In Review: Run the Jewels - RTJ4
If there was ever a perfect time for a Run the Jewels record, it's now. RTJ4 is modern protest music at its finest and paints a picture of a violent, broken America riddled with social injustice and systemic racism. Whether it was intended during production or not, reality and fantasy are interchangeable throughout the project. What may have been deemed hyperbolic a few months ago now seems to be commonplace on the news. The album was released a few days earlier than schedule in light of what’s happening with the Black Lives Matter movement and Killer Mike, one half of RTJ, had this to say - “Fuck it, why wait. The world is infested with bullshit so here's something raw to listen to while you deal with it all.”
From the get-go, Mike and his partner-in-rhyme El-P have both barrels aimed at the police. Opener ‘yankee and the brave (ep. 4)’ portrays a standoff between an armed assailant and police that harks back to the 2013 case of Christopher Dorner, as Mike raps “I can’t let the pigs kill me I got too much pride and I meant it when I said it / Never take me alive.”
At a time where the duo’s brand is as relevant as ever, RTJ4 feels like a culmination of their fine-tuned talents. El-P’s boom-bap beats lay the foundations for his eloquent storytelling and complex rhyming patterns, while Mike’s ferocious, politically charged wordplay has the ability to fill you with rage and make you laugh in the same 16. A lyrical depiction of Mike urinating on the shoes of kings and queens in public in ‘ooh la la’ gives you an idea of the scale of his anti-establishment rhetoric.
While all three previous albums have included some sort of call for insurrection, none match RTJ4’s commitment to the cause. There’s less schoolboy humour and a lot more hard-hitting outrage at the status quo. That said, humour is still used as a tool to convey the absurdity of contemporary society. On ‘holy calamafuck’, El-P describes licking the back of a toad and travelling through time with an elf on a psychedelic journey but brings us back to reality by telling the elf “I’m from a timeline where monsters eat truth.” That one hits deep.
Stories of injustice are seamlessly woven into fast-paced, often highly aggressive rap music that’s brimming with emotion. On ‘walking in the snow’, Mike spits “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.” Originally written about Eric Garner, the lyric now applies to George Floyd too – a sign of how little has changed in six years. The track’s title shrewdly refers to black people living in the midst of a society endemic with white privilege: “walking in the snow, goddamn that motherfucker cold.”
Several well-placed features from the likes of Zach de la Rocha, Pharrell, Josh Homme and 2Chainz put RJT4 up there with some of the duo’s best work. The album echoes the immeasurable pain felt by a generation and has reserved its place in history as being the soundtrack to the seismic socio-political movement of today.