Born out of a chance introduction and a musical kinship, Run the Jewels – the powerhouse duo of El-P and Killer Mike – have emerged as one of the most forceful and innovative acts in the modern hip-hop landscape. Under their joint banner, the duo have released some of the most immediate and compelling hip hop music over the past decade.
El-P, whose music career ignited in the early ’90s, lent his rap prowess to Company Flow before breaking out as a solo artist and a highly sought-after producer. Simultaneously, Killer Mike was carving his path, debuting in 2000 with the legends OutKast on their acclaimed album Stankonia and kicking off his solo journey by 2003 with the brilliant Monster .
In 2011, a fateful introduction by Cartoon Network executive Jason DeMarco marked the beginning of a collaboration that would transform the hip-hop genre. After working together on Mike’s 2012 album R.A.P. Music and El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure , their combined synergy on stage during their subsequent tour led to the birth of Run the Jewels, a moniker inspired by a lyric from a classic LL Cool J song — “Cheesy Rat Blues.” Their eponymous debut album, released as a free download on Fool’s Gold Records in 2013, signified the explosive arrival of a dynamic duo that married El-P’s innovative beats and gruff bravado with Killer Mike’s hard-hitting, socially conscious lyricism.
In the ensuing years, Run the Jewels not only lived up to the promise of their debut but surpassed it with each subsequent album – expanding their sonic palette, tackling provocative themes, and challenging the status quo. Whether exploring the intensity of their self-titled debut, the relentless critique of Run the Jewels 3 , the potent polemics in RTJ4 , or the near-perfect execution of Run the Jewels 2 , this incredible duo have cemented themselves up there with the GOATs of the culture .
So let’s get into it. From their 2013 self-titled debut album to their masterpiece sophomore and their latest release, 2020’s RTJ4 , we rank every Run the Jewels album, from worst to best.
Run the Jewels 3
Released: December 24, 2016
Label: Run the Jewels, Inc.
Singles: “Talk to Me”, “2100”, “Legend Has It”
Features: Danny Brown, Tunde Adebimpe, Boots, Trina, Kamasi Washington
By the time Run the Jewels 3 hit the scene in late 2016, Run the Jewels, the power duo of El-P and Killer Mike, had already established their distinctive, hard-hitting style. This third album is a thunderous fusion of their unique lyrical gifts, presenting an even more refined sound than its predecessor. The tandem of Mike and El-P remains the album’s driving force, their back-and-forth verses brimming with audacious boasts and unapologetic commentaries. RTJ3 ‘s socially conscious themes, covering topics like police brutality and social unrest, may not have the immediate punch of RTJ2 , but its impact deepens with each listen. With poignant tracks like “Thieves! (Screamed the Ghost)” and a guest roster including Joi Gilliam and Danny Brown, RTJ3 showcases the duo’s ability to maintain their unique sound while simultaneously evolving.
Run the Jewels
Released: June 26, 2013
Label: Fool’s Gold
Singles: “36” Chain”
Features: Big Boi, Until the Ribbon Breaks, Prince Paul
The world first experienced the sonic force of Run the Jewels with their eponymous debut album. The union of Killer Mike’s raw power and El-P’s astute wordplay resulted in an electrifying experience, a hip-hop album that was unapologetically over-the-top, both in sound and content. Despite its wild approach, the album’s undercurrents of social commentary on topics like police oppression and poverty offered a sobering balance. The album also laid the groundwork for the future, hinting at the duo’s potential for growth. With guest appearances by Big Boi and Prince Paul, Run the Jewels may have been the beginning, but it stood its ground as a powerful statement against complacency in the rap game.
Released: June 3, 2020
Label: Jewel Runners, BMG
Singles: “Yankee and the Brave (Ep. 4)”, “Ooh La La”, “Just”
Features: Greg Nice, DJ Premier, 2 Chainz, Pharrell Williams, Mavis Staples, Josh Homme, and Zack de la Rocha.
RTJ4 , the fourth and latest album by Run the Jewels, hit the ground running in 2020, channeling the tension of a nation gripped by pandemic and social upheaval into a series of defiant anthems. The duo’s lyrical prowess takes center stage, tackling topics like systemic racism and police brutality with a sincerity and intensity that’s hard to overlook. Even in its braggadocio moments, the album maintains its overarching “Yankee and the Brave” narrative, presenting a musical experience that’s as relevant as it is exhilarating. Standout tracks like “Pulling the Pin” and “JU$T,” featuring the likes of Mavis Staples and Pharrell Williams, elevate the album’s raw energy, making RTJ4 an indomitable reflection of its time.
Run the Jewels 2
Released: October 24, 2014
Label: Mass Appeal, RED
Singles: “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1”, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”, “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”
Features: Zack de la Rocha, Boots, Travis Barker, Gangsta Boo, Diane Coffee.
And leading the pack is Run the Jewels 2 . Building on the momentum of their debut, Killer Mike and El-P turned the volume up to eleven with this sophomore project , delivering a bombastic mix of humor and commentary that proved both outrageous and insightful. The duo’s energy is infectious, backed by hard-hitting beats and complemented by guest artists like Travis Barker and Zach de la Rocha. Run the Jewels 2 pulls no punches, exemplifying the duo’s unmatched chemistry and setting a high bar for the rest of their discography. From the unapologetic bravado of “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1” to the poignant realism of “Early,” Run the Jewels 2 stands as the duo’s magnum opus, cementing their place in rap greatness.