Run the Jewels drops visceral, necessary fourth album uplifting a nation in crisis

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Grade: 5.0/5.0

Hip-hop duo Run the Jewels doesn’t mince words on its long-anticipated fourth album, Run the Jewels 4. Released June 3, two days before its scheduled date, Run the Jewels 4 comes at a crucial time amid protests against police brutality and racism. Bearing the unifying message, “down with systemic oppression,” Run the Jewels 4 is not only an uplifting reality check for those just opening their eyes to society’s shortcomings, but also a much-needed respite for justice warriors weakened by the demands of bringing about change.

Right from the first track, “Yankee and the Brave (ep.4),” rappers Killer Mike and El-P transport listeners into an outlaw dream sequence. “I got one round left, a hunnid cops outside/ I could shoot at them or put one between my eyes,” delivers Killer Mike. As the song ends, the initial fantasy slips away and then spirals into a welcome awakening to the qualms of society.

Run the Jewels 4 takes an “act first, apologize later” stance with the brunt of its songs. Each track holds up a mirror to a social issue, primarily those associated with police brutality, classism, racism and modern slavery. 

“Walking in the Snow” is arguably the song with the most prevalent issues addressed, a chilling foreshadowing but also a recollection of past tragedies with lines, “And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me/ And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe.’ ” Set to a sinister beat, “Walking in the Snow” is a moving and mobilizing song. Posted alongside a video of Killer Mike’s passionate condemning of police brutality, the track is a call to action for those who are lethargic and numbed by televised injustice.

Run the Jewels not only makes sure to touch base on police brutality and racism, but also their root causes. On “JU$T,” Killer Mike and El-P launch a full attack on capitalism, with help from singer Pharrell Williams and frequent collaborator Zack de la Rocha, lead singer of Rage Against the Machine. Set to a simple yet driving beat, the four rap about how society is now being enslaved by riches instead of masters, urging listeners to “kill” off their desire for wealth.

Amid a constant barrage of Run the Jewels’ comfortable, heavy beats, notes of old school hip-hop shine through. Run the Jewels 4 features a more uniform beat pattern rather than experimenting with futuristic sounds as heard on previous albums. But that’s because Run the Jewels 4 isn’t so much about the backing tracks; instead, the beats swaddle the listener as the duo imparts its wisdom to listeners.

Even the shorter songs on the record, such as “Never Look Back” and “The Ground Below” pack a punch and grab attention. “The Ground Below” is a particularly smooth song, featuring vocalizations in the chorus that elevate the song instrumentally without losing the unifying dark beat that underscores the album.

Run the Jewels throws its last bone to listeners with the final song, “A Few Words for the Firing Squad (Radiation).” It’s one last assurance that getting angry is an appropriate response to the horrors of today. Featuring a saxophone and sinister violin throughout, “A Few Words for the Firing Squad (Radiation)” evokes noir-themed music, a send off for listeners with Killer Mike and El-P’s famous intense rap style sans breaks.

And just like that, Run the Jewels transports listeners back to the beginning of the album with an autotuned repetition of “Yankee and the Brave.” It feels as though listeners are walking out of an alternate dimension, armed and ready to take on the world.

Run the Jewels 4 had big shoes to fill as a successor to 2016’s masterpiece Run the Jewels 3, but not only does the fourth record exceed expectations, it also shows how the duo has grown through its activism and unwavering focus on pressing issues. 

Run the Jewels 4 isn’t as intense and punchy as Run the Jewels 3, but it’s more sophisticated and refined — an album of anthems and battle cries. Killer Mike and El-P aren’t joking around anymore. They mean business, and only business.

Contact Pooja Bale at [email protected].