Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 4 (Jewel Runners/BMG) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, October 22nd, 2020  

Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels 4

Jewel Runners/BMG

Jun 12, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


It would be easy to see hip hop duo Run the Jewels as prophets. Each release has seemed to land at seminal moments, most recently Run The Jewels 3 in the wake of the 2016 election. Run the Jewels 4 (aka RTJ4) reads as similarly prescient, dealing with themes of police violence, fascistic abuses of power, and the societal ills of capitalism. Fans know Killer Mike and El-P have been discussing these topics through each album, but on RTJ4 the duo trims every inch of fat from the record, delivering the most incisive critiques, clever one-liners, and hardest hitting tracks of their careers. 

On RTJ4 the duo deploys their burning rage to fantastic effect. Run the Jewels’ lyrical salvos are as brash and in your face as ever, which is instantly apparent from the opening track, “Yankee and the Brave (ep. 4).” They open with their signature breakneck flows and machine gun snare hits as Killer Mike and El-P trade braggadocious verses. The song envisions the duo as heroes on the run from the law in a 1980s-style action flick. It offers a captivating introduction to the album and a statement of purpose—“We don’t mean no harm but we truly mean all the disrespect.”

As with each Run The Jewels release, El-P and Killer Mike’s chemistry is second to none. El-P serves as a bitter cultural commentator while Mike forms the record’s furious emotional core, each drawing on their lived experiences for some truly cutting lyrics. Album highlight “Walking in the Snow” displays that combination perfectly. El-P brilliantly adapts the poem “First they came…” to modern political apathy. He notes “Funny fact about a cage, they're never built for just one group/So when that cage is done with them and you still poor, it come for you/The newest lowest on the totem, well golly gee, you have been used/You helped to fuel the death machine that down the line will kill you too.” 

Mike then follows up with a heartbreaking verse that is all the more poignant amidst recent events—“And every day on the evening news, they feed you fear for free/And you so numb, you watch the cops choke out a man like me/Until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can't breathe’/And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV/The most you give's a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy.”

Killer Mike and El-P are not only brilliant partners, but they also remain expert synthesizers with their guest artists. The duo is able to integrate Mavis Staple’s legendary voice with Josh Homme’s desert guitar and ethereal background vocals on “Pulling the Pin.” Similarly, they perform an impressive balancing act on “JU$T” in integrating Pharell Williams’ smooth style on the chorus with Zack de la Rocha’s iconic fury. Williams’ coy delivery is ever cool while de la Roche comes barreling through. The beat drops out as he echoes the refrain, “Look at all these slave masters posin’ on your dollar.”

The effectiveness of the duo’s skills as curators can also be attributed to El-P’s production. El-P’s beats are the perfect partner to Run the Jewels’ aggressive tone. They are each as versatile and elastic as the duo’s flows. Whether it is a hard-hitting compressed banger as on “Out of Sight,” a dancehall beat with a choice switch on “Holy Calamafuck,” or a stomping Gang of Four sample on “The Ground Below,” El-P’s production is a consistent highlight. 

As potent as the record’s political material is, the tracks where the duo gets personal hit just as deeply. Closer “A Few Words For the Firing Squad (Radiation)” sees both Killer Mike and El-P reflect on their families, losses, and why they continue to speak out. The cinematic backing music builds and builds as the duo pays tribute to those they make their music for—“This is for the do-gooders that the no-gooders used and then abused/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.’” Seemingly, that is where the story of Yankee and the Brave end for now. The instrumental continues on with a jazzy sax solo and orchestral interlude before a hidden track plays the album out on a lighthearted note with a theme song for the duo’s fictional TV show.  

RTJ4 may very well be the most important album out right now. It doesn’t reinvent the group’s sound or change the message. Rather, RTJ4 is the most potent, well-delivered incarnation of their work, released amidst the most essential moment for it. The album is truly Run the Jewels’ best album to date, without a weak performance or lackluster track to be found. Moreover, it is an explosive call for unity against systemic injustice, and a riveting work of righteous fury. (www.runthejewels.com) 

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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