We now have our second defining record of 2020 as the prolific duo of El-P and Killer Mike hit us with their fourth album under their Run the Jewels moniker.
These two have grown into one of the most cutting-edge and entertaining hip-hop acts of the 21st century. While their first three records all were praised by critics, this duo struggled to find a path to the mainstream. In my high school years and my college years now, no one really talks about Run the Jewels. I, unfortunately, did not get around to listening to any of the duo’s music either and now I know that was a mistake.
RTJ4 kicks off with these machine gun snares to grasp the listener’s attention as both men introduce themselves with this North and South imagery that shows while they are from vastly different regions and culture, they can come together and collaborate seamlessly.
“ooh la la” was the teaser track to this record and it did take me some time to warm up to. It gets better every time you listen to it. The boom bap beat backed by a hard-hitting piano. El-P is as slick as a 45-year-old can be. You have to commend these two who are both over their 40s. They have both been in the game for awhile and keep getting better as the years go on, unlike other rappers around their age (Eminem).
However, I do get nervous with the quality of this record on tracks three through five. I was not digging the distorted bass on “out of sight”. “holy calamaf*ck” is this odd experimental take on rap that doesn’t blend well at all with the other songs on the record, and “goonies vs. E.T.” feels even more out of the place than its predecessor.
Fortunately, this record finds its footing and its defining track with “walking in the snow”. The commentary on police brutality and the “enslaving” of people who aren’t in the top one percent of society is tasteful and a tough listen for those who need to recognize their privilege.
This track is followed by an absolute banger in “JU$T”. The duo, along with Pharrell, have a conversation on money and justice. They see the dark humor of having slave masters on dollar bills. The track also sounds like a lot of Pharrell’s work with The Neptunes in the 2000s.
“pulling the pin” feels like a metaphor to the injustices and unfair treatment of black people in the country. It’s only a matter of time before the higher-ups in society and those that are still prejudice and racist commit another heinous act that forces the black community to pull the pin on the grenade and unleash their anger and sadness.
The album closes with the remarkable “a few words for the firing squad” where the duo go hard for four minutes recollecting their journey to now and how they will move forward in improving society. It does leave a lasting mark on the listener.
While there are misses on this record, they are outweighed by the political commentary and the quality of the tracks that do hit hard. If Charli XCX’s how i’m feeling now is the defining quarantine album of 2020, then RTJ4 is the defining protest and unrest record of the year. Both perfectly sum up how 2020 will be remembered.
Richest Tracks: “yankee and the brave (ep. 4), “ooh la la”, “walking in the snow”, “JU$T”, “pulling the pin”, “a few words for the firing squad”
Worst Track: “goonies vs. E.T.”
Listen to the album:
Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/us/album/rtj4/1511168569