Review Summary: A cacophony of noise
What started as an inside-joke fundraiser on Kickstarter by hip-hop duo Run The Jewels has now sprouted into a full remix of the group’s 2014 sophomore album “Run The Jewels 2.” Using only a drum machine, synthesizer and some very talkative cats, rappers Killer Mike and El-P created the album “Meow The Jewels.” Run The Jewels’ original goal of raising $40,000 to fund the record was easily surpassed, perhaps proving that way more crazy cat ladies are fans of the hard-hitting hip-hop duo than anyone might have expected.
The album is it’s most interesting when it ditches the constructs of the original “Run The Jewels 2” tracks, and instead devolves into a cacophony (or “cat-cophony”) of noise. The end of the song “Pawfluffer Night (Zola Jesus Remix)” provides a strong example of this, as the track deconstructs completely by its end, crumbling in a warbling digitized orgy of harsh noise that covers up Killer Mike’s vocals completely. The turbulent crashing of beats and tones sounds more like something Death Grips would do, added to the more hilarious concepts that reflect jokester personalities of Killer Mike and El-P. “Pawfluffer Night (Zola Jesus Remix)” displays the album’s biggest weakness as well though, as it neutralizes El-P’s original arrangements, which were part of what made “Run The Jewels 2” such an enjoyable album to begin with. The original beat to “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1,” the song’s non-feline source material, made the track what it was. Taking away the song’s syncopated triplet bass pattern halts the flow of the track immediately and disposes of its most defining characteristic.
El-P’s production is always heavily layered, full of complexity and trademarked by non-stereotypical beats and synths, and while “Meow The Jewels” is definitely a not stereotypical in its production, most of the remixes lose the ferocity of the originals. Another potent example is the removal of drummer Travis Barker’s feature on the song, “All Due Respect,” as the Blink-182 percussionist does not appear on the track’s cat-coated version. “Paw Due Respect (Blood Diamonds Remix)” replaces Barker’s constant drum fills with a tinny snare that has no fullness in the song’s final mix. The tempo remains as fast as the original, but without consistent drumbeats this just adds more focus to how empty and minimalist the beat actually is. El-P’s production is still heavily felt on the opening track, which is the only remix actually done by the New York producer. It’s brutally heavy, heavier than the original “Jeopardy,” and consists of layered cat squeals, tiger growls and meows, all drenched in synthesizers. What’s dumbfounding is that is actually works and adds some validation to an otherwise asinine project, however little its addition is.
There are also tracks that attempt to imitate the original beats verbatim, just with cat noises. The song “All Meow Life (Nick Hood Remix)” perfectly exemplifies this, with its arrangement being next to identical to the original “All My Life,” just disguised by a fuzzier façade. Remixes such as these are probably the most ear warming on the record, but they still all sound like retreads that aren’t worth more than a curious listen or two.
In its essence the album is a curiosity piece. It’s completely tongue-in-cheek and self-aware in its insanity, and it revels in it. In this way, the album makes sense for Run The Jewels, as there never was any real risk in the project since crowd funding paid it for. However, its execution actually in some strange way leaves the listener wanting more of Run The Jewels, feline or not. A new legitimate album or remix album would definitely be preferable, but another dip into this proverbial litter box wouldn’t be discouraged. El-P just needs to be in the producer’s chair for its entirety next time around.