At a time when the so-called-kings of the rap game are releasing albums to pistol-whipped media fanfare and selling them to phone companies, it says a lot that this album was given away as a free download. You don’t need a particular app on a particular phone, just any old email address. Yet it manages to achieve something rare for a free album — it still feels important. It still feels necessary. The record is here for a reason: El-P and Killer Mike are stealing rap back.
Throughout the album, the shots at Jay-Z & Kanye West and the throne they claim to sit on are barely masked. On Sea Legs, Mike can hardly hide his contempt: “There will be no reprieve for the thieves, there will be no respect for The Thrones” he calls out, followed closely by “I stand on towers like Eiffel, I rifle down all your idols/niggas will perishin Paris, niggas is nothing but parrots.” The challenge has been laid down. The throne better be careful, El and Mike are here for the Jewels.
Despite the statement of intent in the subject matter, don’t think for a second that this isn’t a fun record. The production manages to be both aggressive and subtle, but none of these songs would sound out of place at a party. It’s a conscious effort. While Jay and Ye’s albums are expansive enough to be designed for headline slots at festivals, this is produced for a living room. Synths flutter and percussion rattles but it’s narrow and contained; designed for hi-fi speakers to push through smoke.
And it’s a party you want an invite to, mostly because these two thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. They’re having fun working together, and it shows. Sure, there’s braggadocio aplenty, but it’s all “we”. They don’t trade verses, they share them. El told Interview magazine that the pairing “getting together was the thing that everybody wanted, but didn’t know that they wanted” and there’s something special about listening to a collaboration between two people with as much respect for each other as these two have.
This comes across with the album’s guests too. Their appearance never feels forced or in any way out of place. Big Boi is at the party anyway, he may as well spit a verse while he’s there. It’s a testament to El-P’s production that everyone here is on the top of their game. They have to be. You can’t pull off a Jewel heist without everyone from the bag man to the bus driver doing their job with slick efficiency.
So, when the dust settles, it’s clear than El-P and Killer Mike have done more than just talk the talk. They’ve taken rap back from the businessmen and they’ve done it in broad daylight. But there’s no getaway car. No resulting car chase. The goblins were awakened and they’re standing tall at the scene of the crime, sharing a blunt and daring anybody to try and catch them.