I listen to a ridiculous amount of music and yet it is rare that an album stops me in my tracks. This weekend that has happened with Run the Jewels new album, RTJ4.
Last week I re-recorded my sermon on Saturday because it no longer seemed relevant to the quickly evolving national response to the murder of George Floyd. Yet, somehow, Run The Jewels released an album on Friday that sounds like they recorded it today.
The album powerfully grabs the listener with the opening track, “yankee and the brave”. The video for the next song, “ooh la la”, prophetically shows streets filled with protesters, as capitalism is set on fire, filmed at a time when social distancing was closely practiced. My favorite song on the album “walking in the snow” begins with the lyric:
And every day on evening news they feed you fear for free
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”
Recorded before the killing of George Floyd, this lyric pointed to the murder of Eric Garner. And yet, the echo of so many black people who have cried out “I can’t breathe” illustrates the power of this album. Run the Jewels pointed to the racism and oppression that was already happening before it reached the current level of collective consciousness. As a result, Run the Jewels have provided the soundtrack for this moment. The same song powerfully proclaims, “Never forget in the story of Jesus, the hero was killed by the state.”
Without pause, the next song, JU$T, somehow hits even harder. Featuring Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha, the folly of the things often seen as success are criticized as the chorus echoes, “Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar.”
Throughout this album, Killer Mike and El-P play off each other masterfully. They complete each other’s sentences, often doing so with both a call to power and a sense of humor. The combination of these elements are reminiscent of the best of Public Enemy or Wu Tang who held together a serious message, but didn’t take themselves seriously. This return to an old school style makes the incredibly relevant messages even more accessible.
The album ends with an epic blues/jazz/spoken word style song, “a few words for the firing squad.” The most heartfelt song on the album is delivered from deep within the soul and ends with horns blazing and the lyrics:
Black child in America, the fact that I made it was magic
Black and beautiful, the world broke my momma heart, and she died an addict
God blessed me to redeem her in my thought, words and my actions
Satisfaction for The Devil, g@ddammit, he’ll never ever have it
This is for the do-gooders that the no-gooders used and then abused
For the truth tellers tied to the whippin’ post, left beaten, battered, bruised
For the ones whose body hung from a tree like a piece of strange fruit
Go hard, last words to the firing squad was, “F— you too”