Run the Jewels review – a political awakening beneath the jokes

Roundhouse, London
Killer Mike and El-P are US hip-hop’s clown princes, but their serious message gets the last laugh

If guitar music, as we’re told, is entering its niche-interest jazz phase, rap is having its psychedelia moment. Experimentation is the norm, boundaries are tumbling, anything goes. And if Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky and Future are the era’s fab four, and Kanye West increasingly its Syd Barrett, Run the Jewels must surely be the Monkees. A pre-scripted collaboration between Killer Mike and El-P with a cartoonish comedy aesthetic – this is the duo who tempered their darker second album Run the Jewels 2 with a remix album that used only cat meows for beats – they are nonetheless creating some of the most direct, masterfully crafted and memorable music of the age.

As the pair arrive, miming to Queen’s We Are the Champions beneath two huge inflatable zombie hands making the band’s trademark gun-and-fist sign, their double-act dichotomy is instantly apparent. Mike is the old-school master, hyper-rapping boastful verses laced with jabs at societal ills; El-P is his comic foil, with hints of the Beastie Boys’ puerile juvenilia. While Mike details his cocaine-dealing past during Legend Has It, El-P suggests he has a unicorn’s horn for a penis and would like to ejaculate on to our soft furnishings. Between tracks, he launches a solo poetry career with deathless lines about his formidable cunnilingus skills, and tells us how he’s smoked Camden clean of weed. “My dick got a Michelin star,” he claims during opener Talk to Me, which must rather take the shine off it for The Ledbury.

Their cool-cop/goofball-cop act is perfectly, and powerfully, weighted. When RTJ declare themselves “a missile to turn this whole town into dust”, you almost believe them. Even a nuclear event would struggle to make a deeper impact than Talk to Me or Legend Has It, built on bass whoomps that must be waking up creatures on the floor of the Mariana Trench. Whether firing out hopscotch raps with attack dog intensity over the Arabian rhythms of Call Ticketron or revelling in the southern voodoo groove of their DJ Shadow collaboration Nobody Speak, there’s a hammer-blow force and clarity to their delivery that packs a punch most rap gigs simply don’t have.

Like their three albums to date, the show grows increasingly political. Hints of anti-consumerism (Stay Gold) and US imperialism (Don’t Get Captured) creep in and by Lie, Cheat, Steal and A Report to the Shareholders they’re gunning all-out for “the stinking asshole of the apocalypse that our country has become”. El-P decries “y’all demons” who “talk clean and bomb hospitals” and Mike predicts the third world war unless we “kill our masters and start again”. After a balcony-quaking Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck), Mike makes a moving, impassioned speech about how defying our governments with simple human unity will help us “overcome this insanity”. Joking aside, RTJ are the hip-hop clowns becoming politico princes.


Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Run the Jewels review – bleeding-edge hip-hop at its most anthemic
With its shuddering drums, rumbling basslines and shards of white noise, the power of the duo’s uncompromising sonic assault is instant and fearsome

Stevie Chick

09, Jun, 2015 @12:20 PM

Article image
Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels – review

Released as a mixtape six months after its debut, El-P and Killer Mike's collaboration is utterly compelling and remarkably fun, writes Alexis Petridis

Alexis Petridis

09, Jan, 2014 @3:00 PM

Article image
Miley, Morrissey and Marnie the opera: the essential pop, classical and jazz for autumn 2017
Liam goes for broke, St Vincent bounces back, Nico Muhly gets Hitchcockian, Taylor Swift defends her reputation, and Peggy Seeger pens her memoirs

Alexis Petridis, Andrew Clements, John Fordham and Robin Denselow

13, Sep, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
Run the Jewels review – an exhilarating high-wire act
The American hip-hop duo deliver a seductive hour of self-aware posturing and fiery proselytising, writes Graeme Virtue

Graeme Virtue

12, Dec, 2014 @11:50 AM

Article image
The 50 best albums of 2020: the full list
Our countdown is complete, topped by a mercurial work of sprawling invention by a woman who has dug deep to survive. Taken as a whole, these choices contain drama, solace, poetry and fire, a fitting selection for a turbulent year

Ben Beaumont-Thomas and Laura Snapes

18, Dec, 2020 @8:07 AM

Article image
Drake review – the boy's got everything
The Canadian star crams an impressive number of hits into his Boy Meets World show, which undulates and shimmers like a spectacular art installation

Alexis Petridis

31, Jan, 2017 @1:38 PM

Article image
Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 3 review – their time is now

Paul MacInnes

05, Jan, 2017 @10:00 PM

Article image
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis review – broiling agitprop and goofball braggadocio
Worthy political numbers hold centre-stage, but a sprint of escalating goofiness finally takes this two-hour set over the top

Graeme Virtue

14, Apr, 2016 @12:12 PM

Article image
Future review – an amoral blend of drugs and drone bombers
Tracks build, drop and disappear during a rollercoaster show from the Atlantan rapper that astonishes, flags – and finally offends

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

24, Oct, 2017 @11:45 AM

Article image
Travis Scott review – hip-hop renegade soars on eagle's wings
Parading his perfect abs, the ripped rapper mashes melody with skull-crushing intensity in an electrifying display of passion and control

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

03, Jul, 2017 @12:21 PM