• Review

Album Review: RTJ4

In 2013 I received a text message from my cousin who was living in North Dakota at the time. He sent me a track, I don’t really remember which one, but the artist was Run the Jewels. I listened to it. Said to myself “what the --- is this?!” in excitement. I wasn’t sure who these guys were, but I was blown away. Run the Jewels is two guys El-P and Killer Mike. One black and one white. One a former community organizer and one the son of a jazz player. The community organizer is Mike and the son of the jazz player is El-P. Now seven years after that first release and that first listen here, we sit with RTJ4.

The album is quite possibly the most important album for this year and for this moment we are in. The record is eleven tracks at forty-two minutes. Each track could probably stand alone, but within the album it plays like a book or a movie. The tracks are funky, and bang like in the way only RTJ can. The opening track to any album for me is like the introduction to what the album is going to be or what we are trying to say, or a combination of both of those. When “yankee and the brave (ep. 4)” kicked things off I sat back because I got the feeling like this record was about making a statement and was going to take me somewhere.

Sometimes an artist makes a record just for the sake of making a record. Not RTJ though. There are probably plenty of reasons why there are only four records since their first one in 2013. I will take artistic liberty by saying they want to make sure they have something important to say. That’s probably not enough for them just to have a cold beat and throw some lyrics on top of that, more importantly “what do we have to say?” Plus, they have probably been extremely busy. That can lead itself to answer that question “what do we have to say?” And on this record, I think they answer it. For far too long black folks and people of color have been treated as second class and that’s putting it lightly. Killer Mike destroys this record in all the good ways. El-P is a great MC and he shines as well on this record, but Killer Mike takes it to another level with his verses. And, yes, he slays lyrical dragons on every record but this one has something different to it. Something more powerful. Something, for me as the listener, more moving than the other records.

Honestly, the two of them El-P and Mike with this record brought something else entirely to the table. The best feeling, I get from anything I listen to is when I get goosebumps. It seems like I had that throughout the record. As a white guy I will never understand the black experience, but I have been doing my best to. I was taught at a very young age to not hate anyone. My parents’ exact words were “we don’t hate anyone.” I grew up on the southside of Chicago. Moved to the westside of Chicago. I have black friends and latino friends, I’m lucky being able to grow as a young man in such a diverse city. As I’ve grown older, I’ve educated myself reading and listening. I hear this record and it just moves me. “Walking in the Snow” and “Ju$t” are only two tracks but they leave me at a loss for words. Music is powerful. Music can bring us together. Music is the machine that can kill fascists.

I wasn’t in the room with Mike and El-P when they wrote this. I won’t pretend to understand what they are trying to get across with this record. What I do know is the words are powerful. Adding Zach de la Rocha, lead singer for Rage Against the Machine, was like the syrup on an already delicious sundae. I will keep going back to the lyrics. At a certain point I was oblivious to the actual music. Lost in what RTJ were saying was meditative. So, if you have never heard of Run the Jewels this is a great place to start. If you have been a fan, then you will like this as well. To me yeah sure the beats are great but that’s not what makes Run the Jewels who they are, for me. What will define them is what they have to say, and their actions behind that. They made this album free for download. It might still be. Killer Mike during the first few nights of the protesting of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor went onto the local Atlanta news and gave one of the most powerful pleads to a city that was upset that I have ever seen. And when I listen to this record, I know we can be better than our divisions. There is not a scale for this record. But using the popular tropes of our times I give it five stars, 3 Michelin stars, and a 10 out of 10. Do your soul a favor and listen.