Beat for beat, no other hip-hop entity occupies as much current pop culture real estate as Run the Jewels. The pair of El-P and Killer Mike have comfortably nestled into avenues far exceeding the music industry: Mike served as Bernie Sanders’ most eloquent ambassador last year, the group’s detached-hand insignia graced a series of Marvel comic covers and the duo even nailed a tongue-in-cheek Colbert Halloween cameo. Those feats don’t even include a remix of their sophomore album transformed into an epic cat meme. The reasons for the pair’s ascent—choreographed over three uniformly excellent albums—aren’t especially complex.
First, Killer Mike and El-P’s production skills are fucking evil. Backing tracks borrow from late-’80s/early-’90s industrial as much as East Coast loops. Distorted synths walk half steps along chugging beats; “Blockbuster Night Part 1” and “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” are laced with the same barbed electronica/metal DNA of Trent Reznor and Skinny Puppy alongside more eclectic flourishes. Like Danny Brown—who makes a cameo on third album track “Hey Kids”—RTJ isn’t afraid to embrace the sister frontiers of electronica, rock and every sordid shade between. Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four reboot failed to meet the creeping promise of Cronenberg body horror filtered through blockbuster populism, but El-P’s closing track nailed that tone admirably.
That caustic dynamic also scores RTJ the distinction of being one of the few (or only) acts that can compel a group of high school kids to mosh over synthesized horns. But as their show last Monday in Columbus demonstrated, the pair could ignite a party based on good vibes alone. Throughout the hour-and-ten-minutes set, El-P proclaimed his love for brother Killer Mike, brought up his former DJ, Mr. Dibbs, for a cameo on the decks (Trackstar the DJ served the rest of the show) and espoused his admiration for an oversold crowd that ventured out on a Monday night. The most memorable exchange followed “Love Again,” a track that boasts the chorus “She got that dick in her mouth all day,” followed both on the record and in the show with a finale from Gangsta Boo, who flips the misogynistic sentiment via rejoinder “I put my clit in his mouth all day.” After Boo exited, El-P apologized for playing a song with the “stupidest” chorus as well as inviting a rapper up who made he and Killer Mike look like “little kids.” The show painted RTJ as a Trojan horse of innovative beats and rhymes melded over a pair of storied professionals bonded on devotion and humility.
In other words, a Run the Jewels live show is an even more direct showcase of why we shouldn’t expect to stop hearing, watching or reading about Run the Jewels for years to come.
Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)