At 10:15 on the dot, the crowd at New York’s Terminal 5 started to rumble as Queen’s stadium rock hit “We Are The Champions” blared. The infectious smile of Killer Mike peeked out from the side of the stage. It was followed by a shorter, less stocky El-P who sported a slight smirk. The two looked over the sold out venue in a unified feeling of shock and pride. The rap heavyweights, despite receiving critical acclaim from both the underground and mainstream, still seemed overwhelmed by the magnitude of an audience who looked up at the towering duo in awe.
After digesting such a scene, Killer Mike effortlessly dove into their no-bullshit single “Talk to Me” off of their newest album RTJ3. As a group who has refused to keep their politics a secret– the song serves as a glaring reminder of the current American political scape. Delivered by none other than one of Bernie Sanders’ most fervent supporters. The beat softened and a variation of Ephesians 6:12 spoke over the crowd: “This is spiritual warfare that you have been dealing with. This is not a fight that you have been dealing with flesh and blood but this is a fight against principalities and evil doers and unclean spirits.”
From there, the energy grew more and more intense as they plowed through “Legend Has It” (in which Killer Mike appropriately refers to the two as a “murderous pair”), “Call Ticketron” (a nod to the group’s growing success in which they imagine themselves selling out Madison Square Garden), and their smash hit “Blockbuster Night Part 1” from their second album, RTJ2.
The obvious chemistry between the two was a sight to behold. Their raps were playing off of one another like rival siblings outdoing one another. As they alternated being the other’s hype man, exchanging banter and breezing through each song with ease, the appeal of Run the Jewels could be seen. At several points throughout the show, the pair made sure to stop and thank those in attendance for continuing to support their musical endeavors. El-P was moved to near tears in one instance.
Run the Jewels have had an exciting career thus far. 3 critically acclaimed studio albums and a novelty remix album comprised of cat sounds that still boasts impressive personnel. Most notably is their insistence of keeping their music free and accessible to the public. RTJ only requires money for physical merchandise and tickets. El-P, who has created a career for himself spanning over 2 decades, established himself as a beloved figure of underground hip hop noted by his distinct production style that has become increasingly sought after. Killer Mike’s aggressive and recognizable delivery also became a staple of southern hip hop after the beginnings of his career as an Outkast associate, of which Andre 3000 was in attendance the night of the show.
The contrast between the two individuals is much more than just physical. The two provide a balance in their music, with Mike providing political commentary and El-P inserting a much needed braggadocio.
In a break from the hard-hitting political commentary and descriptions of the many ways the duo can beat you in a fight, the two broke into “Love Again (Akinyele Back), appropriately paying homage to the notoriously sexually explicit rapper. Three 6 Mafia’s own Gangsta Boo arrived onstage to deliver her equally explicit verse leaving no (sexual) stone unturned.
The show culminated with their debut hit single “Run the Jewels” and their biggest hit “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck), which features Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha. The song’s beat rose to a scream like a battle cry, and the crowd responded warmly with mosh pits and their hands formed into fists and guns, the iconic logo of the duo. Despite the enormous success the duo found through Run the Jewels, the two remain organic and humble, even as they sold out four nights at one of the most popular venues in New York.
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