Review Summary: I am in love with you. It's my only grace.
Today, my coworkers and I watched as Black Lives Matter protestors marched past the windows of our place of employment. They gathered in a large circle by the lake’s edge, holding up signs and chanting the phrases that the country has been listening to but not hearing for several years, recontextualized from decades-old movements that were never able to achieve a true and lasting equality. Some of the people I work with were anxious, urging us to be careful if we had to go outside. Others, still clocked in, stepped out the door to get closer, maybe to see if something bad would happen, maybe to feel some of the energy palpable even in a relatively small gathering. The pull to join the circle was magnetic, but there were reasons to stay back. I hadn’t clocked out. We were understaffed and swamped with work. And the group was clearly gearing up to move on to a different location. How could I follow them when I was supposed to be at work?
Instead, I stayed late and listened to RTJ4
. The magic of their music is that you feel like a part of something bigger than yourself, like you can overcome your own cowardice or at least admit to its existence deep within. Protests spring from pain but not a universal pain. Joining or supporting a movement requires a combination of empathy and courage, the same mixture present on every Run the Jewels album, bolstered by multi-faceted crystalline beats – alternately droning and driving and dirge-like – and lyrics that illustrate the world’s ills that we know but can’t change even as some die trying. While the New York Times
editorial board tries to convince us that protestors reveal what’s great about America (aren’t they trying to reveal the opposite?), RTJ remind us about our real enemies, the holders of capital (slave-masters, in their estimation, and it’s hard to argue) whose property is protected by the police, even the ones who kneel. Especially
the ones who kneel then wake up the next day still carrying the symbols of a coercive and crushing power imbalance.
El-P’s beats sound like they were rolled in breading and dropped into a fryer, the intense heat of chemical reactions bubbling to the surface and scalding those who get too close. His rhymes are consistently excellent as they have always been, but in a time like this, Killer Mike dominates the album’s stage, full of rage, depression, and desperation, but never fear, even as he simulates a rasping, choking death at the hands of police. As is typical on Run the Jewels albums, every feature is perfectly placed, but the inclusion of Mavis Staples and Josh Homme may be El-P’s finest production moment yet. Homme’s ghostly wailing and questing guitar provide a backdrop for Staples to sing an image that perfectly distills not only RTJ’s oeuvre but the bloody centuries of America’s history: “There’s a grenade in my heart, and the pin is in their palm.”
I hope a coward can find his courage by admitting his cowardice. Listening to RTJ4
, I feel like I know my place within the movement and that I let it pass me by, all the while staring at the outstretched hands and crying voices. May bravery find its root in me and metastasize.