RTJ4 gets out of the blocks slowly, but the album’s second half features the duo at their fiercest.
Rap duo Run the Jewels, consisting of MC Killer Mike and rapper/producer El-P, have by this point established themselves as one of the most culturally confrontational outfits in the game today. Regularly focusing on topics such as police brutality and governmental oppression, there is an almost thesis-like intentionality to their cuts, an objective to achieve. Their newest release, RTJ4, does not stray from this mode, but relative to previous albums, it does take somewhat longer for their messaging to clarify. The record’s first couple tracks deliver the familiar chest-pounding bravado that will be familiar to RTJ’s fanbase , but lacks the expected socio-political substance. It’s not until standout track “walking in the snow”that RTJ4 hits a high note; everything before feels surprisingly depthless given the duo’s usually pointed verses.
But once RTJ4 gets going, it downright refuses to stop. Each track on the album’s second half dares to be more impressive than the last. Embracing the gravity of our America’s current climate of police brutality and civil unrest, Killer Mike uses the gasping line “I can’t breathe” during “walking in the snow,” an inciting moment that signals orchestrated mayhem of RTJ4’s back half. The duo pulls no punches on tracks like “JU$T” — “Look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo dollar” — a track which features veteran RTJ collaborator Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine. And they round things out with an almost magnum opus-level outro, “a few words for the firing squad (radiation),” ending the album on a more intimate, reflective note: “It’d be a lie if I told that I ever disdained the fortune and the fame / but the presence of the pleasure never abstained me from any of the pain.” Both tracks showcase RTJ’s intellectual prowess and lyrical excellence, a complexity of thought that matches the flexible, assertive production supporting their voices. While RTJ4 doesn’t earn the title of best record in Run the Jewels’ discography, the impassioned spitting of Yankee and the Brave still packs the wallop that brings fans clambering back.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Q2 2020 Issue – Part 1.