It’s hard to have particularly high expectations when going into an album like Meow the Jewels. Cats as a meme became played out a while ago, peaking in 2013 when the touring Internet Cat Video Festival got some press. These low expectations were happily shattered by the talent of Run the Jewels in combination with multiple guest producers. Created via a Kickstarter campaign that took a joke from the Run the Jewels website, the album replaces the instrumentals from last year’s Run the Jewels 2 with cat noises.
Interestingly, these instrumentals are much darker than those on the original album; the growl of purrs giving many songs a low, rumbling bassline and an ominous tone. “Close Your Eyes And Meow To Fluff,” featuring Geoff Barrow, is in many ways an improvement on the original; instead of being too busy, it accentuates the political commentary of the song. This album is a great example of what should come from remixes, taking the existing material and giving it a new flavour. “Paw Due Respect,” featuring Blood Diamond, is a great example of this—it takes a song that was essentially an explosive interlude and weaves it into a sweet ballad.
Of course there are missteps. The Alchemist’s “Creown” has a childish quality to it, which doesn’t connect with the subject matter of the song. This low point is accentuated by 3D’s remix of the same song that comes at the end of the album. His experience in Massive Attack allows him to make the same song into a really excellent closer—another track that challenges the original. It seems ridiculous to make this complaint, but it’s easy to tell when the guest artist was more interested in the novelty of the cat noises than they were in making interesting music.
This aspect shows how this is a great experiment into what producers can do when placed within a set of limitations. Those who excelled used it as an opportunity to create neat music with a unique “kit” of samples, others phoned in meme songs. What’s interesting is how this ties into the group themselves; the darkness of their music combined with the ridiculous nature of the premise actually echoes the band’s over-the-top and nuanced persona. In a unique way, this album says a lot about production, something that is often missed in examinations of music. It would have been nice to see more contributions from Run the Jewels themselves—the vocals are unchanged and El-P doesn’t try his hand at producing, which is a shame.
Overall though, it’s nice that the first year of Run the Jewels’ history without a new album still results in some purrs.