Run The Jewels @ The Jefferson - Charlottesville, VA 11/2/14
By Raf Richardson-Carillo
It starts with a singalong. DJ Trackstar spins Queen’s “We Are the Champions” to get the crowd swaying, and just as the chorus arrives, so do Killer Mike and El-P. They conduct the crowd with their arms and shout the words. They look around the room, then at each other, and smile. They are dressed the same: in black shirts and jeans, almost as though each were trying to be the other -- the lilliputian El-P perhaps aspiring to grow up to be Killer Mike, the elephantine Killer Mike perhaps attempting to pass for El-P in a crowd -- and on some level there probably is a dose of mimicry at work. Theirs is not a story of sudden meteoric success. Yes, they quickly gained a cult following in the wake of their first eponymous release last year, but both Killer Mike and El-P are 39 years old and had preexisting careers in the hip hop world before collaborating. They did not grow up together, they found each other. They are kindred spirits finally putting into practice what they had both only been able to imagine for a long time, and the fact of that development, the luck involved, is not lost on either.
I could talk about the lyrics: brash, insightful, rapidly delivered, full of slant rhyme and metaphor; I could talk about the beats: rib rattling, menacing, lush in a way that much of contemporary hip hop foregoes in favor of minimalism; I could talk about how well they work the crowd, how many pistol-and-fists get thrown up during the show, how we are never not jumping or singing along, but here’s the truly notable aspect of tonight’s show: never before have I seen such unbounded joy nor such freely expressed gratitude from a musical act. Throughout the concert Killer Mike and El-P find several occasions to put their arms around each other, joke, laugh. They are not only aware of how good their work is, they are enjoying the hell out of doing it. A half dozen times, El-P takes a moment to thank us, the audience, for being there, and it is not lip service. Real gratitude is borne of fear, fear that what you have poured your time and efforts into will not be understood, liked, or even appreciated. Tonight marks the third performance in Run the Jewels’ current tour, and with each “Thank you,” each “This is unbelievable,” you can see that fear being purged and replaced by confidence, optimism, hope. We are doing this and people like it. We are going to be alright.
Before last Thursday, I had never heard of Run the Jewels. It was only because of a review on Grantland that I listened to their first and second albums, both named for the duo, and discovered, very quickly, what it seems many others already knew: they deserve a spot among hip hop’s elite. Tonight’s performance only confirms my suspicion. They rap and dance and talk and sweat for an hour and change, and even so, as they finish their encore, it all feels over much too soon. Such is the nature of time when something truly has your attention.
If Run The Jewels is coming to your city, buy a ticket. If you haven’t listened to RTJ 1 or 2, listen to both. If you are looking for the next exciting thing in music, look no further. Repeat after me and tell everyone you know: Run The Jewels is fucking dope. Here’s hoping that their gratitude is trumped only by their success.