cant wait to read the first serious review of meow the jewels by some poor bastard who thinks its a serious album.
— el-p (@therealelp) September 26, 2015
Noted, El-P. So with that warning in mind, here are some thoughts about Meow the Jewels, which is by far the best, (and, worst, for that matter) cat-rap album to drop this year.
1. Holy crap, this exists. We can’t stress this enough. Killer Mike and El-P made one of the best albums of 2014 (and of the past 30 years), then cracked a stupid joke about making a cat sound remix album if enough people preordered that, and were forced, thanks to the magic of the Internet, to actually follow through. That Meow the Jewels is a real thing is a testament to stupid Kickstarters, Mike and EL-P being so game (and so talented), and a good cause.
2. It’s not all cat sounds. On several occasions leading up to the magnificent release of Meow the Jewels, it was described as an “all cat sound remix.” Now that we have the final product, that’s not really true. To be fair — it is mostly cat sounds, and in an interview with Deadspin El-P stated that his personal rule was “only use sounds that were cat sounds,” though there was a loose definition of what that meant. A Jaguar car engine revving was eligible for sampling, and Snoop Dogg mewing was sampled. That said, some producers weren’t as strict with the rules as El-P was, and there are non-feline noises and beats in some of the tracks.
But, wow, the producers on this thing really took cat sounds to the limit. Purring transforms from a comforting snore into a sick beat. Roars are distorted to the point where they drop like bombs, rivaling Killer Mike’s ferocious proclamations. To the pet purist it might seem like cheating to work with kitty sounds in the studio until they’re barely recognizable, but credit to Just Blaze, Zola Jesus, BOOTS, and all the other contributors for realizing there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
3. A lot of it really… works? Meow the Jewels was initially conceived as a 1:1 remake of Run the Jewels 2 with kitties instead of beats. Instead, we got reimagined songs, thanks to creative and liberal sampling. It’s not a cat version of RTJ2, it’s a remix album of RTJ2… with cats. Take the standout track, Just Blaze’s remix of “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” titled “Oh My Darling Don’t Meow,” naturally. While the original is a powerful, clever, and not-to-be-f**ked-with mission statement for Mike and El-P, Blaze’s remix is madcap, full of the joy that such an absurd project should be brimming with. The lyrics stand out over a growling, literal purr of a baseline, punctuated by a whomping, echoing sound, and a freaked out Blaze getting mauled. It feels different enough from the original track that the cats don’t seem gimmicky, but integral.
“Don’t Meow” is the exception, for the most part, as the rest of the remixes can’t match the overwhelming sound of RTJ2 with just little furballs. And that’s fine, because the new, pared-down takes are worthwhile readings. “Meowrly,” BOOTS’ remix of “Early” (and the biggest reach among the title puns), is perhaps the most pure cat remix — an echoing dog-lover’s hell made of a chorus of kitties instead of ominous, stretched-out siren synths. “Close Your Eyes and Meow to Fluff,” a remix of, well, you get it, by Geoff Barrow of Portishead, rackets up the tension — reinventing a gnarly, in-your-face track with the suspense of a jingling cat collar and well-timed meows.
4. At the end of the day though, it’s all pretty stupid. While I’m sure that I’ll still get a kick out of playing “Oh My Darling Don’t Meow” on a fairly regular basis, this is an admitted joke album. Cat sounds get old pretty quickly — there’s a reason why people endlessly watch and share cat .GIFs on the ‘net but are loathe to sit through a video that’s more than a minute or two long. Listening to a full album is a big ask, though technically, we asked for Meow the Jewels. El-P was just joking until we forced his hand, so really, it’s on us.
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5. But the fact that it’s so stupid, and that they did it, is amazing — important, even. Run the Jewels are one of the most outspoken, socially conscious and important artists making music today, and the fact that they dicked around working on a kitty remix LP of their biggest work only increases their likability. The duo have a rare sense of silliness to go with their passionate beliefs and activism; it’s hard, for instance, to imagine Kendrick Lamar doing something so frivolous with his own music. They know the importance of levity, taking a breath an trying to enjoy yourself, even as you fight against weighty issues like police brutality and racism — it’s the only way to stay sane. Perhaps the best thing about Meow the Jewels, this beautiful, insane, gift by and for the Internet, is that Mike and El-P remember what the real goal is, even at their silliest:
did we make the silliest, occasionally most grating possible remix album? of course. and we did it for you, mike brown and Eric garner. — el-p (@therealelp) September 26, 2015