RTJ4—a surprise release two days early—is available as a free album where you pay what you want, and all proceeds go to the National Lawyer’s Guild’s Mass Defense Program which supports activists, protesters, and social movements.

First, we review by track:

yankee and the brave (ep. 4)

The song starts off as if we were listening to a TV show — a male voice announces “This week on Yankee and the Brave” (with Yankee being El-P’s character and Brave being Mike’s), before a beat picks up and Killer Mike starts rapping.

The song itself plays out like an actual TV show. It’s actually a really good story — it starts off with Brave having a shootout the cops, then trying to run from them and getting cornered, then El-P saving Brave with the sheer power of brotherhood. The lyrics themselves were straight fire, and had the general mix deep insights and absolute fuckery expected of the duo. For example, this verse:

I got one round left, a hunnid cops outside
I could shoot at them or put one between my eyes
Chose the latter, it don’t matter, it ain’t suicide
And if the news say it was that’s a goddamn lie

is precluded by this line:

Matter fact, kiss the ass and even the crack
Automatic facts, it’s like that (Woo)

Not sure how these appeared in the same song, but we’re all for it.

The ending was also spectacular, the beat picks up as they both chant

Yankee and the brave are here
Everybody hit the deck
We don’t mean no harm
But we truly mean all the disrespect

It leaves you excited for the future adventures of Yankee and the Brave, you can almost visualize Killer Mike and El-P standing back to back like superheroes on a children’s TV show that somehow manages to talk about trigger-happy policemen and crack addicts.

Digging the fits ;)

It’s classic Run the Jewels — we definitely could have heard this song on any of their other albums — but there’s nothing wrong with classic Run the Jewels. It’s a bop and it gets you excited for what’s to come, and that’s really all we asked for.

ooh la la (feat. Greg Nice & DJ Premier)

To formalize our preliminary notes into a proper review, I reached to click on “ooh lala” for a relisten. Then my hands faltered. I know—I should do it for the blog. For the journalistic integrity. But I just can’t do it.


  • The piano—we’ve got that diverse instrumentation

Pro AND Con:

  • There are trademark lyrics so stupid that they kind of circle back around to being genius. For example:

    Doin’ fine, you want maximum stupid, I am the guy

    Life a bitch and the pussy fish, still fucked her raw
    I’m a dog, I’m a dirty dog, ha-ha-ha-ha-ha


  • The chorus “ooh, la la, ah, oui oui” legitimately reduced my will to live at a rate heretofore unknown. We’re talking third derivatives. I know they sampled Greg Nice and it’s deliberate and meant to be funny, but it’s still borderline unlistenable for me. I literally can’t process this song.

out of sight (feat. 2 Chainz)

The production on this song is SO GOOD. Like, so immediately good you almost don’t care what they’re actually saying. It’s hype, aggressive, and funky all at once. Your head will bop, guaranteed. We’ve got Run the Jewel’s classic self-name-drops: a pitch-corrected shout of “RTJ! RTJ!” is interspersed throughout the song, just in case you forget who you’re listening to. 2 Chainz’s feature is also solid.

The actual verses are also clean. Here are some highlight lyrics, which again at times straddle the fine line between terrible, genius, and terribly genius:

What? My motherfuckin’ Uzi weighs a ton
Hit the drum “Brrup-pum-pum-pum”

Bitch, we cool as penguin pussy on the polar cap peninsula
Colder than your baby mama heart

I buy a hot dog stand if I’m tryna be frank

But at the end of the day it’s really the beat that ensures this song is a highlight on the album.

holy calamafuck

First, the lyrics. holy calamafuck, like all the songs on the album at this point, has some god-tier one liners such as:

Until you rob a hypebeast you ain’t seen sadness

You hate Run the Jewels
You don’t love the troops

The ol razzle dazzlers?

The last quote needs no context.

What I really liked about this song was the vibe switch™ (formally defined as a switch in vibes) between the first and second half of the song. At the 1:30, El-P raps “I think I got the case of the Mondays (Fire!)” — the “Fire!” sample is really interesting, it’s a voice pitched up to sound like a kid’s voice shouting “fire” and then echoing back — and then the song restarts, this time with a Kendrick’s Cartoons and Cereal meets anything off of The Weeknd’s Kiss Land ambiance. It’s vocally stripped down and angry with dark instrumentals that could honestly belong to a movie soundtrack. Altogether, holycalamafuck is well produced and well written. It’s not as interesting as some of the other songs in the album, I don’t think I’d listen to it independently, but it’s still a good one.

goonies vs E.T.

