At the Crystal Ballroom on Feb. 6, Run The Jewels' Killer Mike and El-P delivered an early contender for concert of the year, marching through an indefatigable 70-minute set in delirious lockstep with a riveted Crystal Ballroom crowd.
Yeah. It was like that. Sold out. Hands in the air. Bass in your face. Dry-ice-meets-marijuana. Many mesmerized. Killer Mike's pal Bernie Sanders sat in on background vocals, and a bird landed on his shoulder during a high note. (OK, maybe that was just the contact high.)
There was no one song, no one moment, no one star. Reflecting the pair's power-to-the-people politics, their approach was balanced: El-P's dextrous, sinewy beats under a flurry of turntable scratching from DJ Trackstar; Killer Mike's velvety, virtuosic, Hennessey-laced flow; the constant call-and-response between rappers and crowd.
A cloth with a political message on it was thrown to Mike, who caught it, then read from it: "Fight Racism. Fight for Equality." A minute later, opener Gangsta Boo, formerly of Three 6 Mafia, joined on "Love Again (Akinyele Back)," one of the few songs they played from earlier albums, which ended with: "Pussy is power!"
Standout tracks included the insanely hypnotic "Call Ticketron," which heats up hip-hop's middling beats-per-minute quotient to a higher velocity, and "Hey Kids (Bumaye)," which layers a haunting hook over a menacing beat and the chant "Bumaye." That's Congolese for "Kill him," which is also a kind of hurrah.
If RTJ has a flaw, it's a scarcity of strong melodic choruses, the kind that stick in your head a la "Down." But that's intentional: the NYC-and-ATL tandem eschew pop in favor of the intensely hypnotic and thought-provoking. They also avoid gangsta posturing, laughing at their own militancy while rolling joints and hewing to the underground.
"If you're wondering why we're not fucking depressed right now," El-P said, "there's two reasons: One, we're high as fuck. Two, we're in front of you."
Opener Gaslamp Killer's DJ set included four songs by producer EPROM, who he called "the greatest producer of my generation" while noting he "lives right down the street from here." The frenetic half-hour mix bewildered the crowd with its experimental mash of dark dubstep, Star Wars, Dr. Dre and Middle Eastern traditional music.
All photos Henry Cromett.