RTJ4 by Run The Jewels

RTJ4
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“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies,
but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world,
against mighty powers in this dark world,
and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”   – Ephesians 6:12 (NLT)


When you listen to a song, do you listen to the music? The words? Or the emotions and ideas found within those words? White Christians often quickly dismiss hip hop because of its unfamiliar sounds (music), and profane words. The emotions and ideas go unheard. On June 3, Run The Jewels released an album titled RTJ4 that provides a timely opportunity for humans across the globe to understand the experience of racial injustice. If there is ever a time for white Christians to listen to a hip hop album carefully and humbly, RTJ4 is the one. RTJ4 unpacks the current race reality in the U.S., provides a warning of the consequences, and still offers hope.  

On the opening track, titled “yankee and the brave,” the group places themselves within the current cultural situation. We meet New York rapper-producer El-P (yankee) and Atlanta rapper Killer Mike (brave). Killer Mike finds himself surrounded by hundreds of police with only one bullet in his gun and a choice to make. El-P arrives in a getaway car, unwilling to let Killer Mike die quite yet. Immediately, the song introduces the fragile life of many black men in America. This vulnerability spreads beyond black men when, in the song “walking in the snow,” they observe:

“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.”

The scene is set. Authorities and unseen evil powers are oppressing black men and women in the USA, and this oppression is spreading. The consequences of this oppression are widely felt. For those being oppressed, the results are chillingly immediate. Death. Run the Jewels hopes to remind listeners of Eric Garner’s last words before being killed by an NYPD officer in 2014. Yet just days before the release of RTJ4, millions watched George Floyd repeat these same last words of “I can’t breathe.” In “walking in the snow,” Run The Jewels wonders whether America is truly listening or whether apathy has set in:

“And every day on the evening news they feed you fear for free
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”
And you sit there in house on couch and watch it on TV
The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy
But truly the travesty: You’ve been robbed of your empathy
Replaced it with apathy.”

Physical death and spiritual numbing are the consequences of a society allowing evil ideas and desires to flourish. Despite the current situation, Run the Jewels still finds hope. The song “ooh la la” looks ahead to the celebration when justice is finally reached. We read these words scrawled across the opening screen of the music video:   

“One day the long-fought battle between humanity
and the forces of greed and division will end,
and on that day, finally free,
we will throw a … party.”

The battle between humans and the evil ideas and mighty powers of this world will end in a party. Before that party, there is much work to be done. Run the Jewels offers a sober reminder to Christians: “Never forget in the story of Jesus, the hero was killed by the state.” Jesus presented a radical message of love toward the oppressed. He saw the image-bearing value in all human life. And he also saw the evil within the hearts of the religious and political leaders of his day. Yet murder by these leaders could not defeat Jesus. Through his resurrection, we also experience victory and salvation. We now are free to follow in his footsteps and battle as Paul instructs in Eph. 6:12. Even when it looks like evil is winning, we know who has won. And after our work on earth is done, Jesus can’t wait for us to join him at the party. (Jewel Runner)

Content Warning: RTJ4 contains profanity, which might be challenging for some listeners to hear. Extra caution and conversation is needed when processing this music with children and teenagers. For further dialogue about profanity in music, check out the article “Is Profanity Getting in the Way of Knowing our Neighbour” (engagingmusic.ca/profanity).

About the Author

Micah van Dijk is a popular music expert who speaks and writes to help audiences understand the impact popular music has on their faith and identity. www.micahvandijk.com

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