01st Aug2013

Live Roll / Review: Killer Mike + El-P (Run The Jewels) @ The Independent SF

by Blake

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Run The Jewels shook up the hip-hop arena when they released a 33 minute album with the biggest set of balls on it this year. When the first show at The Independent sold out, they opened it for another night. I was lucky to see their set on Tuesday night thanks to Jill from Another Planet Entertainment – many thanks for giving 402 access. Before diving right into the review, here’s a bit of history on how the hell Killer Mike and El-P ended up recording this collaboration together:

After El-P produced Killer Mike’s critically acclaimed “R.A.P. Music” – the two hit it off so well that they found enough common ground to mix their sounds into a new syringe. Initially El-P wasn’t planning on doing Killer Mike’s full record, as he was working on Cancer 4 Cure at the same time. But after phone calls from the studio, and Mike himself phoning daily, El-P broke down and dove in – discovering magic once the two went into the studio full time.

Killer Mike’s lyrics have always been socially conscious and rage-filled while El-P keeps his flow esoteric and abrasive. There’s a comfortable middle ground on this record as the two create tongue-in-cheek humor with a brooding seriousness.

THE SHOW

El-P had Despot open, who still hasn’t released his album produced by Ratatat (obligatory shit for making us wait). He speaks like Mitch Hedberg and flipped a switch into sharp tongued flow. There was no doubt why El-P was promoting the hell out of this guy, and why fans are eagerly awaiting his debut. The set was a one-man-show with Despot controlling his own beats in between tracks and rapping over them. By the end of his set, he left San Francisco with the promise of a release very, very soon. We can hope!

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Killer Mike took the stage to perform his solo material, and it was as raw and sincere as I’ve been told. In equal measure he rapped and talked about social injustice and localized movements in San Francisco – thanking the audience for being so progressive. At one point, he came into the audience and rattled off a verse that had the everyone huddling into a shoe gaze of goosebumps. I have a snippet on my cell phone, but said “fuck it”, I’d rather not watch it through my “retina screen” – eyes are better…ok, here’s the clip…

El-P came on next with a darker stage setup and brought out some old material along with the more screaming Cancer 4 Cure stuff. When “The Full Retard” skipped over the speakers, the place exploded like a grenade.

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The real wait was for the two to join up on stage and, unlike other shows, they didn’t give anyone time to make bar runs. Before I could take another breath, the two came on stage and started their Run The Jewels material from track one. With chains placed over their heads like a proper English ceremony, they shook hands and began the slaughter. The two had constant nods to each other on stage as the energy and chemistry was incendiary – shoulder leaning, chain adjusting, and a Killer Mike on speed.

THE ALBUM REVIEW

402 Productions have been fans of El-P and Killer Mike’s work for a while, so when we heard about a collaboration album, we had high hopes. I was fortunate enough to take on this review and give my thoughts on what made it so special.

Run The Jewels flows through its 33 minute cycle without a single skip, and each play through brought out something new I hadn’t noticed before. By listen number 30, I was still finding myself throwing it on in the car and playing it through. The abrasiveness is cut with humor and absurdity, but not enough to make it a running joke. In fact, the flow is so strong that it sounds effortless with production that is some of the most dynamic and complex you’ll find. In this way, it was the antithesis to recent hip-hop. I want to mention Kanye West’s new album that was hailed (rightfully so) as being one to watch this year. I loved the auditory slam he was able to rap over as it was experimental and a departure into the dark. But after hearing Run The Jewels, it brought me back down to earth and made me realize that the production on the record was hiding some of the biggest flaws in the lyrics and fluidity. The list of producers is so long on Yeezus that it should be a David Foster Wallace novel. Not only did El-P and Killer Mike organize an audio slaughterhouse, but they created a lyrical dynamo in the same breath. Just another day in Brooklyn.

If two guys can pull off a record that is, as promised, “the most beef and broc on your fuckin’ block”, it makes you wonder what’s to be said of huge production teams behind an artist who sings about being a god…waiting for his damn croissants.

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VERDICT

Run The Jewels is the heaviest record of the year, the most lyrically complex, and the most well produced. El-P has proven himself in the industry, and collaborating with Killer Mike not only showed his versatility, but how far he can raise the bar in a genre bloated with sameness. If you haven’t heard it, it’s cheaper than the white tee shirt Kanye was selling for over $100, because it’s free, and you’ll have it on repeat in your car for the rest of the year.

This was a reminder that good hip-hop is still evolving and pushing back against the mainstream cluster – even with a tweaking Miley Cyrus plaguing us on Vevo…unless you like that sort of thing. Hip-hop needed a slap to the face, and it was delivered so well that I’d be shocked to see someone challenge the skill. Big props to both artists for mixing a socially conscious message into a brilliant lyrical atmosphere.

I’m nominating Killer Mike and El-P’s collaboration “Run The Jewels” for the 2013 Album of the Year. Real talk.

Download The Album And Buy Merch

Information On The Independent (Best Venue In SF)

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