The unlikely underground hip-hop duo first teamed up when Killer Mike enlisted El-P to produce his fantastic 2012 album R.A.P. Music. The professional collaboration blossomed into a friendship and while touring together in 2012, the two solo artists started creating music together and a year later, they released their self-titled debut LP under the Run the Jewels moniker. What started as a one-off project rapidly evolved into a full time job for Killer Mike and El-P. Last year they released Run the Jewels 2, which received universal acclaim and established Run the Jewels as an underground hip-hop powerhouse. Following an online promotion and wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, last month RTJ released Meow the Jewels, a remix of Run the Jewels 2 made with audio samples of cat noises. All three Run the Jewels releases are available as a free download on their website.
On stage, Run the Jewels are a force of nature. Queen’s “We Are The Champions” blares and Killer Mike and El-P enter and lead the crowd in a brief sing along before charging into the titular track “Run the Jewels”. Within seconds the crowd is jumping in rhythm and thrusting fists and finger-guns to the rafters. Mike and El-P are all smiles. Despite the aggressive, occasionally violent content of their music, Run the Jewels are dead set on delivering a live experience that is up-beat and empowering for everyone in attendance. Halfway through the set, El-P asks the crowd to take care of each other and then notices a family in the crowd near the stage. After proclaiming the intrepid patriarch to be the ‘Father of the Year’, they invite him, his son (8ish years old) and his daughter (10ish years old ) on stage for the next song. “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” starts and the room goes bonkers. The song ends and Arizona’s Coolest Family lines up next to El-P and Killer Mike and all five raise their fists and finger-guns. Run the Jewels – fun for the whole family, hip-hop for all ages.
I’ve seen Run the Jewels three times this year (Coachella, FYF and Marquee Theater in Tempe, AZ) and during each set, the two artists make it abundantly clear they are the two best friends that anyone could have. Leaving nothing to doubt, El-P and Killer Mike will declare their undying friendship to each other several times throughout their shows. What they have goes beyond performed chemistry. They share an obvious mutual respect and love for each other that is as powerful as anything I’ve ever seen on stage. They are constantly cracking jokes at each other’s expense and banter like only the closest of friends can. Their sense of humor radiates throughout the set and gives the Run the Jewels live show a unmistakable sense of intimacy and sincerity.
To Run the Jewels, each day on tour is a humbly received gift and they thank their fans profusely for making their livelihood possible. After two decades of inconsistent success in the underground hip-hop community, Killer Mike and El-P are finally getting the credit they deserve. Their current standing is not the product of instant Internet acclaim, but the hard earned result of decades of struggle and work. It’s a testament to their tenacity that at age 4o (approximately 73 in rap years), these two men are at their peak and doing laps around rappers half their age. Their experience gives their ferocious lyricism a degree of maturity and meaning that is largely absent from most mainstream hip-hop. In the studio and on stage, Run the Jewels have created a perfect vision of hip-hop. They balance genuine humility with bombastic braggadocio and make music that is fun, aggressive, political, collaborative and inclusive.
They dedicate their final pre-encore song, “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”, to anyone who has ever lost a friend too early and invite the crowd to show solidarity by raising their fists and finger-guns. As I stood there, both hands raised to the sky, I marveled at the feeling of community. Surrounded by close friends and total strangers, I felt at home – like I was in the right place, at the right time. Sometimes a concert is just a concert. Sometimes it’s an occasion for transformation, an opportunity for the gathered to experience catharsis amplified by togetherness. Killer Mike and El-P understand the power of live music and use it as a celebration of their most cherished values. Run the Jewels have all the right moves and deliver the best live show in hip-hop.