Run The Jewels inspires confidence. They exude it in their records, flaunt it in their interviews, and as they proved last night, on the first night of this tour, they embody it in their live shows too. Killer Mike and El-P, two middle aged rappers at the top of their game, walked out to thunderous applause from a crowd that sold the room out in five minutes, singing along to the chorus of “We Are The Champions.” Their smiles could trick you into thinking, just for a while, that the world isnʼt all that bad.
The show was a sentimental one for El-P. Backstage, he was deep in thought, wondering if he had played the infamous E-Factory before; as it turns out, he had. 19 years ago, after his then-crew split and a subsequent very awkward European tour, he came to Philly to open the E-Factory for The Beastie Boys. After a less than amicable and potentially altercation with a crowd member, El-P and his boys were booed off after just three songs. Nearly two decades and a whole career of success later, Uncle El was back, and faced a much more loving crowd.
The show saw live debuts of most of Run The Jewels 3, the highly-anticipated record that they dropped as a surprise on Christmas Eve, with standout debuts including “Call Ticketron,” “Down,” and “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” — which was great despite the absence of Danny Brownʼs verse. Mike and Jaime also broke out the classics, including “Blockbuster Night Part I,” “Oh My Darling Donʼt Cry,” and “Close Your Eyes and Count to Fuck.”
The experience ultimately proved an extremely cathartic one; in a time where every American is on edge about something, there was something gratifying about screaming along to verses both profound (eg. “Down,” “Donʼt Get Captured”) and profane (“Love Again”). The space, while rowdy, always felt safe; Killer Mike took a minute to note that RTJ has some “dope ass female fans” and that they just might not want guys grinding on them all night. “So take a step back, you perverted motherfuckers,” Mike scolded, to cheers from the women in the audience. When El joked through the intro to “Panther Like A Panther” by fibbing that he had a second career in spoken word poetry, everyone laughed and danced, and the Electric Factory, for once in a lifetime, became a somewhat nice place to be.
Toward the end of the evening, El-P stopped to acknowledge the situation America is readying itself to wade into; he acknowledged that our current climate, both political and physical, might be in peril. “No matter what the next four years bring,” El said, “Iʼm glad you’re spending it with me as we head into the abyss of dog shit.”
“Because regardless of whether it’s the asshole in charge now or the asshole in charge later, one thing they’ll always do is lie, cheat, steal, kill, win, come on!”
“Everybodyʼs doing it!”
The evening roared through the duoʼs biggest hits, and after finishing their eponymous track from their debut album, Mike and Jaime hugged onstage to unending cheers. After decades-spanning rollercoaster careers, they really are running the world, and just when we need them.
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