Run The Jewels don’t need much of an introduction at this point. The duo have released 3 highly acclaimed hip hop records. All heavily outspoken, blowing everything around them into flames. It transitions out of record too. Most recently Killer Mike appeared in protest against the George Floyd murder on The Today Show. This is what we really need to push these days. Over anti septic, falsehoods bragging about how many women they can bone at once. Some of the most prominent tracks in history have had a political message, and RTJ follow suit. Look at Dylan’s early catalogue, Simones ‘Strange Fruit’, Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ album and U2’s ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ for a small spectacle. To me this is merely one of the factors that makes Run The Jewels so great. I haven’t mentioned the forward thinking production, and clever wordplay (which there is plenty of here).
Two days prior to their new project, Killer Mike and El-P released a statement. Opening with: ‘Fuck it, why wait. The world is infested with bullshit so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all.” They follow this with the attachment to their new record. They have a pay what you want scheme, with all donations going to the Mass Defense Racial Program. On ‘The Ground Below’ the group make a statement that sums up the entire project, and their ethos in general. ‘We just gave you inspiration for free. The money never meant much’. Amen.
Digging deeper, the project opens with ‘Yankee and The Brave (EP 4)’. A theme song for the group as they reference themselves as baseball teams from their home states. The track flies like an out of control drone. Killer Mike gives a character study about coming to terms with self love through body weight issues in one verse. In another, EL-P drops lines about his pet peeve. That being the anti robin hood aristocrats doing nothing but ‘picking pockets’ and ‘harvesting’ from the poorer. Mike has another verse in reference to Christopher Dorner. It is extremely thought provoking. In backstory: Dorner was a police officer who committed several mass killings. Other members of police followed these murders by setting fire to a cabin Dorner was in. While reporters have made out that Dorner’s death was a suicide (a self inflicted shooting in the head), Mike makes the smart point that a gun shot is a quicker, and more painless death than being burnt alive. Does this really show any remorse like they make out? The duo give us a lot to digest in a 2 minute burst. They really are ‘back at it like crack addicts’ as EL-P suggests.
The 808 heavy ‘Goonies VS E.T.’ is also very socially aware. The duo lyrically dig deep into pollution in the first leg. Asking their listeners which planet they will go to when their one becomes inhabitable. That’s something to consider with the worrying news predictions of the future. Mike later delivers a politically active verse on the Twitter protests over Black Lives Matter. He muses on how many of them aren’t really supporting the cause, instead posting black squares thinking that this alone will solve the issue. People’s laziness in not signing petitions and supporting links has been evident. He references Gil Scott Heron’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ and confirms it won’t be digitized either in some heavy lines. ‘Now I understand that woke folk be playin. Aint no revolution that’s televised or digitized. You’ve been hypnotized and Twitter-ized by silly guys. Cues to the evening news, make sure you ill advised.’
‘JU$T’ has the fantastic combination of Pharrell Williams and Zack De La Roca (Rage Against The Machine) on feature. The quartet make the smart point that Slavery was ‘abolished’ in 1865. Yet a collection of highbrow figures on US dollar bills have owned slaves at least once in their life. Examples are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who appear on the 1 dollar, 2 dollar and 100 dollar bills. The group lay out the contradictory, and racist way the American country thinks, and it is hard to deny. Marijuana is used as an example. A drug smoked by a majority of Americans, and made legal in some states. Yet the police turn to black people to arrest on suspicion of it. Is this fair when the politics of the country support dangerous figures? They look at people like sex offender Jefferey Epstein, and Donald Trump, who ran a dodgy casino in the 80s. While the production is nothing new for Pharrell (it sounds like a Neptunes beat), it is one of his finest deliveries. Potentially my favorite he’s touched.
