It is during times like these we often look to our musicians to provide us with the soundtrack to what we are witnessing in the news on a daily basis. Thankfully, American hip hop duo Run the Jewels have come through with a record that captures perfectly what is going on in the United States, bringing sounds set to the division and destruction of a nation in turmoil straight into your speakers.
RTJ4 as it is titled continues on the politically charged themes of RTJ2 and RTJ3 and is Killer Mike and El-P’s first new body of work in over three years. Recorded last year, the music predates the current protests in the States, but thematically addresses themes of police brutality, racism, and political division, all of which are at the centre of what is taking place at the moment.
Featuring guests including the likes of Mavis Staples who puts in a stunning performance on Pulling the Pin and Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha, the music on RTJ4 is again centred around the two pillars that have made Run the Jewels one of the most critically acclaimed hip hop acts of the 21st century, El-P’s production and Killer Mike’s vocals.
El-P is in fine form on the decks with tracks like Out of Sight, Goonies vs E.T, and The Ground Below featuring some of his finest work in recent times. It also helps he has assistance in production from the likes of Boots and two kings of hip hop production Pharrell Williams and DJ Premier.
Killer Mike has been outspoken on police brutality and racism in the States and his lyrics here seem as poignant as ever across the eleven tracks. In particular, on Ju$t, the line “look at all these slave masters posing on your dollars” rings true in light of recent events and the ongoing struggles African American’s face in an increasingly divided US under Trump.
Check out Killer Mike's passionate and emotional recent speech on the killing of George Floyd.
The passion Killer Mike displays vocally on the likes of Walking in the Snow and A Few Words for the Firing Squad (Radiation) proves that at 45 his voice both in and outside the studio is as relevant as ever, twenty-plus years into his career.
Now four albums deep into their collaboration, a collaboration which came years after they established themselves as individual musical entities in their own right, Run the Jewels have a body of work to be proud of and that is as good as any in modern-day hip hop.
RTJ4 is exactly the type of album that builds on the themes of the last two RTJ albums and is music made for the scenes we are witnessing on the news daily at the moment. It is harsh, it is honest, it is in your face, much like the great political hip hop from the 1990s golden era. It is also fair to compare it to the last truly great political rap album, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
Now though, it is up to other acts to follow Run the Jewels in making a musical statement befitting of these times. Music has a proud history of being a guiding light in times of strife and it is now far beyond the point of remaining silent when injustice is taking place. Doing so cannot be an option.