RTJ IV – Rap for the socially conscious protestor
This is probably Run The Jewels best album since RTJ1. It's a tight 30+ minutes. Sit down and experience it.
Back in the day, when it was a thing to do, I used to sign up for newsletters from independent record labels. At the time I was a DJ and campus radio host. Newsletters from some of my favorite record labels was as much research as it was entertaining.
Years later I received an email from an old newsletter I was signed up for. Thankfully, it didn’t go into my spam folder. The email said that El-P and Killer Mike had a new project that was available as a free download. To be honest, I thought that the combination of Killer Mike and El-P was weird. El-P is a white rapper from the North of the US, while Mike is a legendary Atlanta rapper. Both are great rappers, but El-P is also a great producer. I assumed that it was probably a mixtape featuring Mike rapping over El-P’s beats. Out of curiosity, I downloaded the project.
The intensity of that project reinvigorated my love for hip-hop. Weeks later that mixtape was released as Run The Jewels 1. Can you imagine hearing a politically charged, sonically imposing rap project like the first Run The Jewels album expecting a random rapper and producer mixtape?
Maybe the difference between my expectations and the results is why I think 1 is a perfect album. Maybe it’s the intense beats, amazing guest features including Rage’s Zach de la Roche and the surprising chemistry that El-P and Killer Mike have as rappers that does it.
The second album was more of the same. Run The Jewels was now one of the biggest touring hip-hop shows in the world. More people knew who they were. The work was at the same high standard as the first album, but I was surprised when a record producer friend gave me his copy of the CD. He didn’t like the project. I wouldn’t understand why until Run the Jewels 3.
I’ve never fully listened through Run The Jewels 3. There’s a number of songs I love on the project, but the beats sound formulaic. Worse, the cadence of the duo’s rap flows sounds repetitive. All the songs sound great– on their own, but they don’t work as an album. It’s all the same. Despite this, I was still excited when I received that newsletter email letting me know that I could download the newest Run The Jewels album a day in advance of its release.
My hopes had been lifted from the first single Ooh La La, which features a stunning music video. Turns out my hopes were substantiated.
Production wise, the album can be split into three parts. The first third of the album features beats influenced by the 90s. There are old school hip-hop samples, what appears to be a 90’s dancehall reggae sample and synth sounds used in 90’s trance music. Despite the 90’s influence these are not boom-bap beats. They still have the power and heat of Run The Jewels.
The second third of the album features Run The Jewels standard, bass heavy instrumentals. They do not disappoint. Meanwhile the final third of the album slows down as the 808 sub bass beats are infused with small elements of jazz and vocally elements of spoken word/slam poetry are added to the mix.
It’s great to hear Run The Jewels vets Zach de la Roche and Gangster Boo back. Premo’s scratching is a great touch, as is Greg Nice’s hook. They’re also joined by 2 Chainz and Pharell Williams, who both bring it.
Of the 10 tracks and intro only 2 songs feel like misses to me. There are 8 outstanding songs on this project. But if you want to quickly scan the album the three songs that represent the different aspects of the album best are: the fervent protest anthem Ooh La La, the haunting and prescient Walking in the Snow and the somber Pulling the Pin. But don’t just scan this album. This is probably Run The Jewels best album since RTJ1. It’s a tight 30+ minutes. Sit down and experience it.
The first third of this album blends the familiar music of the past with futuristic, hypnotic and thought-provoking ear candy. The power of the beats in the second third is only surpassed by the message of the lyrical content. Meanwhile, the final third sounds like a lament for where society currently is.
If you’re marching responsibly these are songs to carry with you. Even the most intense and angry Run The Jewels song has an element of hope to it. In these times, it’s heartwarming to know that we have music that allows us to face the world head on.