A Case Of Unapologetic And Unadulterated Brashness As The Unsilenceable Duo, Run The Jewels Spring Into Fruition On ‘RTJ4’
The melding of multiple minds has proven to be a testing tribulation in the hip-hop landscape, as album cycles have welcomed a plethora of mix and match combinations of collaborators trying their hand at melding influences and individual artistic visions into something greater, yet to no avail. Yet from this new and improved approach and formula, rises from the ashes one of hip-hops front runners, Run The Jewels. The dynamic duo comprises Atlanta native, Killer Mike, and Brooklyn’s own El-P, both no strangers to wearing the eccentric colours of each distinctive roots on their shoulders. This is no less the case on the newest installment of the long-standing series of self-titled albums, ‘RTJ4’, as the two mix their identities of brilliance and eccentric flavours for yet another haphazard and exhilarating sound. Only on this occasion, the two seem to strike particularly close to home with an overarching and omnipresent tendency to unapologetically criticise corrupt societal standards that continue to plague the modern world.
The introductory track ‘yankee and the brave (ep. 4)’ manages to encapsulate the core workings of the duo into such a minute and microsized framework. Announcing their arrival as the two aforementioned, nondescript figures, the sentiment of the song is largely representative of both Mike’s and El-P’s outer influences and regional iconography. This same focus of capturing their core appeal from the album's opening moments bleeds into every aspect of the song. The bold, warped, invasive synths that are matched with thunderous percussion act as the attention-grabbing flair RTJ have become synonymous with. Morphing the track into a chaotic and decrepit landscape the instrumental brings forth a sense of sustained tension and distress that can only be described as a pure shot of instrumental adrenaline. Mike and El-P trade verses back and forth as the two go toe to toe with equally intimidating, gritty, and authoritative verses. A teaser of the sublime performances welcomed on the album.
Every track thereafter manages to capture the same raw insanity and sheer dystopian flavour that the two seamlessly captivate time and time again. ‘ooh la la’ brings forth the regal additives of classy, yet piercing piano keys, a top scratchy and zany manipulated vocal refrains. The confrontational instrumental is only bolstered by the equally gritty and authoritative presence of El-P and Mike, who, despite working with a similar set of tools from the track's predecessor, manages to evoke and explore a whole new, far more emphatic, motivated and charismatic sound. What becomes painfully evident throughout the duration of the album is just how multifaceted and expansive a sound RTJ is truly capable of operating with, and no track better facilitates this notion than ‘out of sight’. The gargantuan, distorted synths raucously rumble throughout the track, bringing a claustrophobic and inescapable menacing sensation to the song. The explosive and confrontational elements of production are met with equally sinister and bombastic performances from El-P and Killer Mike who set the track on fire with their invigorated and flamboyant delivery. Equally as impressive is 2 Chainz he brings an uncharacteristically captivating and vibrant performance to the track, going toe to toe with a very in element RTJ.
The utter quality and exponential talents of the pair shine through as they continually find avenues to challenge a sound palette it feels they’ve all but mastered. ‘Goonies vs. E.T.’ is a prime example of the jarring lengths the group undergoes in order to vividly extrapolate their true experimental capabilities. The track feels like the crumbling of society with its descending and invasive bass that rumbles throughout. This is further accentuated through the whirring and fluttering horn lines that again symbolism that fall into a crazed and chaotic descent. Mike and El-P elevate the track's insanity through the urgency that is brought to fruition via the sense of construed anger and impassioned delivery. Further playing on this idea of eternal conflict and ensuing destruction is the muffled war cries that wail back and forth throughout sections of the track, yet another factor that emphasises the diabolic downward spiral into catastrophe the song so effortlessly captures.
It has become somewhat of a rarity to stumble across a project that feels so gracefully and masterfully orchestrated. A product of care that blossoms with the riches and true artistic creativity of its creator, or in this case, creators. In this instance, the room for criticism has been absolutely minimised, and what little remains applicable, never truly manages to disrupt the cohesion and expansive nature of the project, only acting as a minor footnote within the grand canonical scheme of a given song. ‘never look back’ still maintains a core stretch of the album's sonic character through its incorporation of distorted, flamboyant synths and hyperintense bass lines, yet fails to muster the lyrical or sentimental heights alternative tracks offer. The chorus suffers the most blatantly from this, with its overbearing and tedious repetition it lacks the necessary diversity to establish structural achievement. A shame considering the eccentric warped ghostly whistles that wane throughout the track, an outlier that brings forth extraterrestrial qualities and a sense of exponential wonderment specifically suited to the song.
