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Since they first burst onto the scene, much like the Kool-Aid Man smashing through a wall, hip-hop supergroup Run the Jewels—aka Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and Brooklyn rapper/producer El-P—have yet to go more than two years without releasing an album. Their self-titled debut Run the Jewels was met with universal acclaim upon its summer 2013 release, and Run the Jewels wasted little time in establishing that their sudden success was no fluke, following up with the equally incendiary Run the Jewels 2 the following October. Already one of the most in-demand rap acts in the game at that point, Run the Jewels toured the world and took their time with Run the Jewels 3, ambushing us all with the much-anticipated album—on Christmas Eve, no less—before following up with an official physical release in January 2017. Surprise, surprise: The best got better on RTJ3, one of Paste’s top albums of last year, catapulting Run the Jewels to downright superstardom and cranking Run the Jewels 4 anticipation up to ludicrous levels. But it looks like the duo will finally break that two-year threshold with their fourth album, which El-P revealed this week we won’t be able to hear until sometime in 2019. Beyond that, news of RTJ4 has been all too difficult to come by, so let’s review everything we know about the fourth batch of songs from the psyche of Jaime and Mikey.
As far as we can tell, the first concrete update on RTJ4 came in December 2017, nearly a year after the surprise Christmas Eve release of RTJ3. El-P teased the duo’s follow-up on Twitter Dec. 11, writing, “fithy [sic], dirty, dusty plans unfolding with @KillerMike #RTJ4” in a tweet that has since been deleted. He didn’t provide any further details, but based on more recent developments, it appears the duo’s plans at that time were still very much in flux.
We learned a little more when Killer Mike and El-P took to the red carpet at the 60th Grammy Awards in January. Asked by Pitchfork whether they planned to record with Lorde and Mitski, with whom the duo were preparing to go on tour, El-P replied, “Without saying anything official, I will give a wink underneath my sunglasses that you’ll probably hear two of those people that you just mentioned doing something together.” While we have to imagine El was referring to Run the Jewels’ subsequent remix of Lorde’s “Supercut,” which the duo would go on to drop in March, perhaps we ought not rule out Lorde and/or Mitski as RTJ4 collaborators. A magazine can dream, right?
Pitchfork learned one other important nugget from Killer Mike on the night of the Grammys: In addition to the duo’s respective, then-secret television and film side projects—Killer Mike was working on a then-undisclosed TV series, which Netflix today (Dec. 12) revealed is titled Trigger Warning with Killer Mike and coming in January, while El-P was scoring Josh Trank’s forthcoming Al Capone biopic Fonzo—he said they were “planning to work on RTJ4.”
From that point on, Run the Jewels logged many a mile on the road, crisscrossing North America through March and into April, at which point they wrapped their run with Lorde and Mitski. Outside of a handful of festival dates and special events in June and July, we didn’t hear much from the duo over the summer—a new remix here, a new craft beer there—until October rolled around, and Run the Jewels teased, then released their first proper song of 2018: “Let’s Go (The Royal We),” their contribution to the Venom soundtrack.
Paste contributor Justin Kamp described the new track as follows upon its release:
“Let’s Go” is launched into orbit on a sludgy nu-metal guitar riff before breaking off its thrusters and becoming the sort of hulking beat-monster El-P is known for. The song is a pretty straightforward RTJ bomb-track, with El-P and Killer Mike trading increasingly spittle-flecked verses. It’s still a creeper, though, one that’s sure to amplify the artistry in an alien monster beatdown, no matter what the critics say.
It turns out the song was more new-ish than new—Run the Jewels revealed in a Beats 1 interview with Zane Lowe, who selected “Let’s Go (The Royal We)” as his Oct. 11 World Record, that the song was originally created for 2017’s Blade Runner 2049, but wasn’t used.
Killer Mike recalled how the song ended up in Venom, describing the track as “a primer” for RTJ4:
We got a call that they wanted us to write a record for it, and we were like abso-damn-lutely we will write a record for Venom. My man Nate in high school introduced me to the Venom character, and I’ve loved it ever since. Just the duality of trying to do righteous, and this rogue is just fighting with you from the inside. I thought it was a perfect match-up with the Run The Jewels spirit, so the record turned out dope. It gave us a primer for what I think is going to be a dope next album.
Mike also revealed that the recording process for the song was atypical due to the duo’s busy schedules:
In the midst of Jaime [El-P] getting prepped to be married, and scoring a movie—he scored a movie that’s coming out about Al Capone—it came down to the wire. He pulled it off like the super-producer/rapper that he is. He comes right out of scoring a movie, is in the middle of planning the details of his wedding, and he pops up and sends me this amazingly dark crazy beat, and I immediately jumped down, and we go in via FaceTime, and we put it together. This is the first Run The Jewels record that we put together not in the same room.
