Album Review: Run The Jewels – RTJ4

By Live4ever - Posted on 09 Jun 2020 at 7:13am

RTJ4 1

Run The Jewels released their fourth album early, and let everyone download it for free. This might seem like a promotional junket from the mid-noughties, but as with most of their actions, Killer Mike and El-P had their reasons, not least of which was timing.

The Saturday before, Mike had spoken publicly in the wake of George Floyd’s death, a video address which emotionally articulated the trauma being visited on America’s black communities and the stance that those most affected by it could take. As the country roiled under the spectre of widespread unrest, RTJ4 dropped like an atomic truth bomb.

Much has been said of the odd chemistry between the duo, a sentiment jokingly handled at one point with the aside, ‘One’s black, one’s white so if you don’t like them, you automatically racist’, but the contrast in style gives their fourth installment more wings than ever. Neither has any time for messing around, the twelve tracks running breathlessly, a tsunami of rhymes, whilst the big name collaborators – Josh Homme, Zack La Rocha and the inevitable Pharrell – are kept well in the background. There is a message here and let no other egos get in the way.

In the past, the pair had been seen in some quarters as taking themselves either too seriously or not seriously enough, but whilst they scratch the itch for making party rap on ‘ooh la la’, with its monstrous kick break, an almost mania grips everything else.

There are villains here – racist police, pseudo Christians, the big corporations which have been allowed to become beyond morality – but the set ups are not of the pantomime kind. Here on Ju$t, the subjects enslave themselves by embracing a rigged system offering the illusion of equality, while the stain of invisible plutocrats haunt ‘pulling the pin’: ‘These filthy criminals sit at the pinnacle/Doing the typical/Keeping us miserable/Taking the most and providing the minimal’.

One of the most poignant moments comes on ‘walking in the snow’, Mike hacking out: ‘And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me / Till my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, I can’t breathe’. Depressingly, the words are not about Floyd’s death but that of Eric Garner in similar circumstances in 2014.

Musically too, the dazzling speed and tempo are used as powerful tools: the grinding sampleadelic canvas of ‘the ground below’ smacks hard, ‘goonies vs. E.T.’ has crunkish menace, while the dub-toting ‘holy calamafuck’ employs enough bass to end a ceasefire.

One of the criticisms of hip-hop’s biggest stars is that they, through acquiring money and fame, become disconnected from themselves and their core constituencies. Mike’s speech proved that he’ll never be afflicted, but on ‘a few words for the firing squad (radiation)’ he jumps the barrier in terms of self-expression, confessing to mental combat with temptations both in the intoxication of speaking truth to power and the equally soul crushing lure of narcotic oblivion.

Such is the drill; only one side of this stand-off feels compassion, guilt, hope or fear. Into this chaotic pot RTJ4 comes like a rap superhero with the aim of having the man wait just one more day to inherit the world and everything in it.

It’s the record we wanted – and at the time we needed it most.


Andy Peterson

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