Album Review: RTJ4 – Run The Jewels

Never has an album release this year seemed more timely.

Killer Mike’s verse on the song ‘Walking in the Snow’ is the most memorable from an album centred around the social injustices in America.

“I can’t breathe” is no longer just a reference to the 2014 death of Eric Garner, but now bears an association with the recent murder of George Floyd.

Both men were killed by police officers in America, with cries that they couldn’t breathe falling on deaf ears. With nationwide riots and protests acting as a backlash to Floyd’s death, both Killer Mike and El-P realised how timely this album was.

With an album that was recorded months ago, the duo decided to release the project two days early.

On a statement that was uploaded onto Twitter, the duo commented: ​“The world is infested with b******* so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all.” ​

Be it the injustices of racism, capitalism or police brutality, the duo of Killer Mike and EL-P are back together, pulling no punches on their maturest & greatest album yet.

In typical Run the Jewels fashion, ​RTJ4is a free album, with optional donations going towards the Mass Defence Program (a network to provide legal support for political activists).

Coming in at only 39 minutes, the album is a sign of quality over quantity with hard-hitting beats and meaningful lyrics lighting the way for the album’s success.

In regard to those lyrics, it can be seen that as the duo get older, this album also seems a more matured body of work. Due to the overall tone of the album, the humour seen in previous RTJ albums is not as prominent, but this is intentional. Killer Mike and El-P are both 45.

The youngest person to feature on the album is the 42-year-old 2 Chainz. The oldest person to feature is the 80-year-old gospel singer Mavis Staples. Other refined appearances include the guests of Pharrell Williams (47), Zack De La Rocha (50) and DJ Premier (54).

This is an unequivocally experienced, grown-up project and whilst the RTJ humour can still be found, the album reflects the current mood of America; these injustices need to be taken seriously.

The album kicks off with the fast-paced ‘Yankee and the Brave’, which alludes to the name of the duo’s hometown baseball teams. On the run from the cops & described with the urgency of a Tarantino flick, both Killer Mike & El-P engage in legendary wordplay, switching back and forth like a seamless baseball soft toss. The lyrics of animosity directed towards the police carries on with an infectious beat into the next song ‘out of sight’.

Given the notable lyricism of 2 Chainz, it makes sense that this song feels more like a throwback to some of the duo’s previous work, with wit and humour enforced by solid drum production.

The son of a police officer, Killer Mike aka Michael Render referenced this in May at a press conference, discussing the murder of George Floyd and subsequent riots.

In relation to Floyd’s murder, Render stated: “I woke up wanting to see the world burn down yesterday because I’m tired of seeing black men die.”

Mike’s anger at the longstanding issue is punctuated by his verse in the stand-out song ‘walking in the snow’. It’s not just police brutality that Render take aim at, however.

Killer Mike is taking shots at the media alongside those who only act behind their keyboard. The constant media attention of police brutality to African Americans has left the American public desensitized, in Mike’s view.

Once again on an RTJ album, the production is a highlight with ‘the ground below’ having drums produced so well it isn’t quite clear whether or not they are sampled. The song has a strong rock-rap vibe and the fast-paced, heavy beats are a precursor to ‘pulling the pin’, the following anti-capitalist song which features more toned-down percussional elements.

The penultimate song on the album may feel toned down in style but the lyrical imagery results in one of the album’s most memorable songs.

With the discussion of the devils of capitalism reinforced through religious imagery, even leading to a Jimmy Savile reference, the song is a great fit as the penultimate track, allowing the audience to breathe after half an hour of intensity.

Whilst the production on the album is solid, a song with an expletive title includes a beat change halfway through.

This is a welcome change, due to the initial beat lacking in character, with the result being a more bass-driven instrumental.

However, it feels out of place as the second beat would have carried the song more appropriately if used at the start.

This is certainly not the case in songs such as ‘Goonies vs E.T.’ with the song’s production being one of the strongest on the album.

A fantastic bassline is complimented by well-produced drums and vinyl scratches acting as a transitional riser to keep things moving.

The 80’s title becomes an 80’s vibe in ‘Never Look Back’ with a synthesiser making the beat sound like it belongs in an episode of ​Stranger Things,whereas ‘JU$T’ features another contribution by RTJ guest Zack de la Rocha who maintains hype and intensity like only De La Rocha can.

The final & longest track on the album entitled ‘A Few Words for the Firing Squad (Radiation)’ consists of an ever-changing rolling bassline that lures the audience in with constant rises and tension.

The listener is left waiting for the track to resolve as the bassline rolls on with the duo’s bars, and even a brass solo, until it finally concludes with a nostalgic 80’s theme to reference all the way back to the ‘Yankee and the Brave’.

It caps off a magnificent album, further cementing RTJ as the biggest rap duo currently out there. By now, we know about their level of lyricism, we know about their production style and we know what to expect in an RTJ album.

It’s no surprise to anyone that the album is this good. The album couldn’t have come at a more relevant time with its messages being a current reflection of what is facing not just America, but injustices that the entire world can relate to.

Run The Jewels hit the nail on the head again. With ​RTJ4; it’s another album that shines like a gem.

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