They came onstage blaring Queen’s “We Are the Champions” — and then threw all irony out the window, by actually proving it. Run The Jewels are untouchable.
Is there anyone in hip-hop with a live show this good? Actually, how about anyone in any genre? The manic energy, the must-bounce-to-it beats, the laser sharp wordplay and social commentary. Killer Mike and El-P in a class of their own.
They started with their killer track, “Run the Jewels,” and the crowd lost its mind. Thousands of hands moved to the beat and the MCs went to work.
This is part of what works for RTJ so well in their live show: songs that sound fierce on their mixtapes come out as a bangers on stage. Even the most serious, stinging political tracks are something you can move to.
“Welcome to F*****n Zoomba class,” Killer Mike said after their first track.
RTJ pulled from new and old (no cat-infused remixes though), and had fun with the crowd all set long.
“We were sitting in a border security office about 27 hours ago,” Killer Mike told the crowd. Apparently the band ran afoul of the feds, with two grams “and no excuses.” (He may have said ounces, if an enterprising reader has the tape.) “I want to thank Officer Rodriguez,” Mike continued. Yikes.
But mostly it was non-stop compliments for Austin, the crowd, and the year RTJ have been having. They felt grateful, and their excitement flowed through them into the audience.
And the crowd was deep into this one. By far the most energized I saw on Friday. At one point I looked back to see (fake?) bills being thrown in the air. Someone was making it rain. Or something.
RTJ couldn’t help themselves but call out one guy, whose “flag” was actually a huge picture of someone’s face. The MCs wondered aloud whether it was a picture of the guy himself, or someone else. And they agreed that despite this possibly obscenely crass display of ego, they were down with it either way.
A few political words were thrown in. Nods to crises in Ferguson, and to the general disarray of American politics and persistent injustice — “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” was introduced as the five rules of today’s society. (The others are “kill” and “win.”)
But there wasn’t much in the way of preaching. Kind of amazing that they avoid going down that path, honestly. It must be so tempting to use the stage as a pulpit. But this live show delivers the goods while making you move. Actually, the songs have way more energy on stage than they do on recordings. Both MCs covered the stage and just owned it, completely unselfconsciously.
They had a pair of guests. Boots, on stage for the chorus of one of their most intense songs, “Early.” That appearance was fine enough, but then they brought out Gary Clark Jr. for a gnarly short solo.
That, as you might imagine, was a huge crowd pleaser, and totally unexpected. In fact they sounded kind of perfect together. More where that came from, please.
This was a show for the college crowd, who knew all the lyrics of an act that is still miles from being a household name. But it was a winner for everyone else who ventured over in the early evening to catch them, because it seemed obvious from their set, that the more people listening to their music, the more energy feeds these guys. Catching Run The Jewels now is seeing two guys who can seem to do no wrong and just holding on for the ride.