2015 has been quite the celebratory year for hip-hop duo Run the Jewels. Formed as something of a victory lap following critically-acclaimed, well-received solo albums from group members Killer Mike and El-P in 2012, RTJ has taken the two rappers to greater heights collectively than either of them saw in their individual, decades-spanning careers (and remember, we’re talking about one guy who won a GRAMMY early in his career for a song that he co-created with Outkast and another guy who founded one of the most influential indie hip-hop labels of the 21st century).
After 14 months of touring behind their latest effort, 2014’s Run the Jewels 2, the group is winding down to take some well-deserved time off before hitting the studio to record Run the Jewels 3. Before doing that, though, they brought their revved-up show to The Fox Theater in Pomona and had the room practically melting from the sheer ferocity of their performance.
While the members of Run the Jewels do have quite a catalog of solo material to pull from, this was a set that focused exclusively on RTJ material. Backed only by DJ Trackstar, Mike and El took the stage to Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” echoing the sentiments felt by all in the room — these guys are straight winning right now (I don’t have to remind you about the $40,000 they just raised to release a joke-driven cat album, right?).
That entrance immediately segued into the title track to their first project, “Run the Jewels,” a fast-paced, aggressive song that showcases the laser-like calamity of El-P’s production alongside the lyrically acrobatic, shit-talking swag both of the emcees bring to the table.
That song in itself epitomizes what the group — and their show — is all about. Tracks like “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” “Sea Legs,” and “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” are all high-intensity parts of an overall insane killing machine of a live show.
Zack de la Rocha didn’t grace the stage to perform his part on the latter song, but others did show up to share the spotlight with the jewel runners. Gangsta Boo of Three 6 Mafia stormed the stage to perform her show-stealing third verse on the ode to carnality “Love Again,” and direct support act Boots joined Run the Jewels to sing the hook to their single “Early” (he also stage-dived to perform part of the song while surfing the crowd).
Speaking of crowd, it’s hard to fully encapsulate the experience of a Run the Jewels show without noting how wildly enthusiastic their audience is. These kids may not necessarily have a record collection stocked with Company Flow and Dungeon Family releases, but their RTJ-driven frenzy should share equal billing with anything that transpires onstage.
Mosh pits broke out for nearly every song, but never in a way that felt unsafe or intrusive, particularly not when the directors of the chaos onstage also happen to be so lyrically dexterous and progressive in their worldview and attitude. Although the songs of RTJ can sometimes bare their fangs so much that it would seem to be one-note, there’s actually a lot of subtlety and forward-thinking going on — something of a rarity in a room that smelled as much like armpit as The Fox Theater did by the third song of the night.
After closing out their hour-long set with the slow burner “A Christmas Fucking Miracle,” Run the Jewels took the stage one more time to perform their song “Angel Duster.” Raw, heartfelt, and energetic as all get-out, the duo couldn’t have ended the show in any better way.
It’s been a bit surreal to watch the meteoric rise of Killer Mike and El-P over the last few years, and that sense of bewilderment was definitely apparent on their faces during some of the more monumental crowd participation moments during the show. With the promise of a new record on the way soon, it seems unlikely that the award tour will be slowing down at all in 2016.
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