RTJ4, by Run The Jewels
Suggested by Paul Wray
Rap comes in many forms.
In this project so far, we’ve seen quite a variety of spoken-singing. There’s been the blockbuster tracks from Kanye, the old school from Salt n Pepper, the angry gangster from The Geto Boys, the performance poetry for Kae Tempest, and much much more.
There’s also the Snoop Dogg Show, by Ess-to-the-Enn-to-the- well, you know the rest.
Run The Jewels are a self-professed hip hop supergroup, consisting of two fellas with some apparent rap pedigree: El-P and Killer Mike. Their tracks are enhanced by a number of guest artistes, such as Greg Nice, 2 Chainz, Mavis Staples, and Pharrell Williams (someone I’ve actually heard of).
RTJ4 is their fourth album. Interestingly, like the three before it, RTJ4 was released as a free download. Quite how this helps them “get money” is a mystery, and considering their lyrical preoccupation with getting said money I’m surprised at this refreshing approach.
RTJ4 contains eleven crafted tracks of intelligent and dense rapping excellence. The rhymes and beats are whipcrack-quick at times, sometimes to the detriment of the listener’s understanding. There’s always an element of codebreaking with angry hip hop, and the breathless delivery of some tracks makes me feel a lot older than I actually am. And I’m pretty old.
The subject matter is elegantly and poetically handled, with some very creative word and phrase choices, but I feel that a lot of the tracks are contextually generic. I could be missing the intricacies, but so much of the rhyme is your standard lifestyle schtick that’s been the spine of the genre since the eighties. It’s very well written, and unquestionably powerful, but it’s still a lot of “get that money, dodge those cops, we stand strong, y’all be haters” rhetoric. This is not my voice, and this is not my truth, so my complaints feel churlish.
RTJ4 was released in June this year, and it has a topical freshness that brings added resonance. There are references to George Floyd and more, and the entire album is a punchy reflection of the current climate. With a booming musicality behind such stark images, it feels somehow important. Overall, the hip hop electronica underpinning the vocal brilliance is well styled and has depth. It’s also in keeping with the subject matter at hand, never descending into something as twee as niceness. It feels raw yet considered, packing as much heat as the shotgun lyrics.
My favourite track is Walking in the Snow, an angered diatribe that chronicles African American lifestyles and abuses. I’d also mark out Goonies vs ET for praise, except it isn’t actually about The Goonies or ET so I felt a little cheated.
RTJ4 gets a sold 7/10 from me, with its crafted songs and polished verse. I’ll happily check out the other albums, with a breather between each to recover from the barrage of ideas and syllables they undoubtedly contain.