Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Killer Mike and El-P rock the crowd with Run the Jewels live show

The collaborative efforts between Killer Mike and El-P were easily one of hip hop's high points in 2012. New York bred rapper El-P brought his deep knowledge of breakneck beats to the production booth for Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music, while both men provided guest spots on the other's album. Now they're giving all of us a gift by collaborating even more closely with a new project called Run the Jewels. They present two vastly divergent styles, but manage to meet at the same end point. In their Tuesday night performance at Exit/In, they showcased the elements that make their sets differ from one another, but also preeminently demonstrated the similarities that make the two such a compelling onstage tandem.

Killer Mike expresses his disdain for former President Ronald Reagan.

Killer Mike's act is all about working the crowd.  He engages a crowd by putting his colorful personality on display, and they eat it up. At the core of it all is distrust and resentment toward the government, coupled with love and pride toward the South.  After getting hit single "Big Beast" out of the way early, he then proceeded into a few of the more political tracks from R.A.P. Music. "Don't Die" sees Mike unleash an overwhelming torrent of rage toward corrupt police, but his defining moment of the night was reserved toward a former occupant of the Oval Office. He stunned the crowd into a hushed silence by preforming an acapella version of "Reagan," a throat stomping piece that examines how policies put in place by nation's fortieth president caused severe detriment to minorities and the poor. Mike slammed the war on drugs and the prison industry, along with Regan's background as an actor, and claimed many of the policies he put in place continue up to the present day. And he didn't even need a beat to do it. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand. When he finished, he had them chanting the song's closing refrain along with him, "I'm glad Reagan's dead!"

Mike's act is certainly informed by nasty politics, but by no means is it defined by it. His pride for the South was also on full display, not only in songs but also in personal tidbits he shared. One of those included his love for former pro wrestler Ric Flair, a Memphis native and one of Mike's favorites growing up. There were Deep Southern/religious overtones to his set as well, without getting directly into matters of religion or dogma. "This, to me, is not even a rap concert," he declared. "This is, what we call in the South, a revival." At one point he jumped down into crowd and began preforming a spitfire freestyle proclaiming his love for the South. If Mike hadn't made it as a rapper, he very well could have found a place as a fire breathing preacher. He capped it off with a performance of the title track from R.A.P. Music, a piece promoting respect for the accomplishments of African Americans, both to music and society in general.

Brooklyn rapper El-P seeks divine inspiration.
By comparison, El-P does his damage much differently. His set is focused on creating an aggressive atmosphere through beats, lighting, and short, declarative statements that are delivered like a boxer's jab. El-P, clad in his trademark red baseball cap, is clutching the mic stand dropping rhymes interrogation style on a dimly lit stage, and then he gives us a line an infectious line in place for his hook, " I WOULDN'T WANT TO BE A PART OF ANY CLUB THAT WOULD HAVE ME!" And the crowd is just eating it up.

His setup is more involved; he brought along a guitarist along with his production specialists, so the sound is bigger and louder. While Killer Mike may by far be the more powerful rapper, El-P has the advantage in speed. During "The Full Retard," the rhymes are coming so fast and hard that it feels like physical body blows.
But he can also lay down devastation with just his beats and a hook. "Drones Over BKLYN," a tune which warns about America's increasing transition into a surveillance state, features a chorus section so intense that heading back into the verses feels like coming up for a breath of air.

El-P had come out for a guest spot during Mike's set for a performance of "Butane (Champion's Anthem)," the song he had guested on from Killer Mike's album, and similarly Mike came out during "Tougher Colder Killer," their collaboration from El-P's Cancer 4 Cure album. He even had Despot on hand to perform his verse, by virtue of the fact that he was one of the opening acts.

El-P came across confidently and put on a great show. Of the two, Killer Mike's act translated better to the stage by virtue of the fact that it relies on less. Though El-P's set was great, the beats didn't carry the same power they do on the record (although that would be hard to do). At times, it seemed like he had to fight to be heard above the beats, and vice versa.

Though when these two come together, it's the perfect union. Killer Mike brings the power, El-P brings the speed, and they both prove they can switch it up to a certain extent. It provides a great variety, and they both complement one another in perfect harmony. Clad in their gaudy golden chains, they ripped through a selection of highlights from Run the Jewel's self titled LP, including "36 Chain," the video for which had just hit airwaves that very day. The beats were more subdued than they were during El-P's set, which put the focus square and center on the two emcees. They brought aggression and plenty of smooth wordplay on tunes like "Run the Jewels" and "Banana Clipper" and complained about police aggression on "DDFH," while showing they can toss in a softer, more melodic hook on "Sea Legs."

Run the Jewels prove their mettle as one of hip hop's top acts.