Artist: Run The Jewels
Label: BMG Rights Management
Released: 02 June 2020
RUN THE JEWELS
“Fuck the political, the mission is spiritual”
Killer Mike and El-P formed one of the best hip-hop collaborations of all time when they came out with the self-titled “Run the Jewels” back in 2013. They followed it up the very next year with one of the best rap albums of the entire decade, “Run the Jewels 2”, and subsequently then dropped the incredible third instalment in 2016. To say that RTJ4 had a hard act to follow is a massive understatement, and yet despite this it managed to completely surpass my expectations. In my opinion, “RTJ4” is not only the best album to be released by the duo, but it’s one of the best albums to come out of 2020 so far.
Consistency has always been one of the group’s major strengths, and it shows here more than on any other project they’ve put out so far. El-P’s outstanding production makes every single song stand out in some way or another, and between his compositional skills as well as each of the duo’s incredible lyrical ability, they’ve created an album with absolutely zero fat. “RTJ4” feels so refined and compact: eleven tracks that are each exciting and dynamic, but also persistently discuss explicit themes of capitalism, corruption and police brutality.
From the very first song, ‘Yankee and the Brave (pt. 4)’, Killer Mike describes a scenario extremely similar to that of Christopher Dorner’s death back in 2013. Dorner was the subject of a manhunt due to his attempt to expose corruption within the LAPD department, which had led to violent measures. As a former officer he had been fired for this very reason, and the manhunt eventually resulted in his death during a siege by his own hand. This was ruled as a suicide by gunshot, despite the fact the house was simultaneously being burnt down by the police. In the verse addressing this, Mike also attacks the damaging nature of news outlets that refused to consider Dorner’s death anything less than simply a suicide.
“I could shoot at them or put one between my eyes
Chose the latter, it don't matter, it ain't suicide
And if the news say it was, that's a goddamn lie”
Perhaps even more shocking, however, is the inclusion of Killer Mike’s verse in ‘Walking in the Snow’, which in the current climate sounds as if it was written only days prior to the album’s release. The song makes direct reference to the tragic death of Eric Garner, who was brutally murdered in a chokehold by a police officer back in 2015. His final words – “I can’t breathe” are quoted directly in this verse. The inclusion of this, echoing George Floyd’s final words exactly, just goes to show how systemic and deeply ingrained these issues of police brutality truly are. The fact that this verse concerning Eric Garner’s tragic death can be written six months prior to the album’s release, only for history to repeat itself almost verbatim is devastating. And this verse’s very existence in the context of George Floyd’s murder is a testament to the fact that racism, corruption, and police brutality are just as prevalent as they always have been.
This is further explored in ‘JU$T’, which uses an extremely provocative and impactful hook to emphasize the normalized acceptance of America’s history of racism. It also makes several more mentions the Garner/Floyd deaths, which continue to be one of the core themes of the album. As well as this there are also the obvious references to wealth and capitalism.
“Look at all these slave masters posin' on yo' dollar”
As much as the lyrical content from Killer Mike and El-P is incredible from a both a technical and thematic stand-point, it’s also important to discuss just how well this album is produced. El-P creates rich and hard-hitting instrumentals in every single track, each with their own distinct sense of character. Some of the main highlights include ‘out of sight’, ‘the ground below’ and ‘holy calamafuck’. However, the real stand-out moment of the entire album is its final track: ‘a few words for the firing squad (radiation)’.
This final song is one of the best things the duo has ever created together. It’s far more personal than anything else on the album, and although it still addresses the record’s overarching themes, it focuses more on how the two each came to their current positions. El-P discusses his difficulties with mental health, as well as the immense suffering that people close to him have had to endure. Killer Mike speaks of growing up as a black man and the impact of the death of his mother. And as well as resonating on a more personal level, each verse also ties back into the album’s central themes. Underneath these, the instrumental builds with a gorgeous combination of strings and saxophone, until bursting into a final cathartic moment as a soaring sax solo brings the album to its climax. There’s a cute end-credits style theme song, and then the record comes to an end.
“RTJ4” is so densely packed with pure lyrical genius and excellent production that it seems like a disservice not to discuss its entirety in detail. But at the same time, it would be difficult to do it justice by simply summarising it. So instead, I’ll just give it a highest possible recommendation. This is an absolutely incredible album. It’s confronting, entertaining, and a rewarding listen. Out of the four collaborative albums that El-P and Killer Mike have put out together under the Run the Jewels name, I think this is their best. And out of all the albums I’ve heard in 2020 so far, this is definitely a contender for the top spot.
“For the truth tellers tied to the whippin' post, left beaten, battered, bruised
For the ones whose body hung from a tree like a piece of strange fruit
Go hard, last words to the firing squad was, "Fuck you too" ”
Reviewed by Layton Bryce - 07/07/20