Meow the Jewels began as a gag, a phony package on the band’s merch site claiming that, for $40,000, the band would remix their new album by reproducing the instrumentals exclusively with cat noises. This was included amidst other, pricier packages in which Run the Jewels would assault and ruin the lives of anyone who had wronged the purchaser (The “Fuckboy Revenge” Package”) or drive around with the customer in a van solving mysteries. But with some Internet savvy, the money was raised, with a portion of the proceeds going to the families of some notable victims of police violence. While I might have preferred a different package to be Kickstarted, I think that Meow the Jewels is a testament to the power of crowdfunding and the Internet, and I can live with that. It is flawed by its very nature, but whether or not you judge it on artistic merits or whether you just giggle at it for forty minutes is up to you. Personally, I think it’s an unexpected and pretty fascinating piece of art, even if the joke can get stale at times.
The key issue with MTJ is that it requires some familiarity with Run the Jewels’ previous work, particularly the album it’s cribbing the vocals from. Go ahead and listen to that. I’ll wait. Go on, it’s really good, I promise.
The reason I suggest giving that album a listen is because the joke doesn’t really work as well if you haven’t listened to the original songs with some frequency – there’s something innately amusing about hearing very conscious and intense rappers work their craft over such bizarre instrumentals. But on the other hand, familiarity with RTJ2 also hurts some of these songs by detracting from their poignancy – it was, after all, a pretty timely record, touching on a lot of political and personal topics that are now underscored by the residents of a back alley trashcan. The record kicks off on a high note with “Meowpurrdy”, which is also the only song, that El-P (one half of the duo) handles production for. Like his less comical work, “Meowpurrdy” is energetic and detailed, exchanging the slow burn of the original for an intense series of meows acting as both the bassline and the primary sample, creating an instrumental that is strangely alien. It helps that an emphasis is placed on one particular line of El-P’s – “the kitten became a lion that look at your face like great food”. It’s both funny and makes sense as its own song (to the extent that it can). Also, there’s a Snoop Dogg feature, but I think it’s because he made meowing noises for El-P to sample, so that’s pretty neat.
If I could point to my gripe with this record, it’s that I wish El-P had handled the entirety of the remixes. The motley crew of high-profile producers approaches the premise in vastly different ways, and it leads to inconsistency in the humor and the musical quality. Some of the songs feel lethargic and uninspired even with the Broadway cast of Cats as their backing band. In particular, the dull remixes of “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” and “Lie Cheat Steal”, here dubbed “Close Your Eyes (And Meow to Fluff)” and “Lie Cheat Meow”. On the other end of the spectrum is “Creown”, in which the Alchemist transforms a powerful song about Killer Mike redeeming himself over selling coke as a youth and El-P confronting militarism into a Meow Mix jingle with raps. It’s funny, but it’s one-note as well, and clashes with the more developed songs on the record that found a balance between songwriting and comedy. Still, many of the songs either retain their charm, like the hardcore and cartoonishly silly “Oh My Darling Don’t Meow” produced by Just Blaze and the jittering “Meowrly” produced by BOOTS, or have new interpretations that shine through the preposterous premise, like “Pawfluffer Night” which is almost Chelsea Wolfe-ish in its ominous drone, or “Paw Due Respect” which takes on the character of an R&B jam.
There are some asterisks required to recommend this album – being familiar and receptive towards Run the Jewels’ last album will help to an extent, and having a sense of humor will as well (the number of outraged comments I saw when this project was first announced was a joke in its own way). But if you think you can look past the silliness, there is a surprising amount of depth to a number of the songs here in addition to the primal amusement.
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