Run The Jewels’ sold out set at Boston’s House of Blues was an hour long battle cry against The Orange Menace occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and laid clear their bona fides as the most important Rap Duo of 2017. El-P and Killer Mike released RTJ3 weeks after the election and they brought its sense of foreboding and anxiety into the live setting while simultaneously giving their fans a dose of hope.
The political themes in their music aren’t forced down their audiences throat but when EL-P rhymes, “Do you think baby Jesus killed Hitler just so I’d whisper?” it’s almost impossible to ignore their position on the ethnic violence inherent in our nation’s history and the paradox we face when factoring in a founding document that places the freedom of expression above all others.
A big part of RTJ’s appeal is their ability to juggle a fierce political message with the party vibes that come from rapping about smoking weed and getting laid. Killer Mike won some serious brownie points when he told his crowd, “Y’all whooped our ass in the Super Bowl, but y’all ain’t never been to an Atlanta Strip Club, that’s how you should be celebrating your championship.” Mike commented a few times that he was high out of his mind and that the weed we have in the Bay State was top shelf. “This must be what Tom Brady was smoking during the second half,” Mike joked.
While their music is sexually graphic, it’s not misogynistic and has a politically progressive bent. EL-P reminded his audience to give the women in the crowd their space (not the easiest request in a venue crammed full of 2,600 folks) and to remain respectful at all times (a request that should always come naturally).
The content of their between-song banter certainly played a part in the vibe they established but more than anything, the backbone of an RTJ set comes from the seamless chemistry between Killer Mike and EL-P that was constantly on display. Although they took turns on verses, there was an old school showmanship inherent in their stage chemistry that projects an aura of telepathy that gives the act a linguistic fluidity championed by old school hip hop crews like De La Soul but has been lacking from a modern rap game where art tends to takes a back seat to ego.
Run The Jewels was introduced at Coachella by Bernie Sanders while he was still in the midst of a primary battle with Hillary Clinton and the role Killer Mike has played as an unofficial ambassador of the Black Lives Matter movement further establishes Run The Jewels as the preferred rap group of the political left. Given the progressive makeup of their fanbase, it’s more than fair to suggest they’re touring behind a new record during a dark and demoralizing moment in American history where uncertainty is the only institutional norm. RTJ brought their faithful together for a night of joyful catharsis that isn’t going to reverse any court orders but reinforced the power in numbers and the hope which that power provides.