RUN THE JEWELS – RTJ4 REVIEW

Once in a while, an album happens to come out at the exact right time for what is happening in the world. It is like the stars align and the heavens know that we need this exact music at this exact time; it is not very often that an album literally fits the current mood of the world so perfectly since albums can take months or years to make, and when this does happen it is honestly so special. Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike and El-P are both known as very lyrically conscious, political, and rebellious rappers to begin with. Killer Mike has been considered one of the most successful underground rappers of all time for his original run of hit underground records, and El-P has been considered a top underground rapper and producer for a long time as well. El-P started out as a part of the legendary Alternative Hip-Hop group Company Flow, as well as having produced for artists like Cage, Mr. Lif, and Aesop Rock. Killer Mike and El-P have been making music together as Run The Jewels in 2013. They have always made politically-motivated Hip Hop music that focuses on racial inequality, and they have always been praised for how raw and real their music is. In the eyes of critics, they have gotten progressively better as the years have gone on, with RTJ3 being their most acclaimed album to date. Unsurprisingly, RTJ4 covers similar political and racial topics to their previous records, and these lyrics resonate today more than ever. It is almost like Killer Mike and El-P knew that a revolution was incoming, and they made an album that was perfect for the time of its release. With all of that being said, here is how I feel about Run the Jewels’ RTJ4. Please let me know how you feel about this record in the comments below, and let me know what your favorite songs are from this record as well.

I got one round left, a hunnid cops outside. I could shoot at them or put one between my eyes. Chose 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. And I meant it when I said it, never take me alive…

RTJ4 opens up with the song ‘yankee and the brave(Ep. 4);’ it is a very brash and in your face way to start this record for sure. This track has a very harsh old school Hip Hop kind of instrumental that sort of reminds me of a mixture of something that Public Enemy would rap on and something that the Wu-Tang Clan would rap on. The title of this song alludes to who both Killer Mike and El-P are and where they are from; El-P is a white guy from New York; the term “yankee” not only refers to the fact he is white and from the north but also refers to the name of the baseball team that is from his city. The term “the brave” also refers perfectly to who Killer Mike is and where he is from; Killer Mike is a black man from a Southern inner city who is not afraid to speak about how much he disdain he has for the government and the powers that be, and also he is specifically from Atlanta which is where the Braves play baseball. On this track, both El-P and Killer Mike both rap about how much they hate the establishment and how unfair they think our government is right now. I specifically love the part by Killer Mike about being surrounded by cops, which is quoted above. He is basically debating whether he should kill himself instead of going out in a blaze of glory because he does not want to give a cop the satisfaction of having killed him. This song definitely sets the tone for the album so well, and it is an excellent way to start this record. ‘ooh la la,’ which features DJ Premier and Greg Nice, has more of a modern feeling to the sound of it than the song that precedes it. This track does still have a bit of a Wu-Tang feeling to it; specifically, ‘ooh la la’ has a bit of an Ol’ Dirty Bastard feeling to it. Killer Mike actually refers to the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard in his first verse, saying: Ol’ Dirty Bastard, go in your jaw, shimmy shimmy ya. ‘ooh la la’ also has a Trap feeling to it that is pretty modern sounding as well, and would definitely resonate with younger people more than the first song did. ‘ooh la la’ is a song that is very braggadocious and very anti-establishment. On this song, El-P and Killer Mike are rapping about how they have made it and are rich as hell despite refusing help from the Elite. They will always do things their way and they will always not care what anyone thinks, and they know they are so talented that they will be very successful regardless of how much help from the higher-ups they refuse. ‘ooh la la’ is a song which has a sound that should totally resonate with young people and a message that represents what they are about as a group super well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is one of the biggest hits from this album. Following this we get another song that is a total hit, which is called ‘out of sight’ and features 2 Chainz. This song has an old school Trap feeling to it that reminds me of Dirty South style Trap; specifically, it reminds of the kind of Trap that typically came out of Texas back in the day. Lyrically, this song is probably one of the least polarizing and political; Killer Mike does take shots at the police in this song like he typically does, but ‘out of sight’ is mainly a song where all three rappers are just telling us how they live their lives, which is an intense way of living and is not fit everyone. Of course, El-P and Killer Mike deliver some awesome verses with sophisticated lyricism, but the real stand out in ‘out of sight’ is 2 Chainz. He has such an innate ability to take over every song that he is on, and this track is no different. ‘out of sight’ is the party banger by Run The Jewels I didn’t know I needed. ‘holy calamafuck’ is a song that is very intense and very reckless-sounding; it is pretty abrasive and may not be for everyone. This song has a beat switch-up in the middle, and honestly neither instrumental used in it are very palatable. ‘holy calamafuck’ is a very abrasive song that is almost like a Hip Hop version of industrial music; I bet fans of artists like Death Grips would really like this one. In this song, Killer Mike and El-P seem to be calling out the younger rappers in the game. They both show off how lyrically dominant they are on this track, and they are showing that a lot of rappers who are considered to be stars in the game right now still have a long way to go until they reach the level that Killer Mike and El-P are on. Instrumentally, ‘holy calamafuck’ is not the easiest song to listen to on RTJ4, but if you love lyrical sophistication in rap you will love the verses on this track.

