Burn It To The Ground: A Run The Jewels 1-3 Listening Guide

By Daniel Paiz

Outside of a few year-end lists, it’s very odd how we haven’t written about Run The Jewels very much. But with how Run The Jewels 3’s release feels like forever ago, it is time to change that up. Now a word of caution here: there is no correct way to listen to these three albums. You can listen to Run The Jewels, then Run The Jewels 2, and then Run The Jewels 3 in sequential order to get how their sound and lyrics have shifted.

But if you want those tracks that begin to reveal why it’s all about burning it all to the ground, proceed below to see which tracks do that.

Can you figure out the pattern?

Because honestly there is no pattern. It varies between whether you wanna burn things down to the ground with RTJ, or if you want to party and come together with Mike and El. The following are good starting points for all of you looking to become Jewel Runners. Regardless of what RTJ tracks you check out, you should start with the first track ever:

I put the pistol on that poodle and I shot that bitch” – Killer Mike

This is the first song off the first Run The Jewels album. It hits you hard and often. El-P jumps right into his verse, and Killer Mike gladly jumps into his right after. Back and forth. No real break besides the phrase “Run The Jewels” for a chorus. This video not only captures the essence of this duo, it foreshadows other songs coming after this one on the first RTJ album. It’s important to start with the beginning regardless of what story you’re learning about; RTJ’s quintessential song does it all.

Now to contradict the previous paragraph, let’s jump to another song not even on this album. The next track is one of many that captures one of RTJ’s primary reasons for existence. We should all come together and burn this current system to the mf-ing ground, and this track from RTJ 2 is a good starting point:


“And I be much too weak to ever speak what I seen, but my life changed with that sound” – Killer Mike

Early” is one of many RTJ tracks that gets at the core of societal ills people in the United States are facing. It ranges from police brutality on Black and Brown communities to Big Brother surveillance on the entire population, and doesn’t stop there. It’s anecdotal and informative without being preachy. These verses are like “hey did you hear about this shit that’s going on now? This is pretty messed up right?” and it seems like it’d be hard to disagree with said points being made. The verses rightly vilify the power structures currently in place.

To critique and to unify

To reference back to a prior point, this duo highlights two things: how important it is to reveal nonsense in the US power structure, and how important it is to unify. The latter is on fully display below:

Should’ve been a dentist, mom said it pain’s the way that my craft expresses
Born in a little shop of horrors that I can’t even afford to rent in
Where’s the exit?
” – 

This track brings together folks through shared experiences, aka misery loves company. It might be a bit dark, it might be a bit irreverent. But, like several other RTJ tracks full of jest the duo has something to say about their surroundings. Question societal norms from every angle, because when new norms are established it moves that line of how much difficulty the everyman has to suffer.

So you remember that whole thing about either informing the masses or uniting them; this track focuses on the first one again:

“Hope? Nah, ha ha, slow down with the jokin’ shit
So inappropriate, right behind your ears is a what?
Look, ta-dah! The sound of your hopelessness” – El-P

At this point it should be drilled into your head what RTJ does. What makes them so appealing to this writer is the multitude of ways they present their mission to the masses. It takes a certain amount of experience and effort to maintain your sound while growing at the same time. A good example of staying true to their message while evolving sonically would have to be a track always on repeat when I listen to RTJ 3:

“Live from the stage of the garden
We be the realest of the killers of the fuck shit squadron
Movin’ through the streets and we lootin,’ robbin’
Mobbin,’ marchin’, carrying a carbon” – Killer Mike

Like all rappers, there are the braggadocio tracks as well. Everyone has to brag, and there’s an RTJ way to bragging: in a vivid and picturesque way. It almost seems like Mike and El are speaking their futures out in these songs. That can certainly be said for artists across all genres. However, it just feels like RTJ has certain benchmarks they hit and if you’re paying attention you can see them happen.

Bonus tracks that highlight RTJ’s skill sets

There are over three albums’ worth of music to comb through by June 5th. For a different angle, let’s check out their features with other artists. This particular track (below) reveals how easily transferrable these two are to any sound. I particularly enjoy when they work with DJ Shadow and Danny Brown. But, they honestly sound good with everyone.


Prepared for RTJ 4?

You have until about 11:59PM on June 4th, 2020 to catch up on the first three Run The Jewels albums. There are two RTJ 4 singles already out, entitled “Ooh LA LA” featuring Greg Nice and DJ Premier, and “Yankee And The Brave (ep.4)”. Both tracks suggest to me RTJ has figured out their next sonic landscape. Both tracks are good, but I think this one will become required listening for all aspiring Jewel Runners:


The tracks listed in this article are all essential listening. Run The Jewels isn’t high art by any means. But when a group delivers music that shakes you out of a listening routine, that group’s earned a listen or two. Listen however and to whatever you want; this group will enhance your musical tastes either way.


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