A hip-hop album for old heads and connoisseurs, made by two guys who grew up in the golden age of rap and love it too much to surrender it to obsolescence or nostalgia. The fourth Run the Jewels album is dense with wisecracks, hysterical boasts, and outrageous threats of violence, echoing across clattering productions that wrestle sirens and samples into an invigorating cacophony. And yet, for all of that, it’s also the sleekest, most direct, most undiluted Run the Jewels album yet; if their third record showed the slightest signs of strain, this one is a blast of pure joy and adrenaline. For all its old-school callbacks, it’s also bracingly current: Dropped like emergency rations in the midst of the George Floyd protests, RTJ4 chronicles a long and weary history of oppression and dehumanization, to the point that it briefly felt like the only music worthy of addressing its fraught era. El-P’s conspiracy theories are more pointed than ever, while Killer Mike offers context through arresting autobiography. And while their buddy-comedy act has always gestured toward nihilism, that’s getting harder and harder to take seriously: There is simply too much love between these guys for anyone to believe they’ve given up or don’t give a shit. Perhaps that’s why RTJ4 feels like the most meaningful Run the Jewels album yet: For all its boasting and righteous anger, deep down, it’s a sweet album about brotherhood.
Published as part of Top 25 Albums of 2020 — 25-11.