining their previous effort.
The album rightfully deserves a nomination in these brazen times because it is a revolutionary album! Songs like the thematic “Don’t Get Captured,” “Thursday In The Danger Room” feat. Kamasi Washington, and my personal favorite track that sums up the 2016 Presidential Election, “Report To The Shareholders/Kill Your Masters.” The production has improved, all of the features, especially Danny Brown and Trina, fit like skinny jeans on each of the tracks, and even though a lot of the content does not goes as far left as RTJ2, the duo still manages to show off their humanistic and playful nature with songs like “Stay Gold.”
And anyone wants to argue the nomination from a commercial angle, it was the #1 Hip-Hop/R&B album, #1 vinyl and physical album respectively, and the #1 rap album on the Billboard charts. The sobering reality is that based on their infamous history of shorting hard-nosed, straight-no-chaser art in favor of softer and safer works (regardless of quality) as was done with artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan in 1998, Kendrick Lamar in 2014, and now in 2017, Beyoncé, it is almost safe to assume the odds might not be in their favor.
We’re sure Run The Jewels are highly aware of this problematic dilemma as Killer Mike raps in “Panther Like A Panther (Miracle Mix),” “We the grimy and gritty, made it the Grammy committees/Got told that we spit it too vicious and would never see victory/And I refuse to play humble as though my dick itty bitty.” But so what? To hell with their culturally biased preferences. They have been robbed before and now that the rules have been altered there is no longer an excuse to deny them a seat at the table.
RTJ fans across the country should vehemently demand, protest, and petition that Run The Jewels 3 be nominated for Best Rap Album of 2018. What a glorious night in Atlanta it would be if the Mike and El were nominated. It would be almost as proud of a moment as De La Soul’s historic nomination. But you know what, though? Win or lose, I wouldn’t expect them to show up. I picture them turning up all over the A-Town and gearing up for the revolution like the rebels they are.