Run the Jewels
The Ritz, Raleigh
Friday, January 20, 2016
Shortly before Run the Jewels
took the stage in Raleigh, I pushed my way to the center of the densely packed crowd. The dudes I ended up next to were raring to go.
After pausing to excitedly chide me for my earplugs—as inadequate against the blaring, blistering sound that followed as the guys said they would be—they joined an impatient chant of “R - T - J!” that soon erupted, seizing their opportunity to shift the message when it started to die down: “Fuck Donald Trump!” they bellowed, inspiring an even louder chorus.
Friday afternoon, the man they cursed became president of the United States, riding racist, xenophobic rhetoric to the highest office in the land, promising policies that threaten to strip many of their health insurance and cut federal funding for the arts, among many other unsettling possibilities. Inside The Ritz, Trump was Public Enemy No. 1. The room was packed with restless onlookers, clearly desperate for the politically barbed rap assaults that Run the Jewels have ridden to the brink of superstardom since teaming up in 2013.
In the past, Killer Mike
have hit the issues of the day head-on, with Mike delivering a fiery speech at a 2014 show in St. Louis
after the shooting of Michael Brown and joining Bernie Sanders to offer similarly incendiary oratory
on the 2016 campaign trail. Run the Jewels seethe against oppression and inequality, keying on the anxiety felt by many liberal minds as the sentiments that fueled Trump’s presidential bid took hold.
But on Friday night, they weren’t interested in direct attacks. El-P did much of the talking between raps, describing the day as odd, but he insisted that everyone have a good time. At one point, he bid his audience to look around, explaining that here was the diverse community that would stand up against Trump and what he represents—a hard argument for a white rapper to make speaking to a largely white crowd, but El-P’s point still rang true.
Propelled by cacophonous beats that pounded the audience into a pogoing frenzy, the duo did offer some moments that cut to the quick of the day’s political tension: a quick diatribe about Trump’s greed ended with the declaration that he will “lie, cheat, steal, kill, win,” leading into the sneering manifesto “Lie, Cheat, Steal”
from Run the Jewels 2
. But the two emcees put most of the energy into helping the audience look past the day’s depressing reality, letting their eviscerating raps do the talking.
Run the Jewels didn’t take time away from the songs to discuss any big issues. Their energy matched El-P’s fun-first mission. Leaning on their complementary strengths—Mike’s burly, fire-breathing flow, his partner’s more precise syncopation—they let their verses speak for themselves, allowing the crowd to revel in rhetoric they’d already taken to heart.
Still, Run the Jewels did go out swinging, returning for an encore that featured “Kill Your Masters,”
the anarchic closer to the new Run the Jewels 3
, followed by the self-titled, bare-knuckle anthem
that kicks off their first album. Never giving specific voice to all of the night’s many reasons to feel down, the duo instead stoked their disciples with fierce determination, fuel to burn as they start to deal with the next four years.