Released in June 2020 as American cities were rupturing in response to police brutality, the fourth album by rap duo Run The Jewels uses the righteous indignation of hip-hop's past to confront a combustible present. Returning with a meaner boom and pound than ever before, rappers Killer Mike and EL-P speak venom to power, taking aim at killer cops, warmongers, the surveillance state, the prison-industrial complex, and the rungs of modern capitalism. The duo has always been loyal to hip-hop's core tenets while forging its noisy cutting edge, but RTJ4 is especially lithe in a way that should appeal to vintage heads—full of hyperkinetic braggadocio and beats that sound like sci-fi remakes of Public Enemy's Apocalypse 91. Until the final two tracks there's no turn-down, no mercy, and nothing that sounds like any rap being made today. The only guest hook comes from Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Mavis Staples on "pulling the pin," a reflective song that connects the depression prevalent in modern rap to the structural forces that cause it.
Until then, it’s all a tires-squealing, middle-fingers-blazing rhymefest. Single "ooh la la" flips Nice & Smooth's Greg Nice from the 1992 Gang Starr classic "DWYCK" into a stomp closed out by a DJ Premier scratch solo. "out of sight" rewrites the groove of The D.O.C.'s 1989 hit "It's Funky Enough" until it treadmills sideways, and guest 2 Chainz spits like he just went on a Big Daddy Kane bender. A churning sample from lefty post-punks Gang of Four ("the ground below") is perfectly on the nose for an album brimming with funk and fury, as is the unexpected team-up between Pharrell and Zack de la Rocha ("JU$T"). Most significant, however, is "walking in the snow," where Mike lays out a visceral rumination on police violence: "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.'"