“Back at it like a crack addict, / Mr. Black Magic” announces Killer Mike, kicking off the album with ‘Yankee And The Brave (Ep. 4)’. A two-and-a-half-minute reintroduction to the unmistakable sound of Run The Jewels. From the offset it’s obvious: the boys are back; this is Trump’s America and they aren’t taking it lightly. The drum beat pounds the track with maliciousness as both rappers growl aggressively over the Schwartz brothers and El-P produced beat.
‘RTJ4’ dropped ahead of its expected release date. Pushed forward by the rappers themselves in wake of the recent murder of George Floyd. The early release was announced on social media along with a download link to access the 11-track digital album for free. The message read:
F-ck 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
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Run The Jewels is a legendary combination of two highly skilled MCs. Atlanta, Georgia’s Killer Mike and Brooklyn, New York’s El-P, who also produces RTJ cuts. Both are veterans of the rap game. Separately, they are masters of wordplay. Together they are a hip-hop supergroup. This, their consecutively titled fourth album, is a welcome return for the duo. Featuring appearances by 2 Chainz, Pharrell Williams, Zack De La Rocha, Greg Nice, DJ Premier, Mavis Staples and Josh Homme. Those wanting a physical copy will have to wait until September.
‘Ooh La La’ sets the scene for us. Featuring renowned producer and one half of Gang Starr, DJ Premier, and Greg Nice of late 80s rap group Nice & Smooth. Introducing the video with the text “One day the long fought battle between humanity and the forces of greed and division will end, and on that day, finally free, we will throw a motherf-ing party…” the visuals feature the artists in the midst of a crowd of revellers who are dumping bags of money and credit cards onto a street bonfire before setting them alight.
Indeed, El-P spits fire behind the literal flames: “I used to be a munchkin / Wasn’t ‘posed to be nothin’ / Ya’ll f-ckers corrupted / Or up to somethin’ disgustin…” The boom-bap is strong in this one and it was hard not to feel the energy within.
2 Chainz joins the party in Out of Sight. As Mike and EL playfully exchange rhymes back and forth over a sample of Foster Sylvers’ ‘Misdemeanor’, co-produced by Little Shalimar and Wilder Zoby. I sense echoes of Run-DMC throughout the first verse. Was that a subtle sample of The Sugarhill Gang’s version of ‘Apache’, I could hear buried in there?
‘RTJ4’ gets darker as it progresses. Holy Calamaf-ck strikes hard with the ragga dancehall inspired beat as EL-P boasts: “I’m the decider / You evil eyers / A pile driver provider for liars / The sleep depriver…” before the beat switches as the New Yorker continues: “Ayo, one for mayhem / Two for mischief / Now aim for the drones in your zoning district / Hindenburg ‘em, / get ‘em / burn ‘em / Can’t give the ghost up / No resistance.” The contrasting styles of the rappers are apparent here, with Mike’s southern drawl holding steady against EL’s flow, not too dissimilar from late fellow New Yorker, Big Pun.
‘Walking In The Snow’, the album’s sixth track features a guest appearance by one time Three 6 Mafia member Gangsta Boo. The beat is heavy and the lyrics are eerily all too close for comfort as Mike takes us back to the 2014 death of Eric Garner at the hands of the police: “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.” Such lyrics are hard to listen to, especially in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of a police officer.
‘RTJ4’ is a must listen. It is diverse enough to appeal to even the hardest crowds. Many genres are represented here, but lyrical hip-hop is at the forefront of all that Run The Jewels is. They stand out from the crowd, whilst invoking the people to stand up for themselves. There is not a bad song on the entire album and the production and features are second to none. I kept rewinding the tracks, not just from a reviewer’s perspective, but to hear the how well combined Mike and El-P are.
As the album’s finale builds up with a saxophone crescendo, the track fades out before we are once again introduced to the mock TV show Yankee And The Brave. As I pressed play once more on the album, I realised I cannot wait to hear what Run The Jewels 5 will bring.
Words: Mike Milenko
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