‘Walking In The Snow’ tackles police brutality and hierarchy systems. Mike chillingly claims that the media sweep many racial police attacks under the rug. He recounts the attack on Eric Gamer, who’s words were replicated by George Floyd only last week. ‘til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe’. And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV. The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy. But truly the travesty, you’ve been robbed of your empathy’. Take a moment to take in that this record was finished late last year. Nothing has been done to prevent the attacks on innocent black citizens since. Proven completely with George Floyd. It’s abysmal. The track later provides us with Mike’s views on totalitarianism school systems, where upper class children are prioritized and given a better education than those who are destined to prison because of their relation with crime and poverty. The production is gritty, industrial, punky and uncompromising. Them slashing guitars. Wow.
The duo present a biblical philosophy on life, and what morality really is on ‘Pulling The Pin’. Mike expresses his hatred for many of the rich, and having no shame in wanting to ‘murder’ these figures and share it on social media. He references Jimmy Saville, who got knighted by the queen before being called out as a pedophile (after his death). Quite evidently he was dodgy (cue here John Lydon interview that got banned from the BBC and TOTP molest video). He claims that while he supports religion, ‘you will not travel towards the light if they’re in charge of your departure’. And he makes a good point. Who will be outspoken if we’re all too afraid? The track has a spine chilling feature from the now 80 year old Mavis Staples. No stranger to political activism. She brings the verses to their conclusions, with metaphorical connotations to pulling the pin on a grenade in her/their views. The right choice of a feature. Her hoarse delivery gives me goosebumps.
The production really shines on ‘The Ground Below’. A track featuring a very prominent sample from Gang Of Fours ‘Ether’. A track that is surely difficult to sample onto a hip hop track. It is chopped up savagely by El-P as he digs through his crates. The duo’s sharp bars on fighting temptation and breaking laws could appear as easily the most badass song in the next GTA game. These lines burn hard. At one point Mike claims if they see a future where their work isn’t impactful, he’d use a time machine to fix that before thinking of killing Hitler. You can’t blame him when race issues have lasted longer than both world wars put together. His controversial support for sex workers is pushed too. One that is still illegal in most states.
‘Ooh La La’ also shares killer production. Laced with this detuned piano sample that sounds straight out of the 90s boom bap scene. Complete with DJ Premiere and Greg Nice scratch samples. It’s undeniable . Although maybe a little generic lyrically as far as RTJ goes. El-P has a verse about working up the ladder to get to where he is now. The group dive into liking their food raw like they like their sex. So so on that one. Though arguably it would be the best track on a Drake project. A lot better than ‘Started From The Bottom’. I could say similar in production on ‘Out Of Sight’ (how claustrophobic can one get?) and ‘Holy Calamafuck’. The latter having one of the strongest, and unexpected beat change ups ive heard in a while. Smartly contrasting Killer Mike and El-P’s rapping skills to southern and northern beats.
The final track. ‘A Few Words For The Firing Squad’ is a personal, and touching number. Backed by an infectious, saxophone laced beat. Mike’s verses steal the show here. He talks about the death of his mother, and how it badly affected him. He reflects on protecting those close to him. He talks of his wife worrying about his outspokenness getting him in trouble. He muses on previous figureheads for the black community who were undervalued. Look at Martin Luther King and Malcom X. He pays homage to them, and everyone right now protesting. He dedicates the album to ‘those whose body hung from a tree like a piece of strange fruit’. A striking reference to the chilling Nina Simone track.
The album closes off right where it begins. With a ‘Yankee and The Brave’ TV show theme. Pulling things full circle. It’s a wonder that the duo can pack so much into 38 minutes. This album is a biting, and honest depiction of the times we live in. Even when it underwhelms (as it’s best tracks set a high stake), the group impress with some quick witted lyrical wordplay. Whether it is the ‘Dollars Make Cents’ line or ‘Menances To Sobriety’ take on Menaces II Society. If a revolution were to happen, this would be the soundtrack.
Standout Songs: ‘Yankee and The Brave (Ep. 4)’, ‘Goonies VS E.T.’, ‘Walking In The Snow’, ‘JU$T’, ‘The Ground Below’, ‘Pulling The Pin’, ‘A Few Words For The Firing Squad’