Speaking of abrasive music, ‘goonies v.s. E.T’ is another song that probably will not be palatable for the casual Hip Hop listener. It is very Hardcore, and it is really unlike anything else I have heard in a while. The instrumental for this song is like a mixture of Jpegmafia and Death Grips and Brockhampton; the beat is weirdly super funky, but the sound effects used in the song are super obnoxious and rough and almost alienistic in a way. If you are a fan of sophisticated lyricism, this is a song that you need to hear. Specifically, you need to listen intently to the second verse because it is full of awesome analogies and metaphors. I mean, where else are you going to find a song that references both the Beastie Boys’ album License To Ill and the James Bond movie License To Kill in the same line? ‘goonies v.s. E.T’ is not the easiest song to listen to on this record, but the lyricism definitely makes it worth it to focus in while listening to it. The next song, ‘walking in the snow,’ has more of a Hardcore Trap sound that is way less tough and way less coarse than the last couple of songs. This song kind of reminds me of 90s Miami Rap artists like the 2 Live Crew; the instrumental for this song is super hype, and it makes me want to dance it up at a club just as much as it makes me want to jump into a mosh pit. If you are into 90s Hardcore Hip Hop music, this is a song that you need to check out because it is so retro and it is really good for what it is. ‘walking in the snow’ is a song about police brutality and government corruption and standing up to the power. Lyrically, this song is a protest anthem; Killer Mike and El-P deliver bar after bar with analogies from history that describe the current state of our government and country. Both Killer Mike and El-P are urging everyone, no matter what walk of life you are in, to stand up for those with less than them because eventually, the people in power will start to treat you like how you see them being treated. Everything about this song, from the lyrics to the instrumental, would be perfect to listen to while you are out protesting and fighting the power. It is almost like Killer Mike and El-P could see that we are on the edge of our breaking point. ‘JU$T,’ which features Pharrell Williams and Zack De La Rocha, is a total banger and is definitely my favorite song on this album. I could see this song being played in clubs and bars around the country because the instrumental is so fun and funky and tough and the lyrics are so honest and raw. This song has more of a modern party Trap beat that sort of reminds me of some of the stuff Kenny Beats makes. Whoever or whatever this instrumental reminds you of, it would be pretty tough to say that it doesn’t go super hard and make you bop your head and want to turn up. ‘JU$T’ is a song that calls out the hypocrisy of saying that we live in the land of opportunity. Just in his verse alone, Killer Mike calls out how messed up our tax system is, the fact that we have a casino owner as our president right now, the fact that weed is legal in so many places yet so many black people are in jail for it, and the fact that our government is supported by billionaire pedophiles(like Jeffrey Epstein). My favorite thing about this song is the chorus, which is: Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar!! If our government really condemns slavery like it says it does, why does all of our money still have pictures or men who owned slaves? Who cares if they were war heroes? They literally owned people and forced them to do labor like animals. ‘JU$T’ is a song that so many people need to hear, and I really hope it goes viral and becomes a hit. ‘never look back’ is another song that has a very old school feeling to it; this is another one that reminds me a lot of 90s Hardcore Hip Hop artists like the Wu-Tang Clan. The melody for this song is very eerie and very anxious; it sounds like something you would hear in a movie right before a huge shoot out scene or something. One this I really like about this instrumental is all of the weird sound effects sprinkled throughout; from the different kinds of bell sounds to the static sounds to the laser sounds to the creepy humming, this song is full of cool and strange effects that really keep the listener engaged and almost puts them into a trance. On ‘never look back,’ both El-P and Killer Mike are reflecting on where they are from and how they got to this point. They both have the kind of mentality where they only go full speed ahead, and never let what happened to them in the past hold them down. This is a mentality that I am trying to adopt myself, and I will definitely be going back to this one for motivation in the future.

