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Run the Jewels Is 2020’s Public Enemy – and This Time, We’re All Listening

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:58 PM
Aaron Weaver
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:58 PM
  • Rap duo Run the Jewels dropped their latest record “RJ4” early.
  • The album is rife with activist lyrics denouncing oppression and police brutality.
  • While groups like Public Enemy carried the same message 30 years ago, the rest of the world might finally be ready to take it in.

Run the Jewels dropped their new album RJ4 early, and the timing is unbelievable.

Groups like Public Enemy and NWA began their outcry against police violence in the late 80s. While these artists gained a large following, the American community at large sadly wasn’t ready to absorb their critical message.

It only took 30 years, and countless videos of senseless police brutality against black people, but the message is unavoidable now.

Amid protests, riots, looting, and fresh off a pivotal speech from Killer Mike, Run the Jewels just dropped a bomb in the middle of the revolution.

RJ4 Is the Perfect Album for the Times

Run the Jewels have addressed brutality and oppression many times before, but this time, they’re taking no prisoners.

The feverish production from El-P perfectly matches the frenzy that many Americans feel right now. The anger, disbelief, and urgency that he and Killer Mike rap with are as palpable as the protests that are shaking the world.

No song expresses this energy better than “JU$T.” Featuring Pharrell Williams and long-time activist Zack de la Rocha, each artist reveals how it’s not “just money.”

Pharrell says,

The 13th amendment says that slavery’s abolished — sh***t — look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar.

Killer Mike’s verse on “a few words for the firing squad (radiation),” should replenish any protestor losing steam:

This is for the do-gooders that the no-gooders used and then abused
For the truth tellers tied to the whippin’ post, left beaten, battered, bruised
For the ones whose body hung from a tree like a piece of strange fruit
Go hard, last words to the firing squad was, “F*ck you too”

Run the Jewels Takes the Spirit of Public Enemy and Gives It a System Update

Public Enemy was one of the first hip-hop groups to be known solely for a sound dedicated to black activism.

Just like Run the Jewels, they had a gritty, underground sound that served as the backdrop for Chuck D’s urgent, educational lyrics.

You can see, they carried the same sentiments from RJ4’s  “JU$T” way back in 1988.

Check out this poignant line from their anthem “Fight the Power,”

Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps
Sample a look back you look and find
Nothing but rednecks for four hundred years if you check

On “Can’t Truss It,” Chuck D gives us a history lesson from slavery to the police brutality of his day:

Wearin’ red, white and blue Jack and his crew
The guy’s authorized beat down for the brown
Man to the man, each one so it teach one
Born to terrorize sisters and every brother

While Public Enemy made an undeniable impact, their message sadly didn’t seem to catch with most of white people in America. It even seemed to fade over time in the rap world.

While that activism would show up through the years in artists like 2pac, Mos Def, and Dead Prez, mainstream hip-hop grew in a different direction.

Rappers started wearing shiny suits and boasting about their money while the police brutality continued.

Then, we got smartphones, and the world could see what so many rappers had been trying to tell the rest of the country.

After the video evidence of Ahmaud Arbery, ‘Central Park Karen,’ and George Floyd surfaced in the same month, the issue has become unavoidable.

Portland protestors lay on the ground for nine minutes to honor the death of George Floyd. | Source: Instagram 

This time, people of every color and creed are joining the fight. The black community’s struggles are just beginning to get the level of support they’ve deserved for hundreds of years.

And Killer Mike, El-P, and Run the Jewels have provided us with the perfect soundtrack.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CCN.com.