Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Run the Jewels: RTJ4 [BMG Rights Management, 2020]
Who knows whether this would feel so right absent a historical moment when trying to distinguish rage slavery from righteous anger is a waste of emotional wisdom? With trap on its opiated treadmill, the gangsta sonics that power El-P and Killer Mike's inchoate aggressiveness will feel tonic to anyone with both an appetite for music and a political pulse. One way or another every one of "us"--a term the moment demands--feels anger whether that anger is complicated by elation or anxiety, hope or fear, concern or frustration or curiosity or new ideas or any combination thereof. So RTJ's political intent alone makes their vigor invigorating. And their lyrics have never been sharper: not just the orange clockworks, Godzillaed Tokyo, and copper with lead in his eye, but two of the wisest political raps in the literature. One is "JU$T," where Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha help them expand on capitalism's commitment to slavery: "You believe corporations runnin' marijuana?/And your country gettin' ran by a casino owner?" The other is the protracted "A Few Words for the Firing Squad" finale, which has its doubts about rage. Take for instance this El-P quatrain: "I used to wanna get the chance to show the world I'm smart/Isn't that dumb? I should have focused mostly on the heart/Cause I seen smarter people trample life like it's an art/So bein' smart ain't what it used to be, that's fuckin' dark." A+