The only thing surprising about Run The Jewels selling out nearly four nights straight at Terminal 5 is that it hasn’t happened sooner. For the underrated rap duo, consisting of Atlanta-born Killer Mike and Brooklyn’s own El-P, it was no sweat packing the place with their ever-growing mob of Jewel Runners, many of whom could already be seen clutching merch table goodies with an iron grip. Equally coveted was the fresh Stay G-O-L-D IPA making the rounds – RTJ’s own signature beer from Brooklyn’s Interboro Brewery, named after the eponymous RTJ3 track – a treat they debuted on night one in NYC. As night two took shape, the tight crowd started to move and breathe like one monstrous creature, hungry for the bass to start pounding and the verse to be served. Like a reassuring deity, a massive replica of the mummified RTJ hands hovered over the stage in their trademark fist-and-gun gesture, silencing any possible riot below.
Centered beneath the impressive props, opening DJ The Gaslamp Killer soon brought his awesome, madcap production style to the stage, remixing everything from Childish Gambino’s “Me and Your Mama” to Darth Vader’s (John Williams’) “Imperial March.” Moving fast under his wild halo of hair, the L.A.-based producer not only fired up the crowd, but took the time to impart a message of acceptance. “America was founded by immigrants, and the reason it maintains its greatness is because of immigrants. This nation was built on the backs of fucking immigrants,” he said, going on to sample a captivating Pakistani song as he spoke. “You know the Middle East invented math and arithmetic, right?” he said, taunting an unnamed (implied) enemy. “You know they invented the first written language, right? Only a fucking cultureless moron wouldn’t know that.”
All that pre-show energy was nearing combustion by the time our headliners made their way onstage; Mike, El, and touring DJ Trackstar walking on heroically to Queen’s “We Are The Champions,” their fans affirming the message with an explosion of screams. “We came to fuck New York City UP,” boomed Killer Mike, and like the split-second when a rollercoaster teeters over its steepest edge, their performance bit into thin air and surged forward full-force. Keeping with the setlist from other Run The World Tour shows, the guys got things going with two satisfying sequences from their latest two records – “Talk to Me,” “Legend Has It” and the insanely good “Call Ticketron” from RTJ3, followed by the inseparable “Blockbuster Night Part 1” and “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” from RTJ2 (albeit reversed). As DJ Trackstar scratched and built the foundation, Mike and El-P commanded each side of the stage. But even as they owned their respective verses, they constantly interacted, locking into each other’s pulse with nonverbal cues and subtle, meticulous adjustments. “This counts as cardio, so later, I’m gonna eat a piece of cake,” joked Mike on one of the rare occasions they stopped to breathe.
Weirdly (and inexplicably), Run The Jewels are still niche enough that it’s a unique thrill to see other people around you intensely rapping along, obsessing over each word as much as you did when you listened alone. After a strong cover of DJ Shadow’s “Nobody Speak” (the 2016 track on which they guested), Run The Jewels gave T5 another nice dose of the new record, digging into the most jagged edges of “Hey Kids (Bumaye),” “Stay Gold,” “Don’t Get Captured,” “Panther Like a Panther,” and “Everybody Stay Calm.” Then, throwing things back to RTJ2, they welcomed Gangsta Boo herself for her part in the sexually-charged “Love Again (Akinyele Back),” after which she quickly coaxed the crowd into a call-and-response of “When I say pussy, you say power!” Run The Jewels kept the red-record vibe with “Lie, Cheat, Steal” and “Early,” then finished it all out with the new “A Report to the Shareholders / Kill Your Masters” (co-written by Zack de la Rocha) and the original “Run the Jewels,” which opened their very first album. Their encore consisted of “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” and “Down.” “I honestly don’t think it could get any better for a kid who grew up in New York and worked his whole life to get here,” said El-P to the vast tangle of arms reaching out toward the stage. “I want to thank you guys for being so encouraging.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Run The Jewels show without some much-needed wisdom from Killer Mike between songs. On night two, it took the form of an impassioned political speech, with hundreds around him cheering in uplifting agreement. “I want ANY politician – I don’t give a fuck what party; president or not – I want them to see a Run The Jewels concert,” said Mike. “I want them to see people who are not the same race, not the same sex, not the same religious belief, united for the betterment of everyone. And no one has to suffer because of it. I honestly in my heart of hearts believe that if the government understands that they work for you, and you don’t work for them, the world is a better place. So, from now until the end of our careers, any politician that wants to keep your ass out, shut the fuck up, and watch the show. You bastards are welcome to. Because this is America in front of us. THIS is America. This is what’s possible. When you go to a voting booth, remember this show.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley