Run the Jewels played to a sea of passionate fans at Myth on Valentine's Day, celebrating the recent release of the powerhouse duo’s third album, RTJ3.
Killer Mike and El-P's collective energy was earnest, fiery, and consistently hard-hitting, and they proved their reputation as one of rap's premier live acts. As is their tradition, the pair entered to Queen's "We Are the Champions," setting the tone for an audacious performance that maintained the same level of fervor from front to back. Once DJ Trackstar dropped "Talk to Me," which built to an eventual bass and synth wallop that sounded massive on the speaker system, the vibe of the room hit eleven and stayed there the whole night.
Run the Jewels have honed their talents and unique chemistry into a blunt force weapon, and their stage performance profoundly combines seasoned spitfire vocal dexterity with brutal beats to a degree few else can touch. The live show especially highlights the MCs’ traditional hip-hop skill sets: manic and complex bars delivered brashly with practiced breath control, a sense of swagger both smooth and dangerous, back-and-forth line-trading that recalls the glory days of rap group dynamics, and a balanced sense of gleeful, roughneck revelry and engaged, righteous anger.
Both parties have been at it long enough to know how to effectively execute this level of ability while seeming effortless. Run The Jewels represented for the veterans, showcasing an experienced performative muscle and fine-tuned writing abilities. They carry old-school sensibilities in new-school dressings, with underground-influenced beats that play like club bangers, and knowledge-of-self truisms and battle-bred barbs that hit with contemporary sting.
Low End Theory stalwart Gaslamp Killer, whose phenomenal opening DJ set spanned an incredible amount of territory, from international in-the-crates curios to 8-bit reinterpretations to Metallica trap remixes to punishing dubstep blasts, professed his sincere appreciation for the headliners and their contributions to music. "I've been listening to Killer Mike and El-P since I was 14,” he enthused. “I'm 34 now."
The producer called the duo this generation's Public Enemy, and it’s not an unfair comparison -- in our current frightening political landscape, surprisingly few major artists approach Run the Jewels' sense of radicalism and revolutionary hope. El-P certainly did not shy away from the sense of dread hanging over our pre-apocalyptic world when introducing their more rabidly political material like "Lie, Cheat, Steal" and the moving show closer "Down." He thanked the audience for their positive feedback "despite the fact that the world is a crumbling, devastating piece of shit right now."
But ultimately, the show centered on the connection the two MCs have with each other and their love for rap music. They cracked jokes, finished each other's bars, and smoked weed. (Though Killer Mike, in a rare moment, abstained because his personal trainer who's been "kicking his ass on Instagram" was watching on the sidelines.) Grown-man sex-game raps like the Akinyele-referencing "Love Again," with the always amazing Gangsta Boo returning to upstage them both, were among the night's high points thanks to the clear joy they took in their ribald performance. They were also immensely appreciative of the fans and where their careers had taken them. Run the Jewels is definitely a middle finger pointed in the right direction, but their true power is representing for rap's enduring timelessness.
Note on the openers: A great array of rappers from across the map, including Fool's Gold's Nick Hook showcasing his own production while teaching audience members how to make beats in real time, a bouncy trap set from Cuz Lightyear (who gave out the number to a burner phone he bought that day at the MOA so fans could connect with him), a somewhat under-appreciated surprise appearance from Spank Rock, and a ridiculous and chaotic DJ set from the all-over-the-place Gaslamp Killer. But Gangsta Boo was the obvious highlight, bringing a show-stopping buoyancy to her hard-as-nails Memphis sound.
Overheard in the crowd: I don't exactly know what was happening with the guy in the front row (other than that he was shirtless and had a huge RTJ tattoo, from the sound of it), but every performer on stage pointed him out during their set.
Random notebook dump: Gangsta Boo, letting the Eminem verse ride on "Throw It Up": "Eminem is my favorite white boy rapper. Wait, no, El-P is my favorite white boy rapper, because he's paying me to be here."
We Are the Champions
Talk to Me
Legend Has It
Blockbuster Night Part 1
Oh My Darling Don't Cry
Hey Kids (Bumaye)
Don't Get Captured
Panther Like a Panther (Miracle Mix)
Everybody Stay Calm
Love Again (with Gangsta Boo)
Lie, Cheat, Steal
A Report to the Shareholders
Run the Jewels
Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)