‘I really have to apologise,’ a near breathless El-P pants halfway through the set. Someone in the crowd shouts back ‘NEVER APOLOGISE’, bringing Killer Mike and El-P to laughter, as El replies: ‘Nah but I’ve really got to apologise. If you’re in the front ten rows it’s about to go mental in here.’ They then went into a rollicking performance of ‘Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)’ from many people’s (including mine) hip-hop album of the year Run The Jewels 2. And would you believe it, El was right. It went crazy. My one question to him would be: why didn’t you apologise before nearly every song?
Run The Jewels have been the most consistent force in hip-hop over the past three years. Between El-P and Killer Mike’s solo and combined work the world has got to enjoy four amazing albums. Why have these two, veterans of the scene, come into their prime so late into their careers in a genre that so desperately prioritises youth? The answer was clear on stage in Manchester: they met each other to become not only amazing collaborators but also the very best of friends. Between songs they were busting each other’s balls, El-P at the end of ‘Close Your Eyes’ tricked both the crowd and Mike into thinking Zach De La Rocha was coming on, to which Mike roundly berated El for. And then when they were actually playing the songs their chemistry as they traded verses was beyond belief as was their energy and their obvious enjoyment of what they were doing.
There’s a moment on ‘Banana Clipper’ when Mike raps (and in Manchester the crowd joined in with him) ‘Producer gave me a beat, said it’s the beat of the year, I said El-P didn’t do it, so get the fuck out of here!’ Whilst I was yelling along to those words last night it really struck me how right Mike is; El-P’s production is so unlike anything else out there right now, and on Run The Jewels 2 he really took it to another level. He’s always been incredible at maintaining his momentum between tracks on record, but hearing these beats live really forced me to notice how amazing he is at making intelligent music that you can really lose your shit to.
The night wasn’t all about having fun though. Run The Jewels are a serious duo with some serious things to say. Killer Mike especially has always been a political rapper, but in light of recent events regarding Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the (too) many more like them, he’s been gathering a lot of attention for what he’s been saying. This started early on when he somewhat cynically but completely understandably dedicated ‘DDFH (Do Dope Fuck Hope)’ to Michael Brown. Later on in the show Mike thanked everyone in England who joined in with the protests against the American police, and got very emotional thanking people around the world for caring about and fighting against a very American problem. Finally at the end El-P dedicated their encore song ‘Angel Duster’ to both Eric Garner and Michael Brown, which again got huge cheers from the crowd.
I don’t really know how to sum this gig up. It was the best show I’ve seen all year. It was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. If I was nit-picking maybe they could have dropped ‘Pew Pew’ not because it’s bad (it’s not), but not having appeared on any album it was just a bit unknown to the crowd. Really I can’t complain about anything though. They left the stage the first time to a crowd chanting ‘Run The Jewels!’ after the night’s (seasonal) highlight ‘A Christmas Fucking Miracle’ and a sea of fists and guns in the air. And then during the encore they got everyone changing their tune ever so slightly to ‘RTJ!’ before charging towards the crowd for some well-earned hugs. They came onstage at the start of the night to Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’, proving their confidence in their own work, but by the end they had proved it was earned.By Harry Rosehill