RTJ4 album cover
RTJ4

Run the Jewels

2020
BMG

In his partnership with Killer Mike, El-P likes to invoke EPMD as one of his ideal templates for their two-man power trip school of hardcore hip-hop — the catch here being that they’re far more interested in getting listeners amped and out for justice than declaring “You Gots to Chill.” And on their fourth album, their business is always personal — both in the “…is the political” sense and in the idea that their powerful hold on a communally-minded cult-gone-mass fanbase is a key means for a reckoning with the self. Dropped as it was right when the George Floyd protests were escalating into a global, pandemic-catharsis rebellion, this is an album whose lyrical emphasis on resistance and revolution seemed presciently-timed until you remember they’re addressing recurring, omnipresent problems — at which point the rage starts feeling like the wisdom of elders. “Walking in the Snow” and its spotlight on the multigenerational struggle against all-quadrants power-structure-led brutality hits hard in this respect, as does any other track (Mavis Staples-laced apocalypse gospel “Pulling the Pin”; what-price-capital reckoning “Ju$t”) where Mike’s New School Ice Cube directness shares space with El’s evolved ability to make gymnastic-flow anthems out of his hardest political bars since “Patriotism.” It all sounds defiant in its energized noise-funk production — even when it takes a step back to make old-school nods to Gang Starr (Greg Nice’s “DWYCK” verse providing the hook to “Ooh La La”) and The D.O.C. (“Out of Sight” daring to iconoclastically flip the same Sylvers sample as Dr. Dre’s iconic beat for “It’s Funky Enough”), it’s part of a lineage that has no intentions of forestalling the bass-crushing digital snarl of hip-hop’s wide-open future — which, going by the say-UNKLE squall of “Yankee and the Brave” and the free jazz ascent of closer “A Few Words For The Firing Squad (Radiation),” is in good hands.

Nate Patrin

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