2020, Music

Run the Jewels 4 (2020)

It’s rare when I have a visceral reaction to hip hop. Almost always, I listen to it and think about it intellectually, I try to understand why someone would like it. I pay attention to the production most of all because that’s where I feel like I can hear the artistry better. (Just because I have listened to a ridiculous amount of music in my life and have a very strong knowledge of the history of record production. I have much less knowledge of rap.) But with RTJ, it’s different. Like Public Enemy and few others, the moment I hear them I get it.

There’s something about the combination of the production and Killer Mike and El-P rapping that viscerally connects with me more than the vast majority of hip hop. Some of it is no doubt the political lyrics. Regardless of whether I agree with a particular lyric, political hip hop always connects with me more than most hip hop because, especially in the ’90s, it felt like so much hip hop was either about the black American experience (of which I have zero experience) or about getting rich and having lots of sex. Political lyrics just make more sense to me than those, even if I disagree with a particular sentiment.

I do think a lot of it is just Killer Mike, and to a lesser extent El-P. Killer Mike just has an intensity to him that very few contemporary rappers (that I have heard) seem to have. However, I also think it’s his relatively traditional flow that works for me. He sounds like he is rapping similarly to enough of the rappers I grew up hearing in the ether that he resonates with me more than the rappers who sing or the mumble rappers, even if some of them are innovating more than he is.

And, of course, there’s the production, which often feels like it’s the hip hop equivalent of punk or metal in terms of its visceral feel. A lot of RTJ tracks you can feel through your headphones or stereo in a way that I feel loud or fast guitar-based music. There’s probably a technical term for this but I just don’t know what it is. So much hip hop production is smoother than this, or is weirder. El-P manages to have some quirk to his production but also manages that heavy feel that you can feel in your body.

I don’t like this as much as the third album even though I know this one is preferred by fans. I think that’s just because I heard the third album first, and it was that one where I was like “Ohhhhh, I get why these guys are a big deal.” This one might be more creative but it’s less immediate.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.