REVIEW: Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Uh Pete, would you like to review the new Run the Jewels album, RTJ4? 

Sure. Yeah. Loved the last three (largely thanks to the fact that my son loves Run the Jewels and so whenever the two of us are in the car together, RTJ is our jam) so yeah.

RTJ4. I’m am all over that shiz. They’re dropping the album early. Yeah? This Wednesday. Right. Wednesday 3 June 2020. Okay. I hear you. No need to be so specific. You would think.

Except as I write this, on Tuesday 21 July, it feels a bit like I’ve dropped the ball on this one. Slightly more than normal. Know this: I have struggled to write about RTJ4 because there is just too much to say. My first draft, which I wrote on 10 June, ran to a 1,000 words on the first track alone. If you listen to ‘yankee and the brave (ep 4)’ and listen to the lyrics it is quite simply the most urgent and compelling reaction to the times in which we find ourselves that I’ve heard. RTJ are nothing if not engaged. “Automatic facts, it’s like that,” El-P says. “Scammer bliss when you’re putting villains in charge of shit / All of us targeted, all we doin is arguin / Part of them isn’t workin’ til every pocket’s been picked / And sold and harvested / I’m ready to mob on these fuckin’ charlatans / Charlatans, charlatans, charlatans, charlatans, charlatans, charlatans, charlatans, charlatans… What, what, what we gon’, gon’, gon’-do-?”

Track by track, RTJ4 runs incendiary. Better their words than mine. ‘ooh la la’ harks back to the Wise Guys hit of the same name but it’s an entirely different kettle of fish: “First of all, fuck the fuckin’ law, we is fuckin’ raw.” Later: “When we usher in the chaos, just know we did it smiling.” And all against that irresistible earworm of ‘ooh la la, ah, oui oui, ooh la la ah oui oui, ooh la la ah oui oui.’ ‘out of sight’ checks in with that opening salvo: “RTJ / What you gonna do? What you gonna do?” What can anyone do? RTJ4 soundtracks the struggle. ‘holy calamafuck’ wins best title and sees them calling “one for mayhem, two for mischief / Now aim for the drones in your zooming district…” And: “More fire! More fire! More fire!” ‘goonies vs ET’ strikes you again, amidst the posturing and the scattershot that RTJ can conjutre beautiful fucking words: “The past got a wrath it’s a lover gone mad”. And you know (don’t you) that there are words here that are landing in the ears of some 14 year old out there making a difference: “Now I understand that woke folk be playin’ / Aint no revolution is televised and digitised / You’ve been hypnotized and twitterized by silly guys / Cues to the evening news, make sure you ill-advised / Got you celebratin’ the generators of genocide / Any good deed is pummelled, punished and penalized.”

It’s as powerful as Chuck D all those years ago saying, “False media, we don’t need it do we?” ‘walking in the snow’, a song written in 2019, finds Killer Mike saying: “And every day on evening news they feed you fear for free /  And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me / And ‘til 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 / But truly the travesty, you’ve been robbed of your empathy”. Now read those words again. Now read those words again. Now read those words again.

‘JU$T’ features Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha and a chorus of “Look at all these slave masters posing on yo dollars.” ‘never look back’ gets to the heart of social conditioning: “Still to this day I’m perfecting my thug / Daddy told me never give a honey my money / Had to ask daddy, “Did that include mommy?” On ‘the ground below’ we get: “Not a holy man but I’m moral in my perversiveness / So I support the sex workers unionizing their services.” We hit ‘pull the pin’ (and again we marvel at the vast array of collaborators – Mavis Staples and Josh Homme this time around) and things get cosmic: “Now I see that it’s the same moment in history back to haunt us / And here we are again / Hello void, long time watcher, first time callin’ in…” (Hip hop fan or not, the lyrics sting and bite and the punches land and you reel.) RTJ4 closes out with ‘a few words for the firing squad’: “For the ones whose body hung from a tree like a piece of strange fruit / Go hard, last words to the firing squad was, “Fuck you too.””

George Floyd was murdered on 25 May 2020. 8 days before RTJ4 was dropped, 8 days in which America burned with righteous fury. It’s impossible to speak about RTJ4 without speaking about Black Lives Matter, impossible to speak about RTJ4 without speaking about the riots, impossible to feel in any way comfortable as a white person writing about the black experience. What can I add and who am I to say anything? What I think I can add is further reading: Why the Black Lives Matter protests are a tipping point in US history over at The Nation. Black Lives Matter is winning over at The New York Times. How the Black Lives Matter protests went mainstream over at the Washington Post. You could read Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. You could read When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele. You could read How to be anti-racist by Ibram X Kendi. You could add further suggestions in the comments below. Reading is armour. Intelligence is strength. These are our tools.

“Ima have your block hot as a sauna all summer,” Killer Mike spits on that opening track we talked about right back at the start of this. It’s one more truth. I hear RTJ4 everywhere I go. Pumping out of open car windows, people’s houses as I take my daily constitutional, even in Morrison’s once, I swear. It calls out to me, like, have you written that goddamn review yet? Now I’ll be able to answer.

Words by Pete Wild

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