Let me begin this post with a look back at Run The Jewels 3. When I retired from the retail music industry in 2003 and went into ministry I left some things behind. I didn’t intend to and I still discovered great music but I left rap behind. To be honest though I was never a the most infomred hip hop head. Jazz? Yes. R&B? Yes. Gospel? Yes. Hip Hop? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong. I could sell it. I knew what I liked. I knew what you would like. But, personally it wasn’t my go to. Add in ten years on a church staff and it was removed for that decade.
I launched The Roosevelt in 2015 and I started to deconstruct some things. (That sentence could be a whole series of posts). 2015 was a blur. But, in 2016 things settled down and I started digging in deeper to music again. My sons, Ethan, Jack, and Miles had kept me relevant with their own music and tastes. That year I started volunteering in youth ministry and I can tell you your perspective is different when you are a volunteer and not the face of ministry. Being involved with ￼students I saw my music library expand again, including things I had shut the door on for years. In addition, Jack was sharing hip hop with me. That year he offered up Anderson Paak’s Malibu masterpiece and at the end of the year Run The Jewels dropped RTJ3. I know it was Jack who turned me onto them and this opened the door to so many things. This album and style was harder and more explicit than what I was used to. It tested my spirit as to what I ‘should’ be listening to (that’s the legalism syndrome speaking there). The fact was, RTJ3 blew my mind. That speed of flow, rawness of lyrics, and man oh man that soul shaking bass. I was in. It made my top ten of the decade list.
Run the Jewels are Killer Mike and El-P. They have been in the rap game for years. Their partnering is unique. After a chance meeting in 2011 the beginning of something special was born. RTJ3 opened the door for me to explore hip hop more intently again. You can look at my top twenty lists from the last five years and where rap is represented, RTJ is the initiator.
Run The Jewels 4. Timely is the word. The record was due in April but the pandemic messed that up. As songs were released, anticipation was high for the whole thing. The first single “ooh la la” was catchy and strong. As was the follow up, “the yankee and the brave”. When the new release date approached, the protests had begun and they knew now was the time. They released this statement and the world was blessed with RTJ4.
“F*ck it, why wait? The world is infested with bullshit so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all. We hope it brings you some joy,” the duo said in a statement. “Stay safe and hopeful out there and thank you for giving 2 friends the chance to be heard and do what they love.”
The horrific injustice of George Floyd’s death added to the timeliness of this record. You saw what happened. You saw the protests. Injustice was being protested in the loudest of ways. And Run The Jewels knew they had the ability to use their music as a platform for justice and confrontation.
“And every day on the evening news, they feed you fear for free
And you so numb, you watch the cops choke out a man like me
Until 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”
George Floyd? Yes. But, Killer Mike wrote those lyrics in the fall of 2019 not 2020. As I hope you are aware, George Floyd wasn’t the first. The exasperation of black people everywhere is caught in that lyric. As a 55 year old white guy it makes me uncomfortable. I want it to make me uncomfortable. I’ve been fighting racism with how I live my life for a long time. I’m interested in being challenged and continuing to learn. Black Lives Matter. Period.
These guys are special. Killer Mike’s emotional and impassioned plea this summer (video below) was moving and impactful and right. And his activism gives him a louder voice because of his art. This is why when I hear statements, like “‘shut up and dribble” I want to scream. Athleticism and artistry are platforms for our black brothers and sisters to educate us on injustice. That is why these roles are so important. You would not be considering police brutality without taking knees, marching, and hearing the heartaches from those who have lost loved ones because of the color of their skin. Stop criticizing something you haven’t experienced. Shut up and listen.
There isn’t a throwaway track on this album. It’s an education. It’s eleven straight bangers. It’s a ‘listen at full volume’ only record. The lyrics say, “Are you listening”?
For example, read this and try to forget it;
“Look at all these slave masters
Posin’ on yo’ dollar”
I know I won’t forget it . This album is meant to devastate some of your truths. It is built to not let you off the hook. All the while having you banging your head to every beat.