Yet another instance of misconceived ideas hindering the progression of an otherwise lush and chaotic piece of musical insanity is prominent in ‘the ground below’. The track plays with an idea of unrivaled and unbridled rage, constantly swelling with shredding and earth-shattering guitar refrains that cut straight through all surrounding instrumental factors. The blistering, emphatic production feels every bit as enraged and invigorated as Mike and El-P, as the three forces build an inescapable, cascading wall of blissfully and bombastic sounds, further invigorating the albums consistent portrayal of a descent into chaos. Where the track loses its consistent prevailing cohesion and raw aggression is during the chorus. Losing a sustained sense of dramatised and pronounced anger, the far more lethargic and cathartic approach interrupts the otherwise frightful, constant aggression. Ultimately wasting the suspended raw, bubbling vigor, through the inclusion of the underwhelming and mismatched, sluggish chorus.
Extending its reaches beyond the world of sublime music creation, the album further deserves praise as it calls into question the corrupt underbelly that plagues current global societal constructs through the expertise of lyrical precision. Buried within the track ‘JU$T’ is a powerful sentiment hellbent on undressing and directly addressing an innately corrupt establishment rooted within society. Lyrically the song expresses critiques on an oppressive relationship brought to fruition over class struggle and the excessive lavishments of the top minority. Evoking the powerful and gripping lyrical accusations are an array of emphatic vocal performances. From Killer Mike’s frantic, raspy antics, to El-P’s forceful and charismatic approach, to the trumping and demanding presence of Rage Against The Machine frontman Zack De La Rocha, the track continually builds on an outright intoxicating and outrageous sound, having only the suave vocals of Pharell as the sense of relief amongst an insurmountable wall of chaos.
The album truly shows it’s colours as a body of work that rejects the idea of conformity to the norm through both its final moments and a gripping moment in which it injects itself with the truths of today. ‘Walking in the snow’ blatantly disregards the nuanced notion of subtlety, as it promptly should, as the piece feels like the group's unadulterated statement to rival the long-standing injustice that continues to plague society. Obnoxious and bombastic in nature, the track tells a tragic tale of experience not so unfamiliar to the lived reality of today. More harrowing is the evocative lyrics construed by Mike, “and ‘til my voice goes from a shriek to a whisper, “I can’t breathe” a truly harrowing thought, that resonates within every innate listener. The provocative nature of the record is accentuated on the conclusive track ‘a few words for the firing squad (radiation)’. A visceral track that presents itself as a multifaceted slow-burner through a grandiose, orchestral framework. From the invasive synths to the smokey and glorious sax refrains, to the transitional sorrow-stricken yet bold cinematic string passages the track feels like a glorious and combatant clusterfuck of eccentric sounds. An unmatched sense of suspended and evolutionary intensity the production feels reminiscent of Gorillaz ‘Every Planet We Reach Is Dead’ due to the sheer grand scale yet bombastic sense of character each factor brings forth. Despite El-P and Mike not being consistently present vocally, the track manages to bear the foreboding and harrowing truths of injustice on its narrational shoulders, as the two co-represent the struggles of the oppressed in the US with the uplifting sentiments of “black is beautiful”. A necessary climax and grandiose statement that unapologetically addresses the raw despair and distraught that resonants in the underbelly of the criminally unjust rule.
What has become apparent through a sequential delivery of consistently astounding body of works is that Run The Jewels make take the cake for hip-hops most commercially criminally underrated. Whilst the hyper intensive, shot of adrenaline that is their synonymous production may not fare with an audience climatised to a more formulaic palette, the sheer promise of the emphatic and chaotic brand should be one that remains heralded within the hip-hop pantheon. Whilst ‘RTJ4’ may not be the duo’s magnum opus, it never once deters from an authentic sound they can call their own, demonstrating masterful exploration of a tight-knit sound, yet avoiding the trope that so often plagues records of repetitive or tedious content. The sheer flair and visceral nature of the record aren’t limited to its musical identity in this instance either. The two continue to prove their lyrical prowess, and in a time more necessary than most, feed the demands of an audience with the unapologetic truths needed to topple systemic injustices. A universal answer to the cries of millions.
RTJ4 - Run The Jewels - 9/10
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