I had the great pleasure of getting hyped on Run The Jewels, on Monday Aug. 11th at Upstairs lounge, and I’d love to share that experience with you. The article I wrote for that show originally appeared on Buzz & Howl, and now I bring it to you with their blessing. Buzz & Howl is another fantastic online publication, covering music and film the world over. If you have some time, check them out.
For those who don’t already know, Run the Jewels is a duo of the rappers Killer Mike and EL-P. EL-P is a famed underground producer, off kilter rapper, and member of the influential rap groups Cannibal Ox and Company Flow. In 2012 when EL-P released his last solo album, Cancer 4 Cure, he also produced Killer Mike’s breakout album R.A.P Music. The combo proved to be so organic, they stayed together to create Run the Jewels, a project who’s debut dropped last year. They are described as one of the best live shows currently in the genre.
Now, you may wonder; why would these successful and influential rap artists would visit such a town as Victoria B.C? The rap crowds here are a weird bunch. You’re as likely to find a black person in these audiences as you are to find a fat guy without a full fledged Viking Beard. However, these dedicated and awesome people are the reason international acts like Shabazz Palaces, Bun-B, and Ghostface Killah have all been here, recently. In this show, we even had some underground icons as the openers: Amplive and Eligh from California’s Living Legends.
Unfortunately, as soon as these two jumped on stage, the poor sound quality slammed into the audience like a bus full of screaming children. The bass’s intense volume destroyed the upper end; creating feedback every time the performers pulled the mics away from their mouths to hype the crowd; ruining the effect. Eligh’s quick-fire rap style was frequently rendered incomprehensible by this.
Even so, Eligh amped everyone up quickly. He has a way of feeling the crowd and intuitively responding to them without seeming self conscious, or hesitating. It is easy to be enticed by an MC like him. He doesn’t gloat excessively about his name and crew, even though Living Legends and Amplive both have a long list of accomplishments to stand on.
The poor sound quality slammed into the audience like a bus full of screaming children.
One highlight was when Eligh and Amplive made Chris Brown look absolutely pathetic by supersonically rapping over the beat to “Look At Me Now”. When this happened the audience went bonkers, convincing me that the bus boys at Upstairs picked up several dropped jaws, among the broken glasses and empty cans after the show.
Their set was going pretty well at this point, from the solid groove of “I Think I Want a Tattoo Today,” to the live beat production that spaced out the main songs, everything sounded solid…right up until THE DUBSTEP PART!!!1!!!111!!!!
That last phrase is capitalized, because reading it feels as jarring and awkward as dubstep does in the middle of a rap set, in 2014. After this puzzling departure, Amplive jumped over many genres of beats, robbing the show of the consistent groove it had until then.
After the openers finished, I stepped out for a cheeseburger at Mcdonalds (Delicious), but came running back when I heard the sound of the African elephants I recognized to be Run the Jewels. Immediately, I was reminded of why I attend rap shows at all. While bad rappers sound like glorified and braggadocios karaoke, a good act is pure, aggressive and cathartic entertainment. As an aside, I also wonder how it’s physically possible that Killer Mike can sound so much bigger than he looks on stage. Putting him up there makes him look like a black Godzilla; ready to destroy the audience of would be buildings with his punchy flow.
More than anything else, Run The Jewels is about two friends rapping and having fun.
The interplay between him and EL-P reminds me of Donkey and Diddy Kong: Each of Mike’s verses land like a hit in the face, while EL-P dances around him and sneaks his clever jabs at the angles. As they run through their set, Killer Mike looks amused that all of these bearded white Victorians know the lyrics to “Sealegs” and “36’ Chain.” The goofy grin that he wears reminds everyone that, more than anything else, Run The Jewels is about two friends rapping and having fun. The sense of humour that he and EL-P have about this project makes it far more interesting to watch live than MCs who genuinely want everyone to take them seriously despite their ridiculously overblown masculinity, tasteless misogyny, and lies about violence and drug dealing. Its easy to see through these things when they take the stage.
As the show closed, and the tropical rainstorm of sweat surrounding Killer Mike dissipated, I felt overjoyed. The mixing robbed the night of some of its finer points, like when RTJ’s DJ took his turn in the spotlight to scratch, and ended up sounding like a waterfall of white noise. However, all of the performers succeeded in making the audience go completely crazy in spite of this shortcoming. If Amplive, Eligh, Killer Mike, and EL-P’s collective good humour and impeccable showmanship wasn’t present, the show may have been drowned in the unpleasant bass. Instead, they rose above.