They’re back! At long last, El-P and Killer Mike reveal their fourth eponymous Run The Jewels album. Informed by political activism and featuring a stellar guest cast including Pharrell Williams, Mavis Staples, Zack de la Rocha, Josh Homme and DJ Premier, RTJ4 is as clipped and economical as you remember them, with the most electrifying elements amped up.
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In an interview with the Guardian this week, El-P - one half of hip-hop duo Run The Jewels, for those of you who might not be aware - said ‘if anything, it’s a source of mild discomfort to us that our music is seemingly relevant’. He is talking, of course, about how the revolutionary invective that has long driven the work he makes alongside Killer Mike chimes more starkly than ever with the rage of the people in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin. It’s not that the pair don’t want others to find kinship with their music in the wake of yet another act of evil perpetrated by a rotten state - far from it. It’s that people shouldn't need to come together over such acts in the first place; ‘The best thing that could ever happen to the world,’ El-P goes on, ‘is if Run the Jewels was just blathering nonsense, if we’re just two assholes who are completely out of touch with reality. We don’t want this shit to be on point.’
A hatred of the corrupt and broken structures which govern our lives stokes the fires once more on the pair’s fourth LP ‘RTJ4’. The bars on the record rage again and again against mankind’s ills - racism, greed, apathy - but, while individuals within the systems are certainly admonished, the pair almost always make clear that the systems themselves are the problem (exceptions come when the individual willingly submits to the sins of the system - see the utter disdain, so sharply prescient at the time of writing, with which a cop who kills a black child is turned out on opener ‘yankee and the brave (pt. 4)’).
One of the great strengths of the Run The Jewels project has always been to project vigour, both personal and collective, in the face of oppressive structures. ‘RTJ4’ does this once more, but it does so in ways which also expand the project’s aesthetic reach. While still bolshy, these beats are not quite as searing as some of their previous output - there aren’t any Public Enemy-esque riot-starters in the vein of ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)’ to be found here, though a couple of numbers come close. Instead, El-P orchestrates some of the most deft and vibrant production of his career, dubbing textures to create incredibly vivid soundscapes. Tracks like ‘pulling the pin’ and ‘walking in the snow’ see his abstract charms and Mike’s Earth-bound fire elevate each other in turn - the former has El-P reeling off staggering freeform poetry that nevertheless remains rooted in worldly struggle, the latter turns over Mike’s spare-no-one excoriations with an impressionistic slipstream of beats. As well as being another sonic grenade hurled at a fucked-up world, ‘RTJ4’ is also the first Run The Jewels album that really calls on the listener to acknowledge the utopian potential of the mind.
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