Elisabeth Woronzoff: Run the Jewels’ “Ooh LA LA” is situated in the past: both musically and ideologically. The single’s chorus samples Greg Nice’s verse in Gang Starr’s “DWYCK”, produced by DJ Premier. Later in the track, Killer Mike refers to Old Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”, then the uses of the terminology “Pugilistic linguistics” directly connect to Jeru the Damaja’s “Mental Stamina”. Whereas “Ooh LA LA” demonstrates a direct lineage to old-school hip-hop, the track’s ideology is also archaic. Killer Mike and El-P have never shied away from dropping provocative, if not downright pervy and goading lyrics. Why, though, do they insist on reiterating problematic lyrics directed toward women?
Specifically consider “Steak tartare, oysters on the half-shell, sushi bar / Life a bitch, and the pussy fish, still fucked her raw / I’m a dog, I’m a dirty dog, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.” Aligning women and their bodies with consumable food, while reestablishing the narrative that vaginas smell like fish, is so outmoded, it’s corny. The concept that Killer Mike also participates in unprotected sex fits within the image he constructed for himself as a debased maverick while also echoing ODB’s quip, “Oh baby, I like it raw.” But ODB’s line was recorded 26 years ago, and yet, Run the Jewels are rehashing the same old sexism and objectification of women. Killer Mike has gone on record claiming Run the Jewels are not a political rap group — but their music has been used to create political and social awareness. For a duo that established a reputation for exciting and radical lyrics, “Ooh LA LA” frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture. [4/10]
Steve Horowitz: The incessant repetition of clanking noises, the occasional sirens in the background, the overlap of voices that come in and out of focus—if one didn’t know better, one would assume Run the Jewels were recording from prison. There’s a claustrophobic aura to it all, made more powerful by present circumstances that keep us all locked up in our houses. That was certainly not the original intent of RTJ unless one presumes they had the gift of foresight. But perhaps that’s where the power of “Ooh La La” comes from. We already existed in a world of confinement, where one couldn’t even take a piss without seeming to make a statement. So we might as well announce our defiance in the safety of our cells. [7/10]
Jessica Brant: A song indebted to the roots of jazz-rap and looped with ’90s boom-bap, “Ooh LA LA” is already a crowd-pleaser among fans of all ages, from Gang Starr’s old heads to listeners of the new wave. RTJ’s rap fortitude has survived nearly a decade without sampling. By introducing it under a literal and physical viral plague, indiscriminate of racial or political affiliation, the track almost carries with it a delayed sense of belonging. As artists continue to reinvent the familiar, our experiences become less distanced by the cohort effect at-work.
We’re all grabbing at straws, searching for the answers in artistic productivity. Hip-hop’s framework isn’t being laid out by a panel of news pundits, whose intelligence rests on their ability to help solve the world’s problems. It’s being laid out by guys like El-P and Killer Mike, who live unapologetic lives and speak unapologetic truths, flipping the script read by those same newscasters. That’s the new frontier. [9/10]
Mark Montgomery French: Like the Joker and Harley Quinn driving away from their crime in a sensible pre-owned Honda Accord, the tag team audacity of Run the Jewels’ lyrics is stuck in neutral by “Ooh LA LA’s” sedate sonics. Its woozy piano shard features a Greg Nice sample from Gang Starr’s superior “DWYCK“, which is not only an unfortunate comparison but also makes me wish they had Greg Nice perform on their track. [6/10]
Jonathan Frahm: With tunes like this, RTJ4 is looking to be another modern classic straight out of the gate. “Ooh LA LA” hits with old-school swagger with a sample assist from Greg Nice’s verse on Gang Starr’s “DWYCK” and record scratches by DJ Premier. From there, it’s kept aflame with fiery verses from El-P and Killer Mike. Some of them, like Killer Mike’s lines on “kings and queens”, feel searingly present given current events. [9/10]