Like holycalamafuck, goonies vs E.T. is well-produced and hype and well-written, it’s just too similar to the songs that come before it on RTJ4. This makes it kind of hard to listen to sequentially. There are some unique bits of production though, for example they used a muted crowd cheering sample that wasn’t like anything we’ve heard before, and the ending was super clean.

walking in the snow

The lyrics in this album are spectacular, but walking in the snow definitely takes the cake. Run the Jewels goes off on police brutality, the prison industrial complex and the education system. Here are some lyrical highlights, they definitely speak for themselves:

Pseudo-Christians, y’all indifferent
Kids in prisons ain’t a sin? Shit

Funny fact about a cage, they’re never built for just one group
So when that cage is done with them and you’re still poor, it come for you

Hungry for truth but you got screwed and drank the Kool-Aid, there’s a line
It end directly at the edge of a mass grave, that’s their design

Never forget in the story of Jesus, the hero was killed by the state

I’m not so sure opportunities knocking, it’s prolly the law

They promise education, but really they give you tests and scores
And they predictin’ prison population by who scoring the lowest
And usually the lowest scores the poorest and they look like me
And every day on evening news they feed you fear for free
And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me
And ‘til 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

What’s equally scary and straight up disgusting about the whole thing is, walking in the snow wasn’t even recorded after the murder of George Floyd. When Mike raps “my voice goes from a shriek to a whisper, I can’t breathe”, he’s referencing the murder of Eric Garner who was choked to death by a police officer (hell, the whole police system) 6 years ago.

The ending, like a lot of endings on this album, slapped. One, lyrically, Gangsta Boo finishes the song with “Cause one of them black and the other one white/So if you don’t like ‘em, you automatically racist” was a hilarious reference to the band. Two, the outro has horns! and reverberating drums! and contrasts the rest of the song while simultaneously tying the whole piece together.

It’s a must listen.

(At this point in the album, we had to take a break. See goonies vs ET section for why.)

JU$T (feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha)

This song does not mess around. Right from Pharrell’s opening verse, you know this song is going to be an absolute call out:

Mastered economics cause you took yourself from squalor (Slave)
Mastered academics cause your grades say you a scholar (Slave)
Mastered Instagram cause you can instigate a follow (Shit)
Look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo dollar (Get it?)

The refrain “Look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo dollar” in particular just hit viscerally. Of course, there’s the obvious, spot-on criticism: that slave owners (Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, and Ben Franklin are plastered all over our dollar bills)—but that’s not actually what the line made me think of first. At first I actually thought the line was about Trump this week tear-gassing protesters for a photo-op at a local church, and how we taxpayer-fund racist politicians. Lyrics containing social criticism that is at once incredibly pointed, incisive, and specific, and yet still manages to hit upon some broader universal truth—this is the kind of stuff we want to hear.

And your country gettin’ ran by a casino owner
Pedophiles sponsor all these fuckin’ racist bastards (They do)
And I told you once before that you should kill your master (It’s true)
Now that’s the line that’s probably gon’ get my ass assassinated

The Thirteenth Amendment says that slavery’s abolished (Shit)
Look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo’ dollar (Get it)

This is New York City
The X on the map where the pain keep hitting
Just us ducks here sitting
Where murderous chokehold cops still earnin’ a livin’

Eric Garner was killed in NYC in 2014 after NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold. Pantaleo was not federally charged in the case, and was not fired by Commissioner James P. O’Neill until 2019.

In these lyrics, Run the Jewels don’t advocate for meager concepts like “reform”—nothing short of radical revolution and abolition is an adequate response to the racism and corruption underpinning society. The current nationwide protests against the killing of Black people by the police mean these lyrics feel more relevant than ever, but it’s important to note that Run the Jewels has always been saying this stuff. Look at Early, from Run the Jewels’ eponymous 2013 debut album, or Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) from Run the Jewels 2, where Killer Mike raps:

Where my thuggers and my crippers and my blooders and my brothers?
When you ** gon’ unite and kill the police, mothafuckas?