Every child, woman and man, opinion don’t matter stick to your plan. If they judge, still don’t budge. Don’t give a inch don’t give a nudge…

‘the ground below’ is easily one of the most unique sounding songs on this record, as it has an instrumental that is nothing like anything else on RTJ4. It is just as abrasive and tough-sounding as some of the other tracks are, but it still stands out in a major way. This song has a Country Trap kind of instrumental that is not very similar to Lil Nas X or some of the Country Trap that is being made these days. This song reminds me of Outkast in a way, specifically songs like ‘Rosa Parks’ and ‘Gasoline Dreams.’ The instrumental for this song goes so hard and is so fun to listen to, and it is easily another one of my favorite songs from this record. On ‘the ground below,’ Killer Mike and El-P are rapping about sticking to their goals and missions and standing up for what they believe in. They acknowledge that there is so much temptation around them to give up or start doing evil, but they know that people need them so they need to make sure they stay on track and keep doing the right thing. ‘pulling the pin,’ which features Mavis Staples and Josh Homme, sounds like it came out of a different dimension or something. This song is so otherworldly; it is like this song either came out of some dystopian future or it came from another planet. The melody is super psychedelic and spacey and creepy sounding, and the slow, cathartic drum pattern makes the song almost anxious sounding. ‘pulling the pin’ is honestly a perfect title for this track considering how it sounds, because it is just so ominous and makes you feel like something crazy is about to happen or beginning to happen. This is obviously not the kind of song that one would expect to hear Gospel R&B singer Mavis Staples on, but she actually sounds super good on this track because her soothing vocals really contrast the mood of the instrumental and it is honestly very cool to listen to. ‘pulling the pin’ is another anti-establishment anthem where Killer Mike and El-P are using cool and interesting analogies to highlight the inequality and corruption in our country. The sentiment of this song is best explained through the chorus sung by Mavis Staples: And at best I’m just getting it wrong. And at worst I’ve been right from the start. It hurts, I’m bein’ torn apart. There’s a grenade in my heart, and the pin is in their palm. Killer Mike and El-P will never truly be happy until they stop the powers that be from controlling themselves and everyone else. The last song from RTJ4, ‘a few words for the firing squad(radiation),’ has a bit more of a positive and uplifting tone than the rest of the album. It seems like on this song Killer Mike and El-P are trying to inspire the masses and let them know that they can make a change; on this song, they both reflect on their personal come ups and how far they have made it, and they encourage others that they can make it to Killer Mike and El-P’s level too if they work hard enough and respect the grind and make sacrifices. One of the best things about this song is how grandiose and majestic the instrumental for this song is. The melody is just as uplifting and inspiring as the lyrics are; everything about this song makes me think we can create a better future for everyone. ‘a few words from the firing squad(radiation)’ is an excellent way to end this album, as it ties up the sound and meaning of the record super well and leaves the listener on a positive and motivating note.

Although RTJ4 has its share of bangers that could be hits on their own, it is probably best to listen to this album all the way through because it has so much meaning and flows so well. RTJ4 is the soundtrack of the revolution we are going through right now; either Killer Mike and El-P could sense the world was at a boiling point and knew they had to make music that directly relates to what is setting people off, or they wishfully thought that people would become fed up and start fighting back and the energy they put onto this record manifested the protests. RTJ4 really could not have come out at a better time; I hope that so many young protesters are listening to this album at night before they march the next day, as it gives you the perfect energy to go out and believe that you really can change the government and the world. If you are a fan of Hardcore Hip Hop that is politically motivated or just like tough and harsh Trap bangers, RTJ4 is a record that you will love.

Favorite Tracks: yankee and the brave(ep4), ooh la la feat. Greg Nice and DJ Premier, out of sight feat. 2 Chainz, ju$t feat. Pharrell Williams and Zack De La Rocha, the ground below

8.5/10

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