Run the Jewels Trees, Dallas Thursday, November 6, 2014
The blood red tour bus bearing Run The Jewels' name and signature iconography - two mummified hands, one surrendering a gold chain to the other, gestured as a gun - glared in the early afternoon sun outside of Trees in Deep Ellum, visible from nearly every vantage between Good Latimer and Malcolm X. The duo, consisting of rap veterans Killer Mike and El-P, joined forces just a year ago following shared credits on each other's 2012 projects (Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music and El-P's critically acclaimed Cancer 4 Cure.)
The single collaborative effort that emerged from the duo's palpable chemistry was Run the Jewels' 2013 self-titled album and this year's follow-up, Run the Jewels 2. The product has been universally regarded as the all-star performance of two of underground hip-hop's most formidable titans, and the blood red tour bus bearing Run The Jewels' name and logo, glaring in the early afternoon sun outside of Trees in Deep Ellum dared to prove it.
When the stage lights dimmed and the curtains were finally drawn, Killer Mike, El-P and their tour DJ, Trackstar, were greeted by a fever-pitched audience that had sold-out the venue. "Jewel Runners," the designation that the group has affectionately christened their followers, are an assortment of supporters who defy and transcend a homogenous demographic. The packed crowd inside Trees included droves of dudes, bros, nerds, beautiful women, professionals and hip-hop aficionados, young and old, black, white and everything in between.
This isn't simply a rarity, it's an anomaly. Sure, blockbuster acts like Kanye West, Jay-Z, Drake and Lil Wayne have reached a level of stardom that makes ticket purchasers out of all sorts, but Killer Mike and El-P aren't pop-mainstream, platinum-record superstars. Yet the diversity revealed through the audience's shared love of Run the Jewels rivaled any show, not just rap concerts, that Trees has hosted this year.
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This can be accredited to the lane that Run the Jewels occupies in the hip-hop landscape: The union of Killer Mike and El-P brought together two generally dissimilar communities of hip-hop consumers, sharing few intersecting nodes in individual preference. Before ever collaborating, Atlanta MC Killer Mike commanded a mostly Southern following of Dirty South rap diehards, while fans of Brooklyn's El-P... well, they listen to Aesop Rock.
Their combining of forces, however, inspired a collective nerdgasm in the internet music community. Run the Jewels is every rap nerd's wet dream, the best of both worlds, the midpoint of the South and East underground and the most prominent veteran presence in a hip-hop subgenre that is simply identified as "blog rap."
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The harrowing opening notes of Run The Jewels' eponymous single wafted through the venue and sent the crowd into a frenzy that in 55 minutes never lost its edge. With every song, the emcees fueled the audience with tightly-woven raps, tangible camaraderie between the two and the kind of crowd control that is the product of experience, charisma and genuine love of the sport.
Throughout each song, Run The Jewels was met with swarms of applause, seas of pumping fists and a united echoing of every lyric they spat, whether the message was one of triumph, loss, justice or irreverently screaming "BITCH" at the top their lungs. As opposed to running through their two albums in some frenzied, sound-clipped melody, a tactic often employed by rappers with comparable tenure, when each track came to an end, Killer Mike and El-P addressed their congregation with messages reflecting such principles as universal love, the rights of all people and justice against systematic brutality.
Yes, Killer Mike and El-P ended songs with such sentiments as "Lie, Cheat, Steal, Kill. Win, win. Everybody's doing it;" and "Do dope, fuck hope" with advocacy for gay rights, chivalry and the honoring of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, both slain by police in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, respectively. While this may indicate the moral dissonance that is often cited as one of rap music's many vices from the outside looking in, the interludes Run the Jewels used to separate songs reinforced the inherently positive messages replete, though veiled with depravity, throughout their 20 some odd songs. Don't get it twisted: it's aggressive, suggestive and often merciless, but Killer Mike and El-P are good guys and the sincerity and gratitude they repeatedly expressed at last night's Dallas stop of the Run the Jewels tour proved it.
But above all else, Run the Jewels put on an impressively fun rap show. In a creative community like hip-hop where youth is king, Run the Jewels feel like the joyride that follows by far the biggest bank heist committed by two of the game's most seasoned professionals. Killer Mike's heavy yet limber flow alongside El-P's sharp, cleverly delivered rhymes, all atop El-P compositions that blatantly flirt hip-hop with EDM makes Run the Jewels the kind of act that not only entertains, but unifies people from infinitely-varying walks of life. It's illustration of the values that they spit and the unlikely unity they represent.