In 2015, Kendrick Lamar declared on “Hood Politics”: “Critics want to mention that they miss when hip-hop was rappin’ ... if you did Killer Mike’d be platinum.” It is with this ringing endorsement from perhaps the most iconic contemporary rapper that Run The Jewels, the collaboration between Killer Mike and El-P, launched into the recording of their third album, appropriately titled “Run The Jewels 3.” The album, which dropped unannounced on Christmas day, has been met with widespread critical acclaim and led the duo to embark on a world tour. Scene writers Augie Collins and Brian Boylen, who saw Run The Jewels in Chicago, and Lucas Masin-Moyer, who saw the group in Detroit, share their experiences of the “Run The World Tour.”
The Chicago venue was the Aragon Ballroom, an impressive locale designed based on Moorish architecture. The downtime after openers Cuz, Nick Hook, Gangsta Boo and The Gaslamp Killer provided ample opportunity to appreciate the sights, but once Run The Jewels came on stage, all eyes were on them.
The duo strutted out to the tune of “We are the Champions,” as they do at all of their shows, and proceeded to assault the audience members’ eardrums in the most satisfying way. Killer Mike and El-P got off to an explosive start with some of their most popular and energetic songs (including a personal favorite off RTJ 3, “Call Ticketron”). After a couple of songs, El-P addressed the crowd, warning of the destructive tendencies that may be induced when listening to Run The Jewels, and urging everyone to help their fellow concert-goers if they are in distress. This is a perfect example of the inclusive atmosphere Run The Jewels creates with their work: It’s simply great music and everyone should have the right to bump to it.
We enjoyed the rest of the concert just a couple rows back from the front of the crowd until Killer Mike and El-P made their obligatory “exit” while the crowd cried out for an encore. At this point, we made our move, shimmying to the center of the floor just a couple feet from the stage. After about 30 seconds, Run The Jewels re-emerged, thanking the energetic crowd as the beat to “Close Your Eyes (And Count to F ---)” swelled from the speakers. All hell broke loose as the crowd became a mass of sweaty middle-aged men hurling themselves at each other with reckless abandon. As the song faded out, concert-goers with dilated pupils were left panting as they barely mustered up the strength to sway to the “mellow” closer, “Down.” As the 5,000 attendees made their mass exodus from the concert hall, everyone knew that they would not be forgetting this show any time soon.
Run The Jewels kicked off their show at the Royal Oak Music Theatre outside of Detroit much the same way they did in Chicago — in fact exactly the same way, with El-P belting out “What’s up Chicago!” This transgression was easily forgiven by the crowd, an easy mistake El-P chalked up to being “too stoned and too tired.”
In much the same manner as their performance the previous night, the duo started off the show with a quick four-song punch — “Talk to Me,” “Legend Has It,” “Call Ticketron” and “Blockbuster Night Part 1” — made all the better by the sole guy in the middle of the crowd slam dancing into the me and the people around. After this sequence, El-P addressed the crowd for the first time, expressing love for them despite the fact that they were all “white and weird.”
Perhaps the most passionate and powerful performances of the night were those with political undertones — unsurprising considering Killer Mike’s recent political advocacy, especially in support of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. A mid-set performance of “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” in which the duo subtly applied the song to Donald Trump, showcased Run The Jewels at their absolute best.
The duo ended their concert on a similarly political note, saying that this music was the way through which they were able to wade through the uncertainty a Trump administration presented. The diverse experiences of the fans in the crowd were proof enough that there would be resistance to Trumpism and that everyone would remain “born free,” they added. It is appropriate that the last song, the relaxed “Down,” ends with the simple declaration, “I hope…”
Run The Jewels knows how to put on a performance. This was expected based on the energy in their albums; and it is blatantly evident after witnessing them perform live. Dialogue between songs was obviously scripted, as we found that the Chicago and Detroit shows were virtually identical. But the duo knows what the crowd wants, and they are more than willing to provide. It is easy to find a concert you can lose your mind at, but Run The Jewels spices it up with a little something extra.
While typically not explicitly political, there is an underlying humanism to all of their work. This comes in many forms throughout the lyrics, such as Killer Mike’s ruminations on the mistakes he has made in dealing drugs in his past, or El-P’s criticism of the police state and its brutality. Their unifying message is reflected even in their choice of introductions — The Gaslamp Killer yelled out mid-set that his grandmother was from Aleppo, Syria, and he played some Middle Eastern inspired beats in her honor. When it comes to aggressive, exhilarating hip-hop with a unifying message, there is nothing quite like Run The Jewels.