By Josh Herwitt //
When Jaime Meline and Michael Render teamed up to form Run the Jewels in 2013, neither were household names all on their own. Meline, better known as El-P among underground hip-hop fans, had built a modest career as a beatmaker/producer, rapper and independent record label owner, while Render, aka Killer Mike, had garnered some slight fanfare for his collaborations with OutKast and fellow Atlanta emcee Big Boi.
Yet, in just four years, Run the Jewels have already reached hip-hop’s mountaintop with their politically charged lyrics and hard-hitting beats. Just take last Wednesday’s sold-out show in LA for example. With the duo’s third studio album still only a few weeks old, 5,000 or so fans poured into the spacious Shrine Expo Hall to watch El-P and Killer Mike fuck shit up (for lack of a better term). And that’s exactly what they did after opening sets from The Gaslamp Killer, Nick Hook, Gangasta Boo and CUZ.
From the moment they walked onstage to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blasting out of the PA system, much like they did at FYF Fest (read our review here) a couple summers ago, El-P and Killer Mike kept the energy odometer at 100. They jumped right into material from their latest LP Run the Jewels 3, starting with “Talk to Me” and continuing in chronological order, before telling us to raise our hands in the air and flash their patented fist-and-a-gun hand gesture in between songs.
By the time El-P and Killer Mike dove into “Blockbuster Night, Part 1” and “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” from their critically acclaimed sophomore record, the capacity crowd was fully entrenched in RTJ’s aggro-hip-hop stylings. But unlike most of the dates on their “Run the World Tour” so far, this one was loaded with top-notch special guests. Going into it, I had a good feeling that we were in for at least a couple knowing RTJ’s penchant for surprises and the fact that we were in La La Land after all. What played out, though, surpassed just about all of my expectations.
As soon as we heard the opening guitar riff to DJ Shadow’s “Nobody Speak” from his 2016 LP The Mountain Will Fall, I thought we might be getting an appearance from the legendary Bay Area producer and turntablist himself. Instead, it was the ensuing song that proved to be our first surprise of the night, as Detroit rapper Danny Brown emerged from the shadows to trade lines with El-P and Killer Mike on their RTJ3 collaboration “Hey Kids (Bumaye)”. Of course, as unexpected as Brown’s appearance was, RTJ had plenty of more tricks up their sleeves. One of them was the aforementioned Gangsta Boo guesting on their crude, raunchy RTJ2 track “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” as she has done throughout the tour, but as the clock hit 11 p.m., El-P and Killer Mike had a few more friends to introduce. BOOTS, the enigmatic singer/rapper and songwriter who worked on Beyoncé, was up next, contributing the same vocals he supplied in the studio for “Early” before a drum set was rolled out for Blink-182’s Travis Barker, who made his presence felt with a dramatic, blood-pumping finish — sticks twirling and all — to “All Due Respect”. And if that wasn’t enough, the Brooklynlanta team made sure we got to briefly meet Dungeon Family member and singer Joi via its RTJ3 opener “Down” before exiting stage right.
But while it’s clear that RTJ have come a long way even since their early days, El-P and Killer Mike made sure to save the best for last at the Shrine Expo Hall. It’s well-known, in fact, that they have brought out Zack de la Rocha from time to time, most recently in Washington D.C. during a pre-inauguration performance last month, but there’s still something exhilarating about seeing the Rage Against the Machine frontman grab the mic and go to work. Lucky for us, RTJ’s encore featured de la Rocha on both “Kill Your Masters” and “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”, the latter of which is one of the duo’s most powerful and provocative songs. It was a fitting way to end the night, particularly in our current political climate, but at least we have El-P and Killer Mike to help us make sense of it all.
We Are the Champions (Queen song)
Talk to Me
Legend Has It
Blockbuster Night, Part 1
Oh My Darling Don’t Cry
Nobody Speak (DJ Shadow cover)
Hey Kids (Bumaye) (with Danny Brown)
Don’t Get Captured
Panther Like a Panther
Love Again (Akinyele Back) (with Gangsta Boo)
Lie, Cheat, Steal
Early (with BOOTS)
All Due Respect (with Travis Barker)
Run the Jewels
A Report to the Shareholders
Down (with Joi)
Kill Your Masters (with Zack de la Rocha)
Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck) (with Zack de la Rocha)