Reviews Run The Jewels RTJ4

Run The Jewels


It was a surprise to see Run The Jewels’ RTJ4 as Scene Point Blank’s top-billed record for all of 2020, but it demonstrates the widespread scope of its impact on many of our writers, myself included. The hip-hop duo of Killer Mike and El-P operates in their own stratum within mainstream rap, excelling far beyond their original underground roots. It’s easy to forget that their first self-titled album was released as a free download in 2013, as the years since have seen them evolve into a powerhouse supergroup, having songs featured in major blockbuster films and even inspiring some phenomenal remix projects (shout out to Meow The Jewels). They’ve also ridden the wave of (and at times mocked) the popularization of collectible vinyl records, with their limited edition colorways kicking off young fans’ record collections worldwide, but their LPs are so widely accessible now that you can even buy their latest record at Target.

Run The Jewels stand as beacons of politically-charged modern hip-hop as it’s evolved across the last decade, even if they still know how to have fun. And while their sound remains approachable with a pulse on the production trends of the present, they haven’t inspired imitators or provided a template that can be replicated. Their talent lies not in creating massively booming bangers, although they do that extremely well, but in their success of crafting authentic, powerful work even in the face of immense expectations from one of the most fervent core fanbases in music today. They dominate the internet every time they drop a new album, and the timing of RTJ4’s release could not have been more appropriate, during the zenith of the escalating protests against police brutality and systemic racism, at the onset of summer, in the heart of a global pandemic. Its messages are as poignant as they are timely, and significantly contributed to its significance and impact on listeners old and new alike. You can feel the prescience of Killer Mike’s verse on “walking in the snow,” recorded in 2019 along with the rest of the songs on this album.

There must be something about RTJ’s aggressive, hard-hitting style that rings true for our ears at Scene Point Blank, like the crunchy guitar that opens up “walking in the snow.” The only downside here, if we need to find one, is that RTJ’s releases can burn bright and fade into the consciousness too quickly, which might speak more to our rapidly changing political focuses than their ability to hold our attention. While RTJ4 has already been recognized in numerous publications’ year-end lists, we should also take a moment to appreciate what’s been a truly gluttonous year for mainstream hip-hop. This may operate as my excuse for not covering Freddie Gibbs and Alchemist’s Alfredo, which is unquestionably one of the best rap albums of the year but has already been written about excessively, (including my own short take on our Mid-Year feature). RTJ4 will be remembered as a reflection of the ugly, endlessly frustrating reality that was America in 2020, but as they phrased it when they released the album two days early, “we hope it brings you some joy.”

8.5 / 10Campbell
KFAI - Undead
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8.5 / 10

8.5 / 10

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