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Run the Jewels at Fine Line, 11/20/14

Run The Jewels
with Ratking, Despot, and David Ruffin Theory
Thursday, November 20, 2014

Run the Jewels, the region-spanning duo of Killer MIke and El-P, swung through the Fine Line Thursday night, putting on a top-tier performance that cemented their status as one of the most exciting acts in rap. Joined by openers Despot, Ratking, and David Ruffin Theory, the night was stacked with strong sets that satisfied the sold out room.
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After an early set from David Ruffin Theory, the group comprised of Tef Poe and Rockwell Knuckles, the Harlem outfit Ratking put on a stunning performance that reminded an engaged crowd why they've been getting such acclaim. Sporting Life manned the beats as rapper Wiki commanded the microphone, recalling the energies of New York rappers Lauryn Hill and DMX in equal parts.

His stage energy maintained a certain aggression tempered with a handle on slick wordy flows that were striking in execution. With a group dynamic that felt almost like Shabazz Palaces at times thanks Sporting Life's live mixing and backing vocals, the grimy sounds were cutting edge while still being rooted in a decidedly East Coast underground milieu. The tribute to cold weather settings "Snow Beach" was a particularly resonant track for the winter evening. An excellent choice to compliment the headliner's strength as a live act, Ratking put on a vibrant set and once again proved why their name was one to pay attention to in 2014.
Despot hit the stage as the only solo performer of the night, sarcastically proving he has an album that actually exists by playing a set largely comprised of his much anticipated collaborative efforts with Ratatat. A tight, straight-forward flow that reached various heights in both lyrical and performance terms, the Queens rapper worked his way through songs with an ease that suited the material. The Ratatat beats were at their best when approaching the multi-layered sonic drama of their solo material, allowing Despot to boost his voice and dominate the room. His joint song with Blood Orange hit that sweet spot particularly well even as one of the more downtempo of the tracks, highlighting the kind of exploratory sound and tightly-woven bars that made him a go-to opener during Killer Mike and El-P's last visit to the Fine Line as solo performers.

2012's Into the Wild Tour held a different sort of feel than seeing Killer Mike and El-P as an official collective. When their pair's abilities as a collective were first made apparent on Killer Mike's profound and impactful El-P-produced R.A.P. Music from that year, the like-minded duo put all their weight behind a pair of collaborative projects under the moniker Run the Jewels. A tip of the hat to classic LL Cool J swagger, the name signified tough posturing and the bars to back it up, setting up Killer Mike and El-P as a rap crew in the mold of an EPMD or an Outkast.

Arriving to the sounds of Queen's "We Are the Champions," the pair effortlessly showcased why they've made such waves with their latest endeavor, playing a set that powerfully combined the efforts of two already captivating live artists. Every lyric seemed written to be written specifically to be delivered with the loud, razor-sharp voicing of Killer Mike and El-P's explosive live flows. Vibing off one another's rhythms, they had an intensity rarely seen in rap, maintaining a gigantic presence from start to finish.

They were clearly as excited about the material as the audience, who were more than willing to chant along with choruses and punchlines in unison. In introducing "36" Chain", El-P said the song represented their personal philosophy as people, that there is an invisible accessory everyone should wear that expresses they are not to be fucked with. The duo enacted that very mentality across songs from last year's project and their latest, which dropped last month for free on Mass Appeal.
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The night largely lacked solo material from either party, save for El-P's "Tougher Colder Killer," the Cancer 4 Cure track that brought Despot back to the stage for a scene-stealing guest verse. Run the Jewels as an entity is decidedly a group effort -- every song splitting verse duty evenly and hitting the same level of quality each time. The beats all hit hard, combining booming bass and nasty drums with a tinge of avant-garde leanings and electronic sound crafting, and they kept the audience's hands elevated at all points.

Big songs like "Blockbuster Night Part 1," "Lie, Cheat, Steal," and the raunchy "Love Again" got some particularly big reactions from a consistently engaged crowd, who played off Killer Mike and El-P's excitability. DJ Trackstar, in a "Rap Won't Save You" shirt, brought energy levels up with some impressive scratch interludes at various points in the show. Each stemming from a different era's ethic for live performance, the duo felt like they were having fun but also had something to prove, pouring themselves into each song with a consistency rarely seen.

Dedicating "A Christmas Fucking Miracle" to the memory of both Camu Tao and Eyedea, Run the Jewels brought the night to a slow, climactic end alongside the similarly-paced "Angel Duster." These songs were meant to be heard in a live setting, and the brashness of the Run The Jewels records was amplified to a satisfying degree thanks to dedicated, in-tune performances from both parties.

It's rare to see such connected, back-and-forth stage chemistry and powerfully-delivered verses as Killer Mike and El-P delivered, and it was clear the audience recognized the anomalous nature of what they were seeing. Run the Jewels aimed for an unforgettable concert experience and hit the mark with a stellar show.

Personal Bias: I've followed the pair as solo artists for many years and am happy to see their current collective success.

The Crowd: Eager hip-hop heads of varying types.

Random Notebook Dump: A tour featuring Run the Jewels and Gangsta Boo, as suggested by Killer Mike during "Love Again," sounds kind of amazing.

Setlist:

We Are the Champions 
Run the Jewels 
Oh My Darling Don't Cry 
Blockbuster Night Part 1 
Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) 
All My Life 
Lie, Cheat, Steal 
Banana Clipper 
36" Chain 
DDFH 
Sea Legs 
Pew Pew Pew 
Tougher Colder Killer 
Early 
Get It 
A Christmas Fucking Miracle 
Love Again 
Angel Duster
 

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