For fans looking to do some good through donation, Run The Jewels have provided a list of organizations on their website that are fighting for justice, change, and equity in America, including their longtime allies the National Lawyers Guild which, amongst other things, provides legal representation for lawful protesters. You can find the full list of organizations here: runthejewels.com/pages/donate.
“Fuck it, why wait. The world is infested with bullshit so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all. We hope it brings you some joy. Stay safe and hopeful out there and thank you for giving 2 friends the chance to be heard and do what they love. With sincere love and gratitude, Jaime + Mike.”
Yeah, why wait – with the world brought to it’s knees by a global pandemic, widespread protests and rioting sweeping the USA and stretching to several counties across the globe, right now seems the perfect momentum for Run The Jewels to rush release their new record (originally due out 5th June – it was dropped earlier today, 3rd June), their fourth eponymous album and their most vital, angry, relevant and direct LP to date.
Jaime Meline and Mike Render, otherwise known as EL-P and Killer Mike have long spoken up against crooked politicians and social injustice, while splicing that with moments of goofy humour. Their latest offering is no different, albeit the rage is palpable and fittingly resonates the civil unrest and ire that’s marching the streets of America right now; a defiant reaction to the killing of George Floyd on 25th May, an unarmed black man that was restrained by police officer Derek Chauvin, with a knee to the neck for 9 minutes as three of Chauvin’s peers just watched on. This, disgustingly, was another case of police brutality that lead to a man of colour dying at the hands of a public service that should ‘serve and protect’ it’s nation. To date all 50 states in the USA have seen protests and, in some cases, violent riots, looting and clashes between police and protestors. With a country at breaking point due to the coronavirus ravaging its population (over 100k dead at the moment, and 40 million jobless due to a national lockdown), and let’s not forget Donald Trump’s inadequate presidency, America has been seething ball of frustration for years and it’s finally broken. RTJ’s new album pre-dates all these events but its timing is almost too perfect. While EL-P and Killer Mike have dropped their new baby early as a little glimmer of hope in a sea of darkness, I’m sure they’re not wanting to be the voices of salvation in such dire times but by god I’m going to, and I imagine millions of others will, cling to ‘RTJ4’ like a life raft now it’s out.
‘RTJ4’ comes at you hard, it pulls no punches, it comes out swinging and delivers on the tweet Killer Mike fired off back on 12 th May, when the track listing and release date was announced “I can also say at this point RTJ4 is about 11 jams, it’s under 40 minutes and not a second is wasted.” It’s lean and pretty mean; like a prize fighter at the top of its game. The album opens with its two lead singles, the buddy comedy aping ‘yankee and the brave’, that kicks in with a shoulder popping groove and a bunch of bone-shaking beats. The topic of racial injustice presents itself early on as Mike spits “plus we heard he murdered a black child so none of us cried”. This is followed by the 90s hip hop vibes of ‘ooh la la’, which mixes a playful piano sample with rattling snare drum licks. Here is where you’ll find EL-P playing the fool “you want maximum stupid, I am the guy” but with his Spidey sense on alert for those dirty bastards upsetting the status-quo “y’all fuckers corrupted or up to something disgustin’”. The production of ‘RTJ4’ brilliantly tips a hat to the old school rap of the 90s but with a fresh feeling that means it’ll never age. You can hear that in the chopped up vocal ticks and discordant noises on ‘Out of Sight’ as the RTJ boys trade verses before 2Chainz comes in with a few bars.
When you journey to the album’s mid-section, if shit didn’t real before, this is where everything comes at you harder and meaner; ‘holy calamafuck’ veers close to a jungle vibe with a dirty stomp that’s all kinds of nasty. Societal matters slap you around the chops on ‘goonies vs. E.T.’, via a mesh of distorted synths and murky undertones, the album ushers in a darker shade. A punk rage can be hard when Killer Mike blurts out “now I understand that woke folk be playin’/ain’t no revolution is televised and digitized/you’ve been hypnotized and Twitter-ized by silly guys/cues to the evenin’ news make sure you ill-advised/got you celebratin’ the generators of genocide”. ‘RTJ4’ becomes weirdly prophetic once ‘walking in the snow’ squalls into your ear-drums, as EL-P, Killer Mike and Gangster Boo deliver devastating bars over a fidgeting soundscape that flicks from guitar squalls, horror-movie noises and all kinds of glitches. With a verse that references the killing of Eric Garner, another black man choked to death by a police officer, Mike’s words strike a chilling recollection that could easily recount George Floyd’s final moments “and you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me/till my voice goes from a shriek to a whisper ‘I can’t breathe’/ and you sit there in the house on the couch and watch it on TV/ the most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy”. I don’t say this lightly, this verse stopped me in my tracks on it’s first listen.
Pharrell Williams and the king of political fury, Zack de la Rocha team up with RTJ on ‘JU$T’, a track that strips everything back to a bowel-loosening bass line and chanting vocals. The quartet hit out with spikey remarks about slavery and it’s apparent contradictions in modern life “the Thirteenth Amendment says that slavery’s abolished (shit)/look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo’ dollar (get it)” a jab at past presidents that adorn dollar bills but who owned slaves. The rap pair’s latest effort is brought to a close by a masterful one-two combo of ‘pulling the pin’ featuring Mavis Staples and Josh Homme, a murky voyage through oscillating beats and weird electronics. While the track dials down the sonic bombast, Killer Mike’s flow is rapid, with the rapper barely pausing for breath. Amongst the quickfire wordplay, the Atlanta wordsmith spits out “fuck the political/the mission is spiritual” a statement we can all relate to. ‘a few words for the firing squad’ is Run the Jewels at their most epic, cinematic and widescreen – it’s the roaring climax of an album built to help us survive the raging garbage fire that 2020 is. With a swelling sea of strings and brass EL-P and Killer Mike’s verses are traded with a fist clenched determination. Clocking in at over 6 minutes, it’s worth a review all of it’s own but I can’t leave out Mike’s undeniably raw and vulnerable reflection on his own life “but my queen say she need a king/not another junkie, flunky rapper fiend/friends tell her ‘he could be another Malcolm, he could be another Martin’/she told her partner I need a husband more than the world need another martyr.” The track’s outro is a crescendo of expanding noise, that dissolves into Tron-like electronic dissonance before finally a spoken word outro tells the story of ‘yankee and the brave’ “the story of a couple of small-time hustler”. Then you can draw a breath…
Throw up your pistol and fist, puff out that chest and “Kill Your Masters” because Run The Jewels are giving you the soundtrack to fight the oppressors and the antidote to today’s unrelenting barrage of bullshit.
Words and Thought of Adam Williams