Run The Jewels RTJ4 album cover

Run The Jewels – RTJ4

Jewel Runners / BMG
★★★★★

They’re unafraid to speak out. They’re united in their message. They’re ready to lead the hip-hop community’s push for change. They are Run The Jewels. The super-duo of Killer Mike and El-P released their fourth studio album, RTJ4, on June 3 after a four-year hiatus. 

The album is aggressive, progressive and full of raw emotion and talent. The active conscience of Run the Jewels — or RTJ4 — picks up where it left off on Run the Jewels 3 in 2016, warning the world of the apocalyptic division in America. Today, their fourth album attacks ignorance, confronts corruption and paves the way forward for a society that’s ready to crack. In signature style, RTJ place poignant bars over rambunctious beats, syncing their unique style and unified message while finding clarity in the chaos. 

RTJ4 wastes no time with delicacies. The album takes a whole five seconds before the echoing voice of Killer Mike blares through the speaker and gets straight to the point. The first song, “yankee and the brave (ep. 4),” was released as a single on March 22 as a sneak peek of the powerful album that was to come. In it, Killer Mike questions his choices in front of a police firing squad, “I got one round left, a hunnid cops outside / I could shoot at them or put one between my eyes.”

 

 

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Already, it is clear that RTJ are prepared for a total war against the systematic and senseless racism seen across the United States. Killer Mike’s rhymes in fact reference the story of Christopher Dorner, a Black police officer who turned against the LAPD for his unusual termination over reporting claims of excessive use of force. He ended up shooting multiple officers and eventually committed suicide while the same department sieged and set fire to his house in a standoff. 

Even before Black Lives Matter protests took over the country following the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, Killer Mike and El-P were prepared to challenge the world’s biases, beliefs and structure. But as racism in America once again reveals its covert power, the message at the root of RTJ4 becomes more salient, more powerful and more urgent. The unapologetic tone of “yankee and the brave (ep. 4)” extends throughout the entire album, developing and solidifying its call for justice, truth and courage. 

 

 

On the album’s second single, “ooh la la (feat. Greg Nice and DJ Premier),” the duo moves to introduce themselves. They claim their role as the crossroads between old and new, showing respect for the skill of Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Jeru the Damaja while finding solace in the loud trap beats of today’s hip-hop. El-P ridicules society in his characteristically atheistic and apathetic style, rhyming “I’m afraid of nothin’ but nothingness, ain’t it something? / Warmongers are dumpin’, they’ll point and click at your pumpkin (Look out).” 

In his own fashionable braggadocio, Killer Mike refuses to subscribe to authority and its forced structure of society. He equates himself to the Joker, an agent of chaos that wants to flip the system and break the structure, knowing that, “People, we the pirates, the pride of this great republic.” 

 

 

Both artists have mastered unparalleled styles, and together they form a fearsome one-two punch. Yet on the surface, the duo could not seem more different. The son of a jazz pianist, El-P hails from Brooklyn as an Irish-Cajun-Lithuanian Jew, while Killer Mike grew up as the son of a police officer in Atlanta. Since being introduced to each other by Cartoon Network and Adult Swim executive Jason DeMarco in 2011, however, they have become the champion example of breaching divides, finding common ground and working together for change. 

After the first two songs, RTJ4 accelerates, assaulting society in the duo’s signature manner: right in your face. They recruit 2 Chainz on “out of sight” to not only share the strength and self-determination that struggle can teach but also break down the glorification of violence and poverty in modern rap and American society. On subsequent songs, this turns into a full-on assault on capitalism, controlled media and the path to fascism. On “goonies vs E.T.” El-P raps, “Cues to the evenin’ news, make sure you ill-advised / Got you celebratin’ the generators of genocide / Any good deed is pummeled, punished, and penalized /  Rulers of the world will slice it up like a dinner pie” 

Pharrell Williams and Zack De La Rocha (frontman for Rage Against The Machine) join Mike and El on “JU$T,” a heavy bombardment of capitalists and their lack of regard for human life, global society and anyone besides themselves. This collection of personalities blends anarchist hard rock with social justice pop, spanning genres and philosophies to condemn corruption. 

 

 

Mavis Staples and Josh Homme appear on “pulling the pin,” a reflective piece on the spiritual and moral issues surrounding money and its disrespect for life. Staples in particular is a legend of another generation that worked for change, and RTJ ensures their voices are heard by those who will carry on their spirit. The track’s swirling production allows Killer Mike to rattle off a rhythmic rant, spitting, “The devils, they do the despicable / And still, they move like they invincible / These filthy criminals sit at the pinnacle / Doin’ the typical, keepin’ us miserable.”

RTJ4 finishes with a triumphant call-to-action: “a few words for the firing squad (radiation).” The duo’s testaments to struggle and success feel like a motivational sermon teasing a crescendo over the slow-building beat. It summarizes the album’s themes like a well-written conclusion, presenting the systematic issues throughout society, confronting the uncomfortable feelings of living in a broken system, and exposing the invisible influence of the powerful and overwhelmingly rich. The finale breaks the fourth wall, placing responsibility onto its audience to carry the message forward, hold the world accountable and catalyze much-needed change. 

RTJ gifted the hip-hop community with a masterpiece. Under the skin of aggressive, alternative rap, RTJ4 is a conscious, courageous and honest exposé of society. It leverages the relevant issues of racism and capitalism to shine a spotlight on the manipulation of society by the rich and powerful. It screams in the face of stagnation, sacrificing streams for honesty and demanding justice from corruption. It confronts society by speaking directly to the listener’s soul, challenging them to determine their own path and unite for justice no matter the obstacles. Killer Mike and El-P make their message personal, emphasizing that uncomfortable chaos is necessary for the world everyone deserves to live in.

Are you ready? Because Run the Jewels are changing the world whether you like it or not. 


Stream Run The Jewels’ RTJ4