words of wisdom

7 Prescient Lyrics From Run the Jewels’ RTJ4

Once again, they’ve released an album in the middle of a movement against police brutality. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for DIRECTV

Run the Jewels released their second album, Run the Jewels 2, in October 2014 as the country awaited charges for the police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Missouri. The track “Early,” which imagines member Killer Mike being killed by a police officer during a traffic stop, felt all too relevant after its release — not to mention a month later, when a grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson for killing Brown. Over half a decade later, nothing has changed, as Run the Jewels release their fourth album with people across the country and around the world protesting the recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, David McAtee, and countless others.

The duo of Killer Mike and El-P address police brutality, racism, corruption, and protest head-on on this album, which El-P described to Vulture as “a completely relentless, savage fucking punch in the face.” After pushing the album up from June 5 to Wednesday, June 3, Run the Jewels wrote to fans, “The world is infested with bullshit so here’s something raw to listen to while you deal with it all.” These seven lyrics feel particularly apt today.

“yankee and the brave (ep. 4)”

“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
I can’t let the pigs kill me, I got too much pride
And I meant it when I said it, never take me alive.”
— Killer Mike

Mike opens the album thinking about police violence, setting up a scenario where he kills himself knowing that the cops would’ve instead. Suicide returns as a motif on “pulling the pin,” when Mike raps about the pressure of staying true to himself: “So picture me red as I sit on the bed / With my hands on my head and this pistol too.”

“goonies vs. E.T.”

“Now I understand that woke folk be playin’
Ain’t no revolution is televised and digitized
You’ve been hypnotized and Twitter-ized by silly guys
Cues to the evenin’ news, make sure you ill-advised
Got you celebratin’ the generators of genocide
Any good deed is pummeled, punished and penalized”
— Killer Mike

June 2’s Blackout Tuesday confusion, along with the “few bad apples” narrative around policing that gets circulated on social media, makes these lines from Mike hit close as many watch protests online due to social distancing. They also come on one of Mike’s hardest verses on the album.

“walking in the snow”

“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
But truly the travesty, you’ve been robbed of your empathy”
— Killer Mike

El-P had to clarify on Twitter that Mike recorded these lines last fall, not last week, that’s how prescient they are. Mike’s actually referencing the 2014 police killing of Eric Garner, who said “I can’t breathe” 11 times after an officer put him in a chokehold while attempting to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes.


“And your country gettin’ ran by a casino owner
Pedophiles sponsor all these fuckin’ racist bastards
And I told you once befo’ that you should kill your master
Now that’s the line that’s probably gon’ get my ass assassinated”
— Killer Mike

On this song comparing current economic struggles to slavery, Mike revisits his rallying cry to “kill your masters” from the end of Run the Jewels 3. “We spend so much time mortally wounding each other when we should do like Lucy Parsons says: Every lousy tramp in the gutters should do away with the class of people who would make us slaves,” he recently told Entertainment Weekly. “That’s what I believe in my heart of hearts, but I also believe it’s never gonna happen, because human beings look for leadership, and that’s why evil men seem to rule.”

“Beep beep, Richie, 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’
Funny how some say money don’t matter
That’s rich now, isn’t it, get it? Comedy
Try to sell a pack a smokes to get food
Get killed and it’s not an anamoly
But hey, it’s just money”
— El-P

Later in the song, longtime Brooklynite El-P returns to Eric Garner’s killing, just across the Narrows in Staten Island. He sees it as part of a larger trend of violent policing in New York City. “New York is just this noise, and you’re just erecting these illusions around yourself that sometimes don’t last longer than hours,” he told Vulture. “It’s just jumping from illusion to illusion, just to protect yourself.”

“pulling the pin”

“Hate to sound cynical but shit is pitiful, times is just critical
Like Jimmy Savile, they cheerfully kill kids in a ritual
I’ll murder the miserables, I’ll make it all biblical
I’ll cut off their heads, they’ll beg for their lives and I’ll put it up, digital
Fuck the political, the mission is spiritual
Our murder is miracle, that was sent here to just punish through terror”
— Killer Mike

Mike compares corrupt people in power to English TV and radio host Jimmy Savile, revealed after his 2011 death to have sexually abused hundreds, including children. He calls his mission “spiritual” on the same track that features a haunting chorus by gospel singer Mavis Staples, who has been an activist for civil rights since the 1960s, when her father and Staple Singers collaborator Roebuck “Pops” Staples was close with Martin Luther King Jr.

“a few words for the firing squad (radiation)”

“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, ‘Fuck you too’”
— Killer Mike

Mike grapples with his mother’s June 2017 death after a struggle with addiction on the album’s final track. “Black child in America, the fact that I made it was magic,” he raps earlier in this verse, before concluding by dedicating the album to protestors and activists fighting for their rights — along with those who died along the way.

7 Prescient Lyrics From Run the Jewels’ RTJ4