There are few things in this life less pleasant than a novelty hip-hop album.

When a rapper takes laughs (or even explores a kooky, that is to say novel, concept) as the prime objective going into a new album, the product is seldom funny enough to justify its own existence and the technical proficiency of the lyricism often takes a way-way back seat. The likes of Riff Raff and Lil Dicky have established insular fanbases sufficiently fervent to prop up sales and sell out venues, but the actual music tends to grate on the ears. With the marked exception of DangerDOOM’s brilliant The Mouse and the Mask — Danger Mouse and MF Doom do a whole album about Adult Swim cartoons! — the novelty rap album has been a bugaboo that recent artists have proven themselves incapable of conquering.

Enter El-P and Killer Mike, collaboratively known as the Run the Jewels, the firestarting duo responsible for the finest rap album of 2014, their insatiable and incendiary Run the Jewels 2.

Prior to the album’s release last year, Mike and El joked via a specialty item on their online store that anyone willing to part with $40,000 would receive the “Meow the Jewels” package. The dictates were simple, that the superfan dropping forty stacks would be the sole proprietor of a full remix of RTJ2 cooked up using only noises made by cats. It was a pretty funny joke!

Until the denizens of the internet did what they did best and took a pretty funny joke way too far, setting up a Kickstarter account to collectively amass the requisite funds to make Meow the Jewels into a reality. They blew through the $40,000 mark in no time, ending up with nearly $66,000, all for a rap album made up of cat sounds.

This past weekend, Mike and El made good on their promise and released Meow the Jewels for free-ninety-nine through their official site.
 

I hadn’t checked out the ‘singles’ released in advance of the full album because of the personal distaste for novelty projects stated above, but if I had, maybe I wouldn’t have been as surprised to learn that the album kind of bangs.

The finished product is far, far better than this idiotic idea has any excuse to be, perhaps due in no small part to El-P’s open recognition that the core concept remains dumb as hell. In an interview with Deadspin, El freely admitted that seeing the joke through to completion was “a terrible idea,” and he’s maintained that sense of good humor through the project’s completion. The album demonstrates a semblance of awareness towards its fundamental goofiness, retitling album opener “Jeopardy” and “Meowpurrdy” and highlight single “Close Your Eyes And Count To Fuck” as “Close Your Eyes And Meow To Fluff”.
 

But the real secret to this album’s unlikely success was El’s heavy Rolodex. He wrangled a murderer’s row of superproducers to to jump on each track, and they all brought their A game. El himself revisits “Jeopardy”, and manages to contrive an even more monstrous accompaniment than the first time around. As new faces show themselves, the album takes on a renewed life entirely.

Zola Jesus turns “Blockbuster Night” into an arrhythmic fog of experimental darkness, drowning full bags of kitties in a river of slurry effects. Prince Paul, the mastermind behind the sound of seminal rap classic 3 Feet High and Rising, refashions “Lie, Cheat, Steal” as a woozy world-influenced stomper. By pairing “Crown” with what sounds like a vintage cat-food jingle, the Alchemist locates the bouncy jaunt that had been hiding in the song all along.

The most innovative change, however, comes courtesy of Massive Attack’s Robert “3D” Del Naja. Mike and El included his remix of “Crown” as a bonus track on the download, and thank god they decided it made the cut. 3D’s reimagining of the song goes beyond the strictly attitudinal and into the structural; his chugging industrial rumblings shift the backing track’s emphasis from the off-beat to the on-beat. In his capable hands, “Crown” sounds like a whole new song.

Time has a way of eroding skepticism over a course of years. Live long enough, and you’ll start to realize that there’s a kernel of brilliance in every seemingly bad idea. A feature-length documentary about the history and cultural influence of the Helvetica typeface only sounds interminably boring until you begin watching it and realize that there’s really a lot of interesting ground to be covered on the subject. A hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton could’ve been a throwaway joke on 30 Rock, and yet its author was just named a MacArthur Genius.

A remix of a modern classic using only meows and purrs would’ve, and should’ve, offended the sensibilities, if the cats didn’t also go hard as hell.