RUN THE JEWELS RTJ4 gets 8.5/10

Run the Jewels

Jewel Runners/BMG


In what couldn’t have been a better timed release, Run The Jewels have trained their anger with laser-like focus and delivered another classic with RTJ4.

Run the Jewels are the duo of rapper Killer Mike and rapper/producer El-P, and they play like hip hop’s more nuanced but just as furious answer to Rage Against the Machine. Killer Mike’s booming voice is as rattling as his lyrics, and El-P’s production work channels his creative flair into the single-handed pursuit of aural carnage. As long as the production is tight and their wordplay sharp, Run the Jewels are hard to match, and they deliver both in spades on RTJ4.

Given what is going in America at the moment, this is so relevant it hurts. This album’s blistering lyrics rally not just against racial issues but the sad realities of capitalism and control. walking in the snow is a brilliant metaphor for the experiences of people of colour navigating through a white world (“just got done walking in the snow/ goddamn that motherfucker cold”). The entire track is a sad but important listen, outlining the plight of the underprivileged and the numbing effect of social media. The lines speak for themselves: “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.” It’s a cynical acknowledgement that social activism is a fly in the ointment given the entrenched systems that are holding people back.

The same goes for money, with JU$T raising some interesting thoughts on the materialist conception of success in America, all groups in society running a rat race in a western system whose very unit of currency acknowledges its colonial past (“Looking at these slave masters posing on your dollar”). The criticism of capitalism is most stark and chilling on pulling the pin, one of the duo’s best tracks ever as they put a spiritual spin on their quest for equality and justice, comparing the faceless masters of society to demonic puppet-masters (“These old foxes got a lotta plots to outfox us/ Tryna divvy up and dump in corresponding boxes, how obnoxious/ Where the heart and mind connect, expect them targeting like archers/ You will not travel towards the light if they’re in charge of your departure”).

It’s not all doom and gloom, with Mike and El-P also content to merely have fun, like on ooh la la where they equate the rawness of their raps to food (“First of all, fuck the fuckin’ law, we is fuckin’ raw/ Steak tartare, oysters on the half-shell sushi bar”). Needless to say, Ol’ Dirty Bastard is later name-checked.

The production is also excellent, with El-P continually flashing different tricks. out of sight uses a clipped vocal to make a great party beat. holy calamafuck is a dancehall inspired number that ingeniously switches beats halfway through. the ground below is a slashing track that samples post-punk pioneers Gang of Four (RIP Andy Gill). And pulling the pin has epic, sequencer-driven instrumentation that matches its apocalyptic tone, with an absolutely stellar turn on the chorus from soul legend Mavis Staples.

RTJ4 is Run the Jewels in prime form. Both now in their mid 40s, Killer Mike and El-P prove just as witty, caustic and relevant as ever, with no signs of slowing down.


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