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Run The Jewels - RTJ4 (Album Review)

Monday, 15 June 2020 Written by Rhys Thomas

If there’s a basic statement to be made about Run The Jewels, it’s that they’re really, really, good. Their fourth album is no exception. ‘RTJ4’ was released online for free, like ‘RTJ1’, there was an option to donate to charity (in this case, the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defence Program) like ‘RTJ2’, and it came out ahead of schedule, like ‘RTJ3’.

But this is already the duo's first top 10 album on the Billboard 200, and it’s arguably their best yet. Its timing also could not be more poignant as Black Lives Matter protests continue following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

‘RTJ4’ is full of critiques and thoughts on protest, police brutality and systemic oppression, and throughout Killer Mike provides eloquent, emotional insight into black experience.

On the perfect opening track, Yankee and the Brave (ep. 4), which is crammed with the energy and themes that continue through the album, he raps: “I got one round left, a hunnid cops outside / I could shoot at them or put one between my eyes / Choose the latter, it don't matter, it ain't suicide / And if the news say it was that's a goddamn lie / I can't let the pigs kill me, I got too much pride.” 

Out of Sight feat. 2 Chainz is the start of the bass-heavy beats that dominate the album. Here, Killer Mike’s delivery is phenomenally powerful, the lyrics are full of depth and references, ruminating on different gangster histories. It’s interesting but more nuanced (and less of the moment) than the other tracks on the album. 

Musically, the instrumentals are up there with anything Run The Jewels have released to date, boasting plenty of bass, bounce, swooping synths, and choral textures, but it’s the words that provide the cut and thrust. We can’t ignore the darkness the art was released into this time, and neither can Run The Jewels. Both Killer Mike and El-P are on form throughout, smooth as butter, with razor sharp diction. In places their flow is so relentless that it’s percussive, like rapping in paradiddles. 

The middle of the album is where it fully hits its stride. Goonies vs. E.T. showcases EI-P’s production capabilities, while Walking in the Snow is a raw, eloquent, statement on blackness and systemic faults within American society and the rest of the world. JU$T, meanwhile, is a powerhouse track both in terms of personnel and delivery.

It affirms and sustains the energy of the two tracks preceding it, mainlining deep, bouncing bass and utilising Rage Against the Machine’s Zack De La Rocha as the screeching voice of rebellion: “Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar.” Meanwhile, Pharrell is on hand to guarantee that Neptunes style that straddles the line between something swinging and something unhinged.  

The weakest track here is Ooh La La, which doesn’t do much beyond providing an ode to nostalgic boom bap. It’s fine as a standalone piece, but feels a bit at odds with the rest of the album. This being said, ‘RTJ4’ flows so well that you’ll soon lose sense of where you are. For this reason, plus the 100mph pace of the bars, the lyrical poignancy, and the plethora of samples, it’s impossible to take everything in on a few cursory listens. It’s full of tunes, and runs deep with a desire to educate.



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