Run the Jewels — RTJ4 ANALYSIS & REVIEW

Creating a work of music that is both fun on its surface and thought-provoking at its core is quite the task, and one that seems to elude many musicians who attempt it outright. For this hip-hop duo, though, the task seems to come rather naturally, as evidenced by RTJ4. They exhibit their strengths well to create an album that satisfies a listener’s desire to jam to a nice beat, as well as provide powerful perspectives on their personal lives as present day Americans. Every layer worked in tandem here to send these poignant messages and strong emotions. There’s nothing much more a listener can ask for.

Run the Jewels were able to capture this equilibrium of depth and excitement in the melodic layer, which in this style is their spoken vocal deliveries. The two showed a nicely specific rap style that emphasized dense, active rhythm and lyrical clarity. When I say that the layers worked in tandem on this album, what I’m really talking about is the lyrics and the melody both needing each other and succeeding as one entity. The lyrical content was shaped in order to maximize the amount of rhythmic fervor each line could possibly have, while not sacrificing any meaning or weight to them. In fact, the meanings were truly intensified by the spirited vocal deliveries, with rhymes coming across super clean and hitting at both expected and unexpected points in the phrase at times.

I don’t want to be overly critical on the most crucial and successful part of the music, however I will point out that one tool that I felt could’ve been used more in the melodic delivery was variety in phrase lengths. A lot of verses had a sameness in flow and when arrival points would occur within the meter. It was nothing too distracting or detrimental, since the rhythms themselves were always rather varied and impactful, but there could have been an extra jolt in energy or direction with some more unexpected cadence points and new accents. It happened occasionally throughout, especially in “out of sight” and the beginning of “holy calamafuck”, but could’ve been more frequent. That’s really the only isolated element I can see that would’ve taken this work into total greatness.

Still, there can be reason to keep things a little simpler. The rationale here is possibly for keeping the lyrics as clear and understandable as they could be. This pull between lyrical clarity and melodic engagement is a centuries old struggle for musicians, but I thought Run the Jewels found a great balance here. Perhaps the overall intrigue reached a bit of a ceiling overtime as a result, but it still came to an appreciative high level.

This balance was given a significant boost by the background foundation, specifically the emphatic beats that gave a strong and obvious metric structure with rhythmic vitality of its own. It honestly doesn’t take a whole lot of flair or brilliance to create a worthwhile backing beat that ignites some sort of groove, and there were no shortcuts or over-complications here. It baffles me how some modern rap can fall completely flat in finding an engaging backdrop. It only takes a bit of experimentation to the template these days to create your own engaging formula, and it takes a lot of thoughtless decisions to mess it up.

This album again shows its strength in its simplicity. There’s nothing too flashy here in the timbre, just straight up hard-hitting beats with a dose of syncopation and subtle, smooth textural decorations. A little bit different each time in tempo, dynamics, and instrumental additions, but most always the same enticing spirit thanks to its emphasis on rhythm and creating a cohesive emotional mood. The flair that one may perceive is really just the surprising overall atmosphere that’s achieved through these small aspects working together.

Pitch-wise, the background foundation didn’t offer a whole lot of extra appeal. There weren’t a lot of countermelodic layers present, and when they were they didn’t have any real direction or connection to anything. Most every track had a looped progression or synth bass line that never really went anywhere interesting on its own. Those progressions did, however, maintain the rhythmic drive of background and provide a good amount of eccentricity to fit in with these moods. It was best when the bass was basically pounding a pedal tone, as in “goonies vs. E.T.”. Once again, it’s all in the name of keeping things simple, not adding anything that could be seen as excess, and staying concise and direct. This album very much succeeded in that.

I won’t pretend to have some sort of profound statement about the lyrical messages here. But they sure as hell hit. “Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar”. America sucks. Being Black in America sucks. They’ve had enough. And we better listen.

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I’m Sam Mullooly, founder of the music review platform Album Analysis. I provide in-depth analysis and critique of new albums in a unique, music-oriented way.

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Album Analysis

Album Analysis

I’m Sam Mullooly, founder of the music review platform Album Analysis. I provide in-depth analysis and critique of new albums in a unique, music-oriented way.

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