El-P said this of his original plan for the track:
The essence of the music actually came from a trailer that I submitted for the Blade Runner 2049 trailer, that ultimately they didn’t use. I just loved it so much that I was like, “I have to use this.” So basically, I had spent some time working on that, to kind of try and transform it into a beat for essentially Run the Jewels 4, because me and Mike both loved it, and we just thought it was nasty.
And speaking of Run the Jewels 4 ...
In that same Beats 1 interview, Run the Jewels touched on their new album, offering listeners an idea of the general creative philosophy behind Run the Jewels 4’s conception while also acknowledging recent controversies over political remarks Killer Mike made:
El-P: I think [“Let’s Go”] was a nice little chance for us to kind of get back into a vibe and it’s a decent starting point. I’ve been collecting beats and we’re just going to kind of try and make the grimiest, rawest record we possibly can.
Killer Mike: But in terms of all that’s going on and reflecting with the music, I’ve decided to put more of it into whatever music is coming, because trying to communicate and talk, you kind of get polarized and tried to be made into a political figure, and I’m not. I’m a raw-ass rapper who, when asked my opinion, will give it. My opinions, instead of saying them over radio or television, where I can argue with stupid people who get paid to give you a side, I’m simply going to put on record to mash on those fools circa Eazy E, Uncle Luke, Ice Cube, the Geto Boys and, just like rap is supposed to do, to give people good music to push through this bullshit.
El-P: We always really were just about making nasty rap records, man. At the end of the day, I think that one of the purest political statements to make is being honest and being raw and being genuine. We never were the type of people who were looking to make records that were addressing specific political situations. If it happens, it happens, and it does on occasion, but we’re not Public Enemy. What we’re trying to do is be two guys in a friendship from different places having the time of their lives and making something that everybody can make the scrunchy face to when they hear.
Sadly, that’s about as specific as the duo got in regards to RTJ4. Meanwhile, the two-year mark kept creeping.
After two months of radio silence on RTJ4, our most substantive update to date finally arrived this week in the form of an El-P tweetstorm, in which the rapper and producer offered fans a window into the duo’s crazy year, explaining in a tweet that he has since pinned that “we started [RTJ4] and are working on it but it’s not even close to done.”
In subsequent responses to fans, El-P pushed back against the notion the album had been “delayed,” stressing the post-RTJ3 chaos and promising that he and Mike “are fully back on it and psyched to get it to you all when it’s ready.”
El’s biggest concrete reveal, however, came in a fourth tweet, when he revealed that RTJ4 “will probably hit around summer time” 2019.
On top of all that, El-P wiped his Instagram account, starting fresh with the post below and assuring fans, “We have really big things in store and we are taking our time making them all so we thank you in advance for your patience. I can say without a hint of doubt that it will be worth the wait.”
a month ago i quit smoking. a few months before that i got married. a few months before that i scored a film. a few months before that i got off tour. now i am in full RTJ4 mode and it felt like a decent time to start fresh on this app. don’t panic. before you even realize it there will be hundreds of brand new photos of me that i think i look cool in and when the time comes there will be snippets and goodies relating to the creation of our next record (dropping in 2019). i want to thank you all for an amazing year. being in run the jewels has changed my life in more ways than i can explain and i can’t wait to continue this shit. we have really big things in store and we are taking our time making them all so we thank you in advance for your patience. i can say without a hint of doubt that it will be worth the wait. have a safe and sane holiday.
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Killer Mike chimed in with a tweet or two of his own Tuesday night, seconding El-P and hyping up RTJ4:
So there you have it: Though Run the Jewels 4 will officially be the duo’s longest-gestating album yet, between Run the Jewels’ own words and their unassailable track record, we have every reason to be excited for what is already one of 2019’s most-anticipated releases. Until summer 2019 rolls around … stay gold, jewel runners.
Killer Mike offered a brief RTJ4 updates on Late Night with Seth Meyers in late January—asked by Meyers what he could reveal about the new album (around the 5:45 mark in the clip below), Mike replies, “It’s gonna feel like the most frigid of New York days, and you’re walking out of Katz’s with a pastrami sandwich, and somebody punches you in your face.”
That same day, Run the Jewels’ official Twitter account shared an Instagram post from El-P teasing the duo’s ongoing work on the album with a photo of a keyboard. “back to the filth #RTJ4,” his caption reads, to which the RTJ account added only the eyes emoji.
El-P alluded to the album’s “final vocal sessions” in September, later adding, “we [...] have no date yet,” then teasing the album by tweeting a handful of its lyrics:
Another notable RTJ4 update hit on Nov. 9, when Killer Mike revealed in a tweet that he was “listening to RTJ4 (incomplete but still).”
With the album seemingly rounding into form, one hopes it won’t be too much longer before we hear something.
El-P offered an update on RTJ4’s release window in January, tweeting, “the album will be out before we play coachella,” and adding, “we will announce a hard date soon.” Run the Jewels are among the top acts performing on the two-weekend festival’s first nights, April 10 and 17.
El-P’s Valentine’s Day update was music to our ears:
Keep an eye out for more on Run the Jewels 4 as we have it.