Politically charged hip-hop duo Run the Jewels continue to exceed audience expectations with “RTJ4,” a much needed record during times of socio-political unrest.
By Gavin Majeski
Run the Jewels have been on a hot-streak since their debut self-titled LP and have only grown after the 2013 release. Their sophomore record, “Run The Jewels 2,” is viewed as the upper echelon of 2010 hip-hop albums, even inciting outrage after it was snubbed a Grammy nomination that year. Consisting of rapper-producer, El-P, and rapper, Killer Mike, the duo each began as solo acts before crossing paths and becoming one of the biggest names in underground hip-hop.
“RTJ4” continues to build upon the lyrical themes of systemic racism, violence and injustice established in previous records, though now, the words of El-P and Killer Mike feel more potent than ever. “RTJ4” dropped two days early of its intended June 5th release date as a free digital download, with each listener asked to pay what they want, but all donations going to the Mass Defense Program. With recent protests and unrest over the murder of many African American men and women at the hands of corrupt police officials, the duo decided their statement needed to be heard as early as possible, and heard it was.
Right from the gate, “RTJ4” features aggressive flows from the duo and fantastic production on the tracks “yankee and the brave (ep. 4)” and “ooh la la,” the first two singles dropped in lead up to this record. The album’s highlights continue, as an oddball feature from 2 Chainz greatly pays off with the MC’s unique vocal cadence and tongue-and-cheek lyrics on the track “out of sight,” which includes unique disc scratching and chopped vocals as the foundation for the beat.
When it comes to overall production quality, “RTJ4” doesn’t hold back. Highlights include a fantastic beat switch on “holy calamafuck” that seamlessly transitions the song into “goonies vs. E.T.” and El-P’s utilization of moody, futuristic synthesizers on tracks like, “walking in the snow,” “never look back” and “pulling the pin.”
The whole album is riddled with lyrically dense one-liners from the duo, but many of the shorter tracks contain less narrative focus and choose to replace that with unique production choices and high energy. There are still plenty of lyrical highlights from tracks such as, “walking in the snow,” “pulling the pin” and “a few words for the firing squad (radiation),” which see both rappers share an introspective point of view on their own lives and the shared connection to our negative socio-political current.
These introspective moments are tackled beautifully, whether that be via the addition of vocals from Mavis Staples on “pulling the pin” or integration of orchestral string and brass instrumentation on “a few words for the firing squad (radiation).” The later of the two wraps up the record in cohesive fashion, as the orchestral backing slowly fades out and we are treated to an audio snippet from a fictional TV show we can only perceive to be titled, “Yankee and the Brave.”
While “RTJ4” doesn’t feature as many lengthy or lyrically meaty tracks as it does on past records, it does a excellent job diverging from the duo’s more classical hip-hop inspired production choices. This creates an album that feels different from the rest of the Run the Jewels discography, and a record reflecting the raw emotions and energy that not only El-P and Killer Mike feel at this point in society, but that everyone feels.
Favorite Tracks: yankee and the brave (ep. 4), ooh la la, out of sight, holy calamafuck, goonies vs. E.T., walking in the snow, JU$T, the ground below, a few words for the firing squad (radiation)