Run the Jewels probably never thought they’d get this far.
The Atlanta duo, consisting of rappers Killer Mike and El-P, met by way of industry kismet, and after touring together as separate entities, decided to collaborate, forming Run the Jewels and releasing their eponymous debut in 2013. Since then, the group has released two more albums and has been touring non-stop.
And while they’re known for their fiery delivery and progressive political outlook (Killer Mike is a known Bernie Sanders fan), Run the Jewels also has a reputation for putting on lively shows, which a sold-out crowd at Oakland’s Fox Theater was lucky enough to witness on the night of Friday, Feb. 3.
Around 10:15 p.m., after opening sets from former Three 6 Mafia member Gangsta Boo and Low End Theory wunderkind The Gaslamp Killer, the lights dimmed leading the crowd to thunderously applaud and chant “RTJ! RTJ!” as the sounds of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” played through the speakers. The audience erupted into mania, throwing up hand symbols in the form of a fist and a pantomimed pistol — the duo’s well-known logo — that matched the giant, inflatable zombie-fied hands molded in the same pose hanging above the stage.
As Killer Mike and El-P took to the stage, the response from the crowd rose to a deafening din, and the two blasted right into RTJ3’s powerful first single, “Talk to Me.” When the climax came at the very end, Killer Mike told the audience: “I told y’all on RTJ1, then I told ya again on RTJ2, and you STILL ain’t believe me…So, here we go!”
The two didn’t stop as they tore through two other classics from the new album, like “Legend Has It” and “Call Ticketron.”
“I can’t believe that we’re standing here in front of all you guys right now,” El-P said, grinning with modesty that could only be viewed as ironic following the boastful nature of “Call Ticketron.” “Let’s do everything we can to make this night a mothafuckin’ blockbuster,” he continued, before the two pounded into “Blockbuster Night, Part 1.”
Run the Jewels’ rapport with one another as well as with the audience is one of the reasons that RTJ has become one of the most sought-after live performances in the sphere of contemporary music. The night was full of welcome interruptions, ranging from the hilarious (“Y’all [referring to people from the Bay Area] are supposed to be too stoned to be this rowdy…you smokin’ sativa tonight!’”), to the tasteful and heartfelt (“If y’all see some women that you don’t really know, give ‘em some space and let them have a good time!”), to the utterly saddening, as El-P announced that, at the conclusion of their current tour, he is planning on leaving Run the Jewels. He swiftly brought the comedy back into focus however, declaring he would be attempting a career at spoken word poetry, sliding right into “Panther Like a Panther” with an a capella intro.
As RTJ3 was released just over a month ago (the duo surprised fans by releasing a digital copy on Christmas Eve, three weeks before its slated release in mid-January), it’s not surprising that most of the evening was dedicated to showcasing the new LP’s material. A few older tracks were slipped into the mix, including a fair amount from 2014’s RTJ2, including “Love Again (Akinyele Back),” which was performed with opener Gangsta Boo. At the song’s conclusion, the rappers declared “Pussy is power!” allowing El-P the opportunity to give us the sound byte of the evening: “The sooner we can get this world out of the hands of people with penises, the better.” It was the perfect segue into “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” another masterpiece from RTJ2.
A few other collaborators graced the stage to contribute, as was the case with DJ Q-Ball, who showed up for the end of “Don’t Get Captured,” and legendary hip-hop sampler DJ Shadow, who treated the shocked crowd to a good 30 to 60 seconds of raw scratching at the end of “Nobody Speak” (a track from his 2016 LP that features Run the Jewels). Shadow left the stage to a blizzard of screams, holding up his own fist and pistol, to which El-P remarked, “If DJ Shadow is throwing up your logo, you know your doing something right.”
Sadly, there were no cameos from Atlanta singer Joi (who is featured on RTJ3 opener “Down”) and Rage Against the Machine singer Zach de la Rocha, who appears on RTJ3’s finale “A Report to the Shareholders,” as well as “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck),” which the duo chose for their encore.
Still, Run the Jewels made each second of their 75-minute set count, pumping life through each audience member’s heart. Their current tour will undoubtedly carry them through at least the end of the year, as they are sure to be featured on countless summer festival lineups, so here’s hoping they make another pass through the Bay before El-P’s imminent departure.