Run the Jewels @ Festival Hall, Melbourne, Thursday January 4, 2018
My 2018 started out much like my 2017, and in fact 2016, started – in the company of American hip hop duo Run the Jewels. Last year was with their freshly released RTJ3 and the year before in a criminally underrated timeslot of 2pm at Falls Festival in Lorne. Now, back out playing Falls again – albeit in a headline slot – the pair played their first headline show for the year at a sold-out Festival Hall.
For the uninitiated, Run the Jewels is composed of Killer Mike – Atlanta’s Grammy-winning rapper and political activist – and Jaime Meline, aka El-P – MC and the group’s beat maker and producer from Brooklyn. They’re an unlikely duo who, since their inception in 2013, have been steamrolling their way to superstardom.
In what has now become customary, the duo – accompanied by the seriously talented DJ Trackstar behind the decks – were ushered on stage by Queen’s We are the Champions, chants of RTJ! RTJ! filled the room as enthusiastic punters raised their pointed fingers to clenched fists, replicating their returning heroes.
The relentlessly booming set kicked off with RTJ3 opener Talk to Me, leading into the adrenaline-charged Legend Has It. El-P looks determined – it’s clear the second he comes into the spotlight. His cryptic rhymes spoken with an extra hit of poison, every note cutting straight through me like the sword they reference in the track. Hey Kids (Bumaye), Panther Like a Panther and Call Tickerton follow, and all star the NY felon rapper, his stage presence stronger than any other time I have seen the band.
It wasn’t all the Brooklyn-born and raised El-P though (even as Mike’s call for a chant dedicated to his partner-in-crime started to gain traction). Kendrick Lamar described ATLien Killer Mike’s flow best on Hood Politics: “Critics want to mention that they miss when hip hop was rappin’, Motherf**ker if you did, then Killer Mike’d be platinum” and he’s right, tonight being a prime example. Mike waxes lyrical on Stay Gold and when that nasty beat drops, so does the crowd. Likewise when the Zack de la Rocha featured Close Your Eyes (And Count to F**k) begins and, although the large majority of the set list came from the chart-topping RTJ3, the aforementioned and Blockbuster Night Part 1 had the floor shaking. “Pointin’ that pistol and fist for the chain, reppin’ the symbol like they in a gang,” Mike spits next during Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry) – and that’s exactly how the affectionately known Jewel Runner’s stood for the show’s entirety.
Between the wiling out and the general rowdiness that accompanies a usual RTJ show, there were three moments of sincerity that stood out. The first came with their two rules of attending one of their shows: If someone falls down, you pick them up and, for the men in the crowd, “Keep your f**king hands to yourself”. The second, when El dedicated Thursdays in the Danger Room to anyone feeling down and especially anybody who has lost someone close to them, urging us to call a friend in need after the show. The third, a solemn moment from the usual rock hard Killer Mike, who emotionally spoke of the recent passing of the his mother, the demons that accompanied him through the dark times and the epiphany he had on what would have been her birthday earlier in the week as he regained his happiness – the perfect segue to the introspective finale, Down.
The most endearing part of all of this though, was the comradery the duo shared in these moments – rare for most but standard practice for the pair three albums deep (four if you count the ridiculous Meow the Jewels) with no sign of slowing down. The pair return to encore with A Christmas F**kin’ Miracle – and look, I’m usually a ‘take your Christmas tree down on Boxing Day’ kinda guy (Scrooge, I know), but the futuristic banger rounded the set perfectly. I said it reviewing their album and I’ll say it again 12 months on, like a fine wine, Run the Jewels continue to get better with age, talk to me.
RTJ3 is out now via Sony Music.