The production on this song is also—as always for RTJ—really well done. The almost melodic, high-pitched vocalization repeated as the beat in the background and the thudding bass are just so good.

never look back

The clock ticking that opens and ends the song kind of had me stressed, not gonna lie. But the production is potent and aggressive, the verses are sharp and flow and make you feel like doing donuts in a convertible on a five-lane freeway—classic Run the Jewels content.

The interlude is also something else:

So here’s the play
You can’t go forward, and you can’t go backward
The past, the present, the future, all irrelevant,
The only hing that matters is gratitude,
Gratitude is everything,
Time is nothing

The ending feels a little extended, but still—good, solid stuff.

the ground below

never look back merges with the ground below through cool staticky noises. It’s these little details, the continuity between songs, that makes this a stellar album and not just a group of good songs. The beat, as usual, is really hype and the lyrics are top-notch. Like when they rap, “I support the sex workers unionizing their services”, and “I’m born from the ether” and

The last temptation of Mike, but I’m a god figure
Tell Beelzebub that the God don’t need a job
And if I did, the oligarchs would be missing, murdered and robbed

are iconic lines. The main refrain is also so good. When both El-P and Killer Mike rap, “Love never meant so much to me”, it’s distorted to sound like “God never meant so much to me” — the dual meaning makes the song all the more nuanced. Some king shit.

pulling the pin (feat. Mavis Staples & Josh Homme)

The opening beat is so good, the distant almost choir-like harmonization in the background during the verse is cinematic, and Mavis Staples’ feature is absolutely beautiful. She’s doing a bit of a hard carry on this song—her singing over the gritty, minimalist guitar riffs is what elevates pulling the pin beyond your classic (but still good) Run the Jewels content.

a few words for the firing squad (radiation)

This song is the best song of the album, potentially the best song of the RTJ discography, hell potentially the best song of the year. We’re gonna try something new here. These are the raw, unedited notes of our reaction to the song, because honestly, I’m not sure if real words can encapsulate how incredible this song is. Listen along to our notes for the full experience.

really like the opening, the repeated distorted guitar chord/riff, the imagery of "waking up next" to someone
HORNS !!! UGH THEY know us so well

“I need a husband more than the world need another martyr” SHIT
fuck the sax, the lyrics, the “intensity” of the guitar riffs…. shit, the combo of the horns and the drums is genius though
“black child in America, the fact that I made it is magic”
“for the truth-tellers tied to the whipping post”

fuck why is my heart rising with this beat
WHOA its quieting
with halfway to go
what are they gonna do
SUSPENSE keeps you on your toes baby

animal calls in background

absolutely killller fucking end to the album

okay another quiet w/ 1:30 to go ….. wtf is coming next



im dying

holy shit

So yeah, as we said, it’s an “absolutely killllller fucking end to the album”, and a fantastic song on it’s own.

As an album…

Yeah, this shit is so fucking good. The first half of the album is more or less classic hype banger Run the Jewels (which we still love to hear), but around halfway the album really takes off and just goes to the next level entirely. RTJ4 is clearly so well constructed, not just each individual song, but as an album—the seamless and well-thought transitions between songs. The outro to the album being a callback to the very first track, everything coming full circle. Every feature was good and had a purpose. Run the Jewels’ production is at its best yet (fresh, hype, it makes your head bop but it’s innovative enough to keep you on your toes), which is really saying something because their production has always been amazing. The lyrics are 50% spot-on, take-no-prisoners historically and currently relevant social criticism about race, police violence, corruption, and power, and 50% so dumb it circles back to being genius am-I-laughing-or-crying lyrics that literally only Run the Jewels could come up with, and that’s exactly how we like them.

Maybe it could use a tad more differentiation, but the beats are so good that’s not really the point. And I’d like to delete ooh la la from my memory, but I know the chorus and choice of sampling is deliberate and I just don’t “get it” or whatever. If we remove ooh la la, RTJ4 is without a single doubt Album of the Year level content. It’s AOTY material even with ooh la la, actually, which really, really says something about the quality of the production and the lyrics and how you feel when you listen to this album.

The Culinarity™ Score:

With ooh la la:


Without ooh la la:


Want an explanation of our scoring system? See here.