The formation and subsequent success of Run the Jewels is the kind of happy accident we're very pleased is still possible in today's music business. Two talented rappers who instantly hit it off personally and creatively, acting as each other's final piece of a jigsaw they thought was already complete. El-P and Killer Mike are on the rise deep into their careers, and they're determined to make the most of it.
The upgrading of this show from the ample yet intimate Gorilla to the Academy is a marker of the anticipation and excitement surrounding their second record, economically monikered Run the Jewels 2, released in the interim between the tour announcement and show date.
As great as it is that more people can see them, arena-sized hip hop shows often disappoint; many rappers have failed to fill the space with just a hype man & DJ for company. The trail of excited testimonies across social media that has followed the tour across America suggests this won't be a problem tonight.
Support from comes from Fingathing'sPeter Parker (also there at one of our gigs of 2014, Peanut Butter Wolf in Liverpool), putting on an hour long scratch clinic to the delight of the purist hip hop heads that have made it down early. In fact there were a few people in who would have tested the 14+ door policy. although it's clear some of those who've came to get rowdy are a little frustrated.
They needn't have worried – a mere 15 minutes after Parker's departure, DJ Trackstar emerges to a cacophony of cheers to introduce the dynamic duo. An eerie synth line and some rattlesnake maracas introduces what amounts to their mission statement - the title track of their eponymous debut (watch the video below).
There's a pause as they drink in the heaving masses, before Mike lights the blue touch paper with his barked instructions to “Run..Run..run.....RUN!” Any doubts over the suitability of the venue disappear during an explosive opening salvo – 'Run the Jewels', 'Blockbuster Night pt.1', 'DDFH', and 'Oh My Darling Don't Cry' blow by before anyone is given a chance to pause for breath.
Now nestled in our thirties, Skiddle's normal gig stance is close enough to see and hear, not close enough to get hit with flying sweat and limbs, but seeing men of their age, and particularly Mike's (how do we say, stature?) giving it all they have on stage left us with no excuse but to immerse ourselves deep into the throng.
The chemistry between them is both hilarious and endearing to observe. None of the on-stage interaction feels pre-planned, even the fake intro of guest MC Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine before 'Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)'. There's a genuine joy on their faces that betrays surprise at the reaction these veterans are having on a new generation of kids.
Having “Fuck the law he can eat my dick, that's word to pimp”, the attention-grabbing opening line of latest single 'Oh my Darling...' screamed back at you with a hurricane force is a weird thing to get used to, but the longer the tour goes on it appears they'll have to.
Here we see evidence of artist and fans feeding off each other's energy, in a way that thankfully renders the tired pantomime call and response antics employed by many in hip-hop utterly redundant. This is where the third, unsung member of RTJ comes into his own. DJ Trackstar delivers a side of dexterous scratching without ever becoming intrusive, and acts as the important tether to something resembling a schedule.
The painfully poignant 'Early' is followed by what is fast becoming a trademark Killer Mike speech about the tensions currently ripping through their homeland. Mike is clever enough to find a way to relate it to us on this side of the pond, focusing on the fear and frustration inherent in being killed by those whose job is to protect us.
By this point El-P has already given us plenty to think about in what could be called a paranoid rant against the world's governing forces if it weren't all true. Unlike many harbingers of doom, El offers us a solution - namely walking round like we're wearing a 36” chain. It seems to be working well for them.
Only occasionally did the paucity of their tour setup leave cause for regret – without Gangsta Boo's payoff verse 'Love Again' (above) is in danger of slipping into misogyny, and Mike may have introduced the only solo track of the evening – 'Tougher Colder Killer' – as “El's rock star moment”, but tonight's performance highlights that the scene-stealer on that record is the absent 'Despot'.
After a whirlwind 80 minutes and a faintly ridiculous one-song encore of 'Angel Duster', the triumphant trio depart to the sight of hundreds of sweaty disciples holding up the fist & gun logo that adorns their records. Without doubt one of the shows of the year.
Run the Jewels play Victoria Warehouse on Thursday 9th November - you can grab Run the Jewels Manchester tickets via the box below.
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