‘Giddiness isn’t quite what you might expect from a hip-hop concert, but this is no ordinary concert, and El-Producto and Killer Mike are no ordinary artists’ – Siobhán Kane on Run The Jewels‘ recent Opium Rooms gig
To the strains of Queen’s We are the Champions, New York’s El-Producto and Atlanta’s Killer Mike saunter on to the stage; it’s taken a while to get their project to Dublin, (something they mention at different turns throughout the evening) so understandably the heaving crowds are expectant and giddy.
Giddiness isn’t quite what you might expect from a hip-hop concert, but this is no ordinary concert, and El-Producto and Killer Mike are no ordinary artists. Both their Run the Jewels’ records are extraordinary, not only for their verve, wit, and incredible production, but because there is a real sense of mystery and surprise about the way they are conceived, and released. El-Producto already had form in this vein, from his work in the peerless Company Flow, to running the brilliant label Def Jux, where he oversaw releases from other singular artists such as Cannibal Ox to Aesop Rock, and Killer Mike has been a stalwart of the “Dirty South” scene for years, working with Outkast among others, and releasing 6 records to date, with his 2012 record, R.A.P. Music produced by El-P. It was this experience that led to their collaboration on Run the Jewels, and to this stage, in Dublin, tonight.
The crowd’s reaction to Run the Jewels live brought to mind the early hardcore scene, with crowds lurching forward at different turns; frenetic, immersed, engaged. Early on Killer Mike politely asks the security guard to get out from within the crowd and instead do his work from the front of the stage and put the trust in “the kids”, since we’re “family”. This mainly works, until he gets in the line of sight of El-P, accidentally putting him off his stride, with El-P momentarily losing his head, but his passion is so deep, it’s perhaps understandable that tensions run high.
This kind of concert is an epic endeavour, and the promoter – Hidden Agenda – and staff coped brilliantly, dealing with the crowd’s crazy energy, as well as the artists’, with monitors being stepped on, and speakers teetering on the brink of destruction – but that’s the thing, Run the Jewels is all about teetering on that brink, pushing, and provoking. The reason the two men work so well together is that they are a mixture of these things, as well as anger, playfulness, and intellect. Their sense of gratitude to the crowd, and achievement of making it to Dublin, for the last date on this tour is palpable; it infuses everyone with a sense of us all being in this together. And by making both Run the Jewels records available free, El-P and Killer Mike have actively championed that idea, and in turn created a fidelity with the audience that has grown and grown.
There were so many highlights; support act God Knows + MynameisjOhn, Killer Mike’s unexpected and graceful soft-shoe-shuffle, his handing out of Grey Goose vodka (as well as water) to the dehydrated, delirious crowd, El-P’s fearless, acrobatic vocals on 36” Chain, and Lie, Cheat, Steal, Killer Mike’s laconic rapping on Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry), the crackling atmosphere, the obvious love between the duo, the crowd singing along to Love Again, the impromptu chants of “RTJ!” that later morphed into “Ole”, where the two men seem genuinely moved, as well as a stellar rendering of their seasonal ode “A Christmas F*cking Miracle”, which this celebratory concert really feels like.
What sets their collaboration apart is their respect for each other, and their complementary differences; Mike can be so literal, yet his delivery is like dripping treacle, and El-P can be so metaphorical, but raps in such a raw manner – combined it sounds explosive and inventive, but most of all exciting, bringing to mind so much of Rawkus Records classic output; a combining of astute social commentary, sometimes surreal imagery, and magnificent, atmospheric production.
Hidden Agenda were behind one of my other concerts of the year – Mos Def at Vicar Street – that show was freewheeling and full of artistry and depth, with Yasiin Bey reminding us how interesting and meaningful hip-hop can really be, and how ultimately, hip-hop is folk music. Bey is a radiant link in hip-hop’s “invisible chain” as El-P might put it, and now, pleasingly, after cementing their position with their second record (and about to start work on their third) so is the Run the Jewels project – what a way to end a great year of live music.