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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Run The Jewels brings cult following to the Orpheum

While some spent last Christmas Eve sipping hot cider and buying Santa a Best Buy giftcard, others found themselves enjoying the best gift of all—an early album drop from iconic rap duo Run The Jewels.

Fast-forward two very patient months.

With a cult following and decades of experience in the industry, Killer Mike and EI-P, the masterminds behind Run The Jewels, shook the Orpheum to its core last night.

As one of the first stops on their world tour, Run The Jewels was welcomed to Madison with a literal block of cheese (seriously) and an eclectic group of fans. In fact, Gaslamp Killer, one of their four (yes, four) openers, said that he has been a fan of Killer Mike and EI-P for 20 years. It was in this moment when the hundreds of skater dads curled their ironic mustaches, raised their PBR and cheered.

The crowd bopped along to DJ Nick Hook of Fool’s Gold Records as he mixed off-the-cuff beats alongside his work with 21 Savage, Young Thug and the late DJ Rashad for a trap-heavy set. After a couple mixes, Hook brought out