“Fuck it, why wait?” went Run The Jewels’ message to fans as Killer Mike and El-P announced the early arrival of ‘RTJ4’. Contrary to the artists around them pushing releases back beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, Run The Jewels pulled their eagerly awaited fourth album forward several days as protests filled the streets of the UK and US in response to the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police.
Wrapped at the start of 2020, ‘RTJ4’ is fierce, urgent and drenched with a prescience that points to the disturbing predictability of these troubled times. On the raging centrepiece ‘Walking In The Snow’, Killer Mike raps “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’” channeling the final words of Eric Garner, another victim of police brutality who met the same unfortunate fate as George Floyd back in 2014.
The LP’s urgency isn’t only apparent through the last-minute shift in schedule, it resonates through the pedal-to-the-metal BPMs and energy that fuels the majority of the tracklist. Take the hastening drums that pound beneath ‘Goonies Vs E.T’ as El-P spits bars on global warming - “Livin’ in a valley of flames like ‘I win’ / Skyline ablaze in a Bob Ross pic” or the monstrous beat switch in ‘holy calmafuck’ - “Pass that shit, Mike, I have to insist it / Reality sucks dick, how’s that for wisdom?”
The duo’s knack for straddling humour while delivering home truths remains the group’s bread and butter but that doesn’t ever hinder the passages of high drama that mount. Such as on the brooding ‘Pulling The Pin’ as Mavis Staples sings “At best I’ve been getting it wrong / Or worse I’ve been getting it right from the start” while Josh Homme’s ghoulish vocal harmonies flutter in the background. Closing track ‘a few good words for the firing squad (radiation)’ finds the pair ruminating on grief, pressure and love to a cinematic, tensening instrumental - “Satisfaction for the devil, goddammit, he’ll never, ever have it”.
Not only does the LP contain the duo’s finest performances, it also hosts a number of enthralling guest spots - especially ‘JU$T’ which sees the unlikely forces of Pharrell Williams and Zack De La Rocha of Rage Against The Machine collide to stunning effect. “Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar!’ goes its fired-up mantra.
A lot of ground is covered across the LP, despite the snappy running time. Killer Mike and El-P leave no stones unturned - politics (“when we usher in chaos, just know we did it smiling”), racial oppression (“I said something on behalf of my people and I popped up on WikiLeaks”), class (“You ever notice that the worst of us have all the chips?”). The killer one-liners await every bar.
‘RTJ4’ is by far Killer Mike and El-P’s most accomplished chapter, wrought with rage but injected with a humour and wisdom that offers razor-sharp clarity and, with that, an unapologetically raw and sobering take on our times.