Having emerged fully formed in 2013, the success of Run The Jewels is a remarkable feat of marketing and complimentary personas. Presenting themselves as a classic hip hop duo, with all of the swagger and energy that comes with that pose, Killer Mike and El-P, are both underground rap veterans with decades of experience behind them, and from the moment they stepped onstage tonight it showed.
Clearly comfortable with each and other and the white male audience that they had drawn, the 42 year olds strolled on as their DJ spun ‘We Are the Champions’, a song that seemed to speak to their own rock star image. Kicking off the set with ‘Talk To Me’ from 2016’s Run The Jewels 3, the pair performed with gusto, El-P reserved in sunglasses and a sleeveless denim jacket and Mike wide eyed and furious in a large black t shirt. The affect of this balance was represented in their symbol of a fist and a pistol, a giant inflated version of which remained elevated above them throughout the show.
Continuing to play tracks from RTJ3 in sequence, ‘Legend Has It’ was followed by ‘Call Ticketron’, with the DJ providing backing vocals for both artists.
The sound at Festival Hall is never ideal and the heavy bass in most of the tracks, while exciting, made the vocals sound muffled and hard to hear in detail. This didn’t take away from the show very much, but was a shame nonetheless as the pair are both sharp lyricists.
Dipping into the back catalogue, ‘36” Chain’ and ‘Oh My Darling Don’t Cry’, which was performed back to back as in its video, received big crowd responses, the duo knowing exactly how to keep the audience hyped but under control. The group led several chants throughout the evening, such as El-P getting everyone to repeat the ‘Dad, Uncle El, Stay Gold’ line from ‘Stay Gold’ as way of an intro, before announcing that he would be performing a spoken word poem, which turned out to be his a cappella intro to ‘Panther Like a Panther’.
That song ramped the energy up even higher, with crowd chanting the ‘I’m the shit, bitch’ hook, and Mike in particular seeming more menacing than ever. Their collaboration with DJ Shadow, ‘Nobody Speak’, was followed by the Zach de la Rocha featuring ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)’, which showcased El-P’s rapidfire monotone flow and Mike’s intense dynamism.
Proving that there’s more to their ‘do two things I rap and fuck’ personas, El-P delivered a call for unity in the face of political turmoil before Mike delivered an emotional speech about the recent death of his mother and how difficult that had been over the holiday season. Such personal insights may seem off brand for Run The Jewels, but that mixture of the real and the cartoonish is exactly what attracts people to them and lends the music some weight, which was summed up perfectly with the introspective ‘Down’.
Returning for a single encore performance of ‘Christmas Fucking Miracle’, the closing track from their first album, was a nice touch, the menacing beat at odds with the idea of a Christmas themed song from two of rap’s most engaging supervillains.
Originally published in Beat Magazine. Photograph by Sally Townsend.