“No hocus pocus, you simple suckers been served a notice,” Killer Mike raps on Run the Jewels 2 highlight, “Blockbuster Night, Pt. 1.” “Top of the morning, my fist to your face is fucking Folgers.”
At first, it’s easy to attribute Michael Render’s aggression to sheer braggadocio. It’s just the kind of world that Run The Jewels exist in—one of cartoon exaggeration and excess, an elaborate and absurd amplification of Render and El-P’s (given name, Jaime Meline) more politically fired solo material. But seeing the two perform live, in front out of a sold-out Friday night crowd at the Majestic Theatre, it’s hard to admit there isn’t a grain of truth in their hyper masculinity—if there was ever an appropriate image for their set, a giant fist to the face might actually just be appropriate.
It helped that the scene was wired from the onset. David Ruffin Theory set the mood for the night with a high-energy set that literally shook the floor of the Majestic (and also spent a few songs deep in the crowd, to the delight of all). Despot, dressed in a vibrant sweater and sporting immaculate hair, was more meditative but still enthralling—“House Made of Bricks” especially. Lastly, Ratking, with a drugged-out cadence a la Danny Brown and live drumming, was a perfect manic segue into the night’s main course. It was an early indicator that these were professionals at work, too—none of the 45 minutes late to set-time nonsense that frequently plagues rap shows, just song after pummeling song.
In between sets, the line to the men’s bathroom extended out the door and around the corner. One of the few women at the show passed by the line and laughed audibly at us. “There are plenty of stalls in our bathroom,” she joked before leaving. Everyone begrudgingly held their ground.
And, appropriate to the unprecedented amount of testosterone crammed into the room (white, music-nerd testosterone, but still), the show’s powder-keg immediately exploded when Meline and Render took the stage. They paraded out like rock stars over the thundering beat of their self-titled track on their self-titled debut, posturing and posing over walloping bass. The crowd immediately swelled its collective mass in eager response.
Run The Jewels stomped through most of their released material, hitting all the highs and doing their damn hardest to make sure there wasn’t a low in sight. And if there were lows, it seemed beyond their control. The incendiary, cop-antagonizing anthem “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” seemed considerably flatter without Zack De La Rocha’s goofy verse to balance out the fury of some of Render and Meline’s most political writing. Likewise, without Gangsta Boo’s astounding verse closing off “Love Again (Akinyele Back),” the song never rose above chest-thumping masculine bravado—part of me hoped that Render and Meline would take up her verse and the edited chorus (“He want that clit in his mouth all day,” subverting and shitting on their earlier “I put that dick in her mouth all day”), but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Regardless, Run the Jewels’ hour of assault was a tremendous success. Songs like “Blockbuster Night Pt. 1” were built to run lightning through a crowd. “Lie, Cheat, Steal” is hard to imagine now without a packed crowd backing the chorus, and the echoing chant of “Gold draped, ridin’ on the neck of an elephant” over the outro of “All Due Respect” scratched an itch the studio version never could. Likewise, the frantic DJing, frequently featuring expanded outros and other little modulations on the studio beats, lent an extra bit of muscle to an already flexing performance.
Best of all, Render and Meline’s exceptional in-studio chemistry translated impeccably onto the stage. They exist perfectly in each other’s spheres, bouncing effortlessly back and forth. Even during a cover of Meline’s Cancer 4 Cure cut “Tougher Colder Killer”—a decided highlight of the set—the pair seemed perfectly in sync. When a fan who’d been toting his vinyl copy of Run the Jewels 2 finally got close enough to the stage, the two of them, giant grins on their face, signed the record while trading off verses. And, after a knockout encore of “Angel Duster,” the two shared a giant hug. If unabashed and neurotic manliness runs rampant through Run the Jewels’ recorded output, it’s good to know at the heart of it is what seems like a sincere friendship—and as long as El-P and Killer Mike’s friendship keeps pumping material of this caliber, I hope it’s one for the ages.