Run The Jewels 4 came at the right time. Call it divine luck or just a coincidence but the latest album from the rap duo is the perfect soundtrack to this time of crisis. It’s not the first time this happened, RTJ 2 dropped during the Ferguson riots, and RTJ 3 came out a month after Trump’s election. Both capturing the fear and hostility brought about by these two events. Now in a world shut down by a global pandemic and the civil unrest of those who are tired of the ongoing systemic racism and police brutality in the United States, RTJ 4 is a cathartic listen that balances anger, pain, and humor that all feels too surreal in 2020.
Listen to any RTJ album and you’ll have an idea of the picture that rappers Killer Mike and El-P are painting. It’s a dystopian world that mirrors our very own. Run by corrupt leaders and politicians, law enforcement that would choose to punish and enslave rather than to serve and protect. Amidst the oppression, Mike and El-P are the revolutionaries that rise up to be the voices to stand against the oppression. They’re no strangers to voicing their opinions with brutal honesty (take Killer Mike’s heartwrenching speech about the Atlanta riots last week for example.). They have always kept it raw and with RTJ 4, that rawness is exemplified to its furthest.
Lyrically, the brakes are off and the duo is coming at you with full speed. On the intro “yankee and the brave” Mike and El-P arrive in an explosive, almost superhero-like fashion to save the day and rob the rich. They call out Trump and his wealthy cohorts (“And your country’s gettin’ ran by a casino owner, pedophiles sponsor all these fuckin’ racist bastards”.).While aiming to educate those under the stranglehold that capitalists have on them through money on “JU$T” with its catchy hook (“Look at these slave masters posin’ on your dollar”.). Channeling the pain and hostility with the help of Mavis Staples and Josh Homme on “pulling the pin”, comparing their hearts as grenades, with the pin in hands of the corrupt. There’s still room for some fun though, tracks like “ohh la la”, “holy calamafuck” and “the ground below” act as the braggadocious, goofy, give no fuck side to the duo.
The Political protest gets cranked up all the way on the album standout “walking in the snow”. Calling out the system enslaving our society. While El-P takes aim at the right-wing conservatives for their hypocrisy (“ Pseudo-Christians ya’ll indifferent, kids in prison ain’t a sin? shit.”) Killer Mike has his sights on the media’s coverage of police brutality. (“ And every day on the evening news they feed you fear for free, and you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me, until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper I can’t breathe.”). As well as the people who at home watching. (“ And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on tv, the most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy.”). It’s a verse that accurately sums up the events of the last few weeks that will stick with you. Mike, in particular, has always been brutally honest both off and on the mic, here it shows. Album closer “a few words for the firing squad (radiation)” serves as Mike and El-P’s final testament, the proverbial middle finger to the corrupt. Thanking the people in their lives and the truth-tellers for keeping the good fight.
From a production standpoint, El-P takes RTJ 4 to levels that the group has never been to. Blending elements of trap, 90-s boom-bap, rock, and jazz. All accompanied by heavy, speaker rattling bass and neon-drenched synths that’ll have you nodding your head the entire time. Run The Jewels has always been difficult to box in. Are they gangsta rap? old school rap? experimental? whatever they may be, pinpointing where they fall in the realm of rap music has become yet another guessing game. The guest list is pretty stacked too, the aforementioned Mavis Staples and Josh Homme, 2 Chainz, Pharell. Even the unofficial third member Zack De La Rocha makes an appearance.
Overall, RTJ 4 is a lot to take in, its subject matter is heavy and the two emcees leave no stone unturned, but it’s an extremely important record for the world we’re living in right now. I don’t think any album in recent years has encompassed the emotions we’ve all felt collectively towards racial injustice, political evils, and the system of oppression since To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s the rallying cry that people need to hear right now. If previous Run The Jewels albums were about declaring war on the crooked leaders and their enforcers, then RTJ 4 is the duo firing the first shot. Everybody hit the deck, the Yankee and the Brave are here.
Essential Tracks: “yankee and the brave”, “ohh la la”, “holy calamafuck”, “walking in the snow”, “JU$T”, “the ground below”, “pulling the pin”, “a few words for the firing squad (radiation)”