Updated: Oct 13, 2020
Run The Jewels are back with their 4th installment in their discography titled 'RTJ4'. The two rappers Killer Mike and El-P have shown so much charisma and skill in the past, and who would've thought that the fourth installment could be their best to date!
Production wise this album is fantastic. The beats are obnoxiously fun on this, and it begins with some futuristic style beats clashing with retro elements such as on the opener 'yankee and the brave (ep. 4)', which has a retro drum pattern with electronic effects as the track focuses on the fact they're back with a new album and even includes a fictional story that Mike is in a shootout with the police and El-P is helping him (this obviously has underlying subject matter with the higher powers of society being corrupt. "And you still owe me for them Nikes, you do not get to just die", El-P says as an example of the witty lines all throughout this project starting with this great track, that, despite great, isn't as good as the highest highs on this due to the beat not being as catchy as others and thematically it not being very entertaining. The production then molds into a more futuristic and experimental style on the track 'out of sight' which has a catchy synth pattern and vocals implanted within the beat. The key elements of the production includes: 808s and trap instruments, synth kicks, synth baselines and even rock inspiration at times, such as on the track 'the ground below' which has an electric guitar riff playing throughout. On this track Mike gives us great imagery and metaphors, "Playing blackjack versus death, gun on the card dealer" - a hard line, while El-P gives us metaphors as well as some menacing bars. It's a great track as Mike focuses on temptations and El-P focuses on the respect he feels he's entitled to.
Lyrically, as you can come to expect of these two they're both so slick and great lyricists, showcasing complexity with their words combined with hard bars and witty punchlines all throughout. Here are some examples of the lyrics you expect to find on this album: "I'll slap a yapper from the acne to the tooth bone fiber" says El-P on 'holy calamafuck', expressing how deep his slaps going to hit, with Mike spitting "You're a common cold and my flows are cancerous" which is a personal highlight of mine as Mike expresses just how sicker his flows are to his competition. "I'm afraid of nothin' but nothingness, ain't it something?" El-P also introspectively spits on 'ooh la la' with Killer Mike ferociously saying "I pull my penis out and I piss on they shoes in public". This track is all about the pairs rapping ability and higher powers of society, which is done over a distorted piano with retro drums attached. The hook by Greg Nice sounds very comical but is very catchy, and with a great beat, smooth flows and slick bars there's nothing not to like about this track. We also get honesty in their lyrics as well, such as El-P admitting to a drinking problem he had on 'never look back', "Low on the smokes, grab another pack, go // Pops smoked too when playing piano // Pops, I'm you, it's funny how that go // Mom, you too, I never could drink slow". Mike provides some decent storytelling on this track as well over an electronic base and synth kicks as the pair reminisce on their upbringing but refuse to ever look back and have regrets. Both the rappers flows are smooth and quick on this album, and also their deliveries punch a kick and come across menacing yet slightly comical (especially in El-P's case). The rhyme schemes as well throughout this project are brilliant from the both of them and are so nice on the ear.
The features are carefully selected as well by the pair with all the features performing to a high level. 2 Chainz has a surprising feature on 'out of sight' where he performs to a great standard, with a really smooth flow which glides over this instrumental and some pretty nice wordplay as well, "I'm cool as AC and you n*****, you just wannabes" - wanna(B's), as B comes between A & C (get it?). El-P himself has some slick wordplay, metaphors and punchlines and Mike's bars are hard all throughout, "Bitch, we cool as penguin pussy on the polar cap peninsula" (the alliteration in this line is crazy). The track is pretty much gangsta topics - guns, drugs, dealing as well as them taking shots at the coke problem of the 80's and the government. Mike in particular delivered here with his fire quick flow, helping to make this is a great song. Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha join the pair on 'JU$T' with Pharrell providing a menacing pre-chorus which works well for the track and Zack's grimy, angry delivery sounding great as he provides some poetic metaphors throughout. Mike and El-P spit politically charged bars as they talk on how money is worshiped in a kind of master/slave way as well as touching on police injustices, the highlight of the track being the line "Look at all these slave masters posin' on your dollar", which is such a hard bar. The whole song bangs and speaks on real things going on right now. Mavis Staples as well is featured on the track 'pulling the pin', singing a hook with desperacy in his voice which contrast so well to the Jewels' verses, with El-P's complex lyrics and incredible metaphors/imagery and Mike's religious imagery carrying the track along great. The beat is slower and slightly haunting as the pair talk using Christian imagery, comparing the religion to the higher powers of the world and their evil.
In terms of subject matter, as you can expect from a Run The Jewels album it's very politically charged for the most part with the pair going at the people in power above them, talking on injustices and police brutality, maybe best showcased on 'walking in the snow'. With this distorted electric guitar, electronic horn and catchy drum pattern this is one of the songs of the year. El-P does great spewing facts using metaphors and hard bars all throughout but Killer Mike drops verse of the year on this one, "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"". Them lines are relevant to today still, and it hits with so much impact - and then to top it off he really puts it into perspective for how long this problem has been going on for with the finishing lines being: "All of us serve the same masters, all of us nothin' but slaves // Never forget in the story of Jesus, the hero was killed by the state". Killer Mike murders this song, it's such a powerful track and relevant to this very moment and astonished me upon first listen. There is also some gangsta rap topics like shooting people u[ and selling drugs in tracks such as 'holy calamafuck', as well as the pair talking on their status in the rap game commonly.
Other tracks I want to touch on includes 'goonies vs. E.T.' which has a great beat as the rappers rap with bars and complexity and touch content such as only having one life and one planet, being real and true to themselves as well as the fake culture of the internet. The finale to this album 'a few words for the firing squad (radiation)' is the perfect climax. With a catchy drum pattern, layered with these victorious synth kicks the rappers talk on black injustice, Mike talks on the death of his mum and relationship with his wife and as usual spits some hard bars, "This is for the do-gooders that the no-gooders used and then abused // For the truth tellers tied to the whippin' post, left beaten, battered, bruised // 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"". Then the beat switches to these violins crescendoing, before it picks up the pace and explodes into this jazz instrumental. Another beat switch before the end with a jumpy synth pattern finishes this incredible album off perfectly, a fitting end.
To conclude, this album is an enjoyable, incredible and slightly experimental hip hop album. It's a great showcase of technical skill, production and content - all you could ask for really. The chemistry between them is undeniable as both rappers are skilled to a high degree. The subject matter is so relevant to today and is really coherent and dense - the tracks flow together so nicely. Even the worse song on the album is an 8/10, what stops it being a 10 is there's too many songs around an 8/10, and not as many 10/10 or even 9/10 songs as I'd like - either way there isn't a bad song.
FAVOURITE TRACKS: yankee and the brave (ep. 4), ooh la la, holy calamafuck, walking in the snow, JU$T, never look back, a few words for the firing squad (radiation)
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACK: the ground below
OVERALL RATING: Solid 9/10
*REVISED SCORE: Review may not match favourite tracks and overall rating because I've since re-listened and changed my score.*