RTJ4 Album by Run the Jewels
The fourth album by Run The Jewels, namely rapper Killer Mike and rapper-producer El-P, is a timely release. RTJ4 hits hard at the rotten, racist police system in the heart of capitalism, with songs such as ‘Walking in the Snow’. The chilling last words of Eric Garner and George Floyd appear in ‘I Can’t Breathe’.
Killer Mike continues with how US institutions set up Black people for failure from school with ‘And usually the lowest scores the poorest and they look like me’. JU$T is up next; a collaboration track with Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha. The song’s hard-hitting lyric ‘Look at all these slave masters posing on your dollar’ is one of the most memorable of all RTJ’s music.
This explores the daily reminder that the old ruling class of the US, slave-owners such as Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, pose on the dollar bills that Black Americans spend one hundred years on in an institutionally racist system.
Other songs on the album sit in RTJ’s signature of kooky, interesting beats, as well as delivering blow after blow to a system that sees black lives as not mattering one bit.
Black Parade Single by Beyonce
Surprise releases form part of Beyonce’s strategy to stand as supreme leader on the pop cultural landscape. As the battle for Black recognition meets the unholy violence of Trump’s America, her latest, Black Parade, dropped on African-American rallying point Juneteenth. Her discographical evolution has seen Beyonce politicise, first with feminism in 2013’s album Beyonce.
Following 2016’s Lemonade, Saturday Night Live’s skit ‘The Day Beyonce Turned Black’ parodied white America’s horror at songs such as Freedom with shrieks of “maybe it’s not for us? But I thought everything is?” Black Parade is a celebration of her African heritage: “Drip all on me, woo, Ankh or the Dashiki print/Hol’ up, don’t I smell like such a nag champa incense?”
She calls for a rejection of Europeanised hair: “Fuck this fade and waves, I’ma let it dread all up”, and references unapologetic and unapologetically Black beauty icon Naomi Campbell. There are namechecks too for Black artists, musicians and civil rights leaders. While Beyonce’s motive is likely tied with ‘black-owned’ capitalism, Black Parade is a powerful anthem for the masses of young people taking to the streets: “Rubber bullets bouncin’ off me/Made a picket sign off your picket fence /Take it as a warning”.
Rena Niamh Smith
Untitled (Black Is) Album by SAULT
The origins of the band SAULT are a mystery. Its latest album Untitled (Black Is), is powerful, poetic and spiritual. A harmonious chorus sings songs reminiscent of Black Gospel, full of joy and sorrow, hope and pain. In a word it is beautiful. The ambiguous lack of any clear single lead is humbling.
The first song ‘Out the Lies’ begins with chants of “Revolution has come, they won’t put down the guns!” that progressively build until a startling transition leads into a stunning, moving spoken word poem.
Untitled (Black Is) is a profoundly Black experience, telling the story of what it means to be Black. The beats are a bit soul-to-soul, but they’re also funky with afro-beats, and harmonic, raw and representative.
Namechecking police brutality, quoting Malcolm X, the album is flavoured with a hunger for justice. Later tracks rely on lyrical repetition and heavily on instrumentals to convey sonic feelings over words.
As pent-up pandemic anger at ongoing mistreatment sees millions on the streets, the transition from lyric-heavy songs morphing into instrumentals feels like a message that this is music for people, not persons.