At a time when the whole world is in turmoil; where nations of once indomitable power are international laughing stocks, where police are fighting citizens in the streets and whole cities are burning. We are in short supply of prominent superheroes who are holding power to account. Welcome then, the return of El-P and Killer mike – collectively kicking and rhyming their way back to the front of the stage as Run The Jewels.
With their four strong “Number” series of albums they have appeared amidst great social upheaval and lent their unique, politically aware, socially-centric voices to many a cause and have emerged as the heir-apparent to the likes of Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy and NWA. With withering lyrical prowess, sharp finger-on-the-pulse commentary and ability the spin a line into a joke and deliver punchline upon punchline without breaking sweat.
With the words “Back at it like a crack addict, Mr Blackmagic…” RTJ4, their prescient, brilliant latest opus, is a thundering musical appraisal of the current state of our world. Delivered with the twin assault of El’s disappointment with thin layer of hope Brooklyn drawl and Mike’s cut to the quick Atlantan machine-gun vocal, they are a compelling, essential and genuinely perfect remedy to every new entry we have had in the parade of shit that has been 2020.
The way they manipulate language and pop-culture esoteric references hark back to the skills and showmanship of acts like tribe Called Quest – there is a certain competitive edge between Elp and Mike that remind you of Q-Tip and Phife Dog, the one-upmanship of the storytelling in the lyrics ignites every track – and structured as it is on top of El’s sublime beats and composition mastery, it is an album of sharp, killer cuts that hit hard and quick, and linger long and loud in your mind.
Lead single “Oh La La” may well be the most positive track on the album – and had they have known what was coming, it may never have made the cut for that honour – is a textbook way to reintroduce yourself after a break between albums. It’s playful hook and the interplay between the leads is effortlessly cool, it grips tight in your inner ear and soon your whole body is dancing and you’re fruitlessly trying to catch up with the lyrics to join in. However, it’s when they start to unwrap their grievances that the album starts to really light up and soon – whether you want it or not – your speakers are on an inferno from the fire being spat.
By the end of “Holy Calamfuck” the show has really begun and the boys are in the open, all guns blazing and there is not a damn subject not being called out and stripped down for ridicule and demolition. From here they bounce straight into the haunting, startlingly prophetic “Walking in The Snow” – a song that sets the tone for the remainder of the album. The Jewelrunners are not here to fuck around. They do not care if you are offended, they do not give a fuck if you want to speak to the manager – Karen’s are fair game here, so park your white privilege at the door, put on the fatigues and get in line – because RTJ is here to lead the revolution and the world better change or die.
RTJ4 is perfect in every way imaginable. An absolutely astounding achievement that can be appreciated by anyone, regardless their usual tastes or delectations. It deserves a spot next to “To Pimp A Butterfly” in its importance to cultural understanding – and it stands alone on its own, in its own league, as an example of what you can create if you are convicted 100% to the vision, voice and philosophy of what you are making.
The final two songs are a one-two gut-punch, Upper-cut knockout, tackling the horrors and ignorance suffered at the hands of victims of sexual abuse “ Pulling The Pin”- with some of the most intricate, vicious lyrical content of the album, taking shots at the abusers (calling out Jimmy Saville in an American Hip Hop was not something I would expect to hear) and offering a hand of peace and love to the victims. There is understanding and there is comradeship here – these voices understand, and they are mad. They take that anger straight into album closer “A Few Words from the Firing Squad” – a song that appears to be about the dichotomy of fame and obscurity, the losses and hardships that temper the renown and the struggle of artists and creators. It also touches on parables of abusive parents and carrying burdens that you may not deserve to carry… And, lots more – as ever RTJ leave their lyrics up for interpretation, and there is a wealth to unravel here and just absorb.
As releases go this is vital, impossibly creative, utterly current and will have meaning and lyrics that will become prescient for events long into the future. Goddamn the boys have done it again – and I sense they will have a lot more to say as we stumble further into the weeds as the raving twenties evolves around us.