Run the Jewels is one of the most exciting rapper team-ups in recent memory, and they’re almost enough to make you forget about some of the other high-profile duos of late. (“Watch the what?”) While Killer Mike’s booming Southern baritone and El-P’s New York nihilism may seem like an odd pairing, last year’s R.A.P. Music (where Killer Mike killed the mic over El-P’s production) proved that these two could mesh together beautifully. That creative spark is now Run the Jewels, where they both absolutely obliterate El-Producto’s pounding beats, with extreme prejudice. And that’s not all! They are bringing their friends Kool AD (formerly of Das Racist) and Despot, the enigmatic redhead who’s been working on his debut album almost as long as Dre’s been working on Detox.
The Biltmore Cabaret is a versatile venue that can pull off an underground rap show as easily as a throwback jazz night, with the touch of class afforded by the wall chandeliers balanced out by the taxidermied deer head by the merch stand. The stage is small and intimate, raised only about a foot or so. This ended up being a bit of a double-edged sword; if you were in the first row, you’d literally be inches away from the performers, but stand a few feet back and you were blind. From the start, the rhymes were loud and clear, although as the night went on it got drowned out by the rowdy crowd. As with most hip hop acts that don’t specifically cater to the ladies, it was probably about 70% dudes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it makes the music the focus. There were a few interesting characters lounging around; when I got a beer I saw some guy rocking an Action Bronson beard, and I also noticed a couple cool shirts including a red one that read ‘Rap – Lies = Hip Hop’.
Kool AD was first and it was nice to see he was still around after the Das Racist break-up. He had a heavy beard, and occasionally mumbled into the mic, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Das Racist. He did “No” (“Blaze everyday, um, cause it’s my medicine”) and when the crowd started singing the hook (which wasn’t difficult considering it’s just “No” repeated 24 times), he began waving his hands like a conductor, with a huge grin on his face. Also, he’d randomly say “Kool AD is the best rapper in the world,” throughout his set. At least he still has his irreverent charm, and he definitely still smokes, as we saw him puff a blunt from the crowd, to raucous applause.
Despot was up next, and to be honest, I was probably most stoked to see him, since I missed him when he opened for The Into the Wild tour, also with El-P and Killer Mike. After acknowledging working on his debut album for “6000 years”, he proceeded to give us a taste of what he’s been up to with the electronic producers known as Ratatat. The highlight of his set was “Crap Artists”, a withering take-down of style over substance, with a hook that drips with sarcasm with lines like “I get paid to breathe / Hooray for me / Hooray for me” over blasts of blaring brass. Despite that Despot has yet to to drop an album and only has a couple of random features and videos on YouTube, the crowd rapped along with him. He even congratulated the crowd for doing their research. I think he was quite impressed by his Vancouver fans, and given the response, many are still anxiously hoping his album sees the light of day.
It was almost 11 by the time Killer Mike hit the stage. What was before a relatively calm crowd of head-nodding exploded into a moshpit of bumping bodies. After a few seconds of momentary shock (this is a RAP show!), I figured, ‘Screw it,’ and began to jump around and get down, and, in the process, getting drenched by someone else’s beer. Shit happens. Killer Mike went through some of his best songs, including the political commentary of “Reagan”, the hip hop history of “R.A.P. Music”, and the shout-out to his roots, “Southern Fried”. What caught me by surprise was a throwback to 2006, when he commanded everyone to spark to “Kryptonite”, a banger from his Outkast days.
El-P opened with two of the best tracks from “Cancer for Cure”, running out to “Drones Over BKLYN”, where the paranoia of his dystopic vision shred the speakers. Next was “Full Retard”, which the crowd immediately did, despite the warning “Never go full”. The moshpit went insane as the temperature got to levels where those bashing into one another had shirts soaked with sweat. I could literally feel the saltiness stinging in a paper-cut on my finger. El-P even called out for the “safety of the fragile”, and there was calm, if only for a moment. He ended his set by calling us all “a bunch of pussies” because his most requested/popular track always seems to be “The Overly Dramatic Truth”, which is his depressing song of a relationship gone wrong. But, after admitting “I’m a pussy myself”, he jumped right in.
Now it was quarter past midnight, and my friend decided he desperately needed some fresh air. About 5 minutes later, Run the Jewels came on. To be honest, I was getting exhausted after spending the last two and a half hours in an impromptu hotbox-slash-moshpit; but just seeing El-P and Killer Mike onstage as Run the Jewels was enough of a boost of energy. I think the beers helped a bit, too.
They launched directly into the title track, and burned through practically the entire album in order of the track listings. My favourite song off the CD is probably “DDFH”, which stands for ‘Do Dope Fuck Hope’, which they pulled off spectacularly. I have a feeling it might be Killer Mike’s favourite song too because he was proudly repping the full, non-abbreviated title on his t-shirt the entire night. If only they’d had that shirt at the merch table. They threw in a surprise posse cut in the form of “Tougher Colder Killer” off of El-P’s album, which featured both Despot and Killer Mike. It was dope seeing the three of them trading rhymes back and forth. The concert ended with “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”, featuring verses where El and Mike absolutely destroy. Fittingly, the lights illuminated the walls in flashes of festive green and red.
Here’s to Run the Jewels and their ability to throw a killer, three-hour, non-stop onslaught of hip hop.