Album Review: Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Article by Andrés Alvarado

Fuck it, why wait.
The world is infested with bullshit so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all. We hope it brings you some joy. Stay safe and hopeful out there and thank you for giving 2 friends the chance to be heard and do what they love.
With sincere love and gratitude,
Jaime + Mike

The release timing of Run the Jewels’ 4th record, RTJ4, speaks volumes of their longstanding truth-to-power manisfesto and their consummate marketing expertise. A country wounded by deep social divide, riots, protests, crooked cops, racist cops and just a lack of leadership is the setting for the drop of one of the most important — if not the most important — album of the year; at least through early June of 2020. The New York-Atlanta tag team of Killer Mike and El-P, also known as Run the Jewels, carry the reputation of an unapologetic fist-to-your-face scream-into-your-ear duo. A righteous pair made in why-can’t-we-all-get-along hip-hop heaven, if you will. Killer Mike is the yin to El-P‘s yang, both lyrically and artistically.

Much like with Run the Jewels 3, RTJ4 is dropped with little notice ahead of its due date and under dire political circumstances. Back then it was the election of then controversial candidate Donald Trump to the presidency; nowadays the new LP release coincides with the near-conclusion of 4 years of that tumultuous term. It is difficult to quantify just how much fuel this presidential cycle has added to the racial fire, but one thing is for sure, it has not eased the tensions in the slightest. So, on RTJ4, Mike and P lay down their thoughts; proudly for the flourishing fan base garnered across their now 4 records and loudly for the tone-deaf virtue signaling elitist class worried about the status quo while living in their bubble.

rtj4

With RTJ4, the pistol-and-fist twosome have stayed on point with their message of defiance against general injustices, corporate greed, police brutality and racial divide. For their fourth go round, Mike and P come out swinging for the fences. Not necessarily angrier, but frustrated and tired like parents displaying graphic images of drunk driving accidents to their teenage kids in order to drill home the point of the dangers that various simple explanations could not.

And everyday on the evening news they feed your 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,” raps Mike on standout track walking in the snow; a set of bars depicting the Eric Garner dilemma that déjà-vus itself onto the current George Floyd affair a little too on the nose. While El-P plays Robin to Mike‘s Batman on this turn, both members deliver heavy-hitting spits that elevate walking in the snow to the top tier of RTJ4.

Elsewhere, the ground below blows through speakers with a rap-rock thump of anti-exploitation. Shouting out the sex workers’ union, Hitler-killing time travels and playing blackjack versus death is on this menu served up by Mike and P. Feast!

RTJ4 is a meticulous album, brimming of historical fodder and references from the infamous Jimmy Savile on gloomy-futuristic pulling the pin to the Zapruder film on adrenaline-rushing JU$T; which miraculously manages to have the unlikely pairing of Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha collaborate like peanut butter to jelly.

Truth be told, Yankee and the Brave (their latest moniker) pull no punches on RTJ4. From a production standpoint, the classic sounds of rap are front and center with a twist. Raw and rugged boom bap meets outer space. Lyrically, there is a matured heightened sense of urgency. Dropping zen-like bullet-proof logic with a smirk on their collective faces.

Why the fuck must I be miserable?asks Mike on pulling the pin. Excellent question with a simple answer; you don’t need to be. Assuming Killer Mike and El-P came to same conclusion, they dropped the few fucks they still gave, pulled said pin and launched a verbal grenade. RTJ4, more than any Run the Jewels LP preceding it, feels custom-made for today’s society. Razzle dazzling pyrotechnocrats with choice words for the no-gooders, and a message of power for the do-gooders.

And so goes the rest of RTJ4; an album chock-full of bangers and rooted to the broad idea of awakening the masses that need a dose of wokeness. A record that just will not give up. RTJ4 paints a bleak picture, but one worth fighting for — fuck the MAGA hats and those “All Lives Matter” naysayers.

Run-The-Jewels

Sure, the ongoing wreckage of America amps up the hype behind RTJ4 dropping in this particular day and age. Releasing RTJ4 during the fights for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery is akin to hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs of a tied World Series game 7; unforgettable, unbelievable and grandiose. Nonetheless, there is no denying that decades from now people will argue best and most important hip-hop albums of all-time, and somewhere in those discussions, the RTJ4 story will make a cameo.

Album Score: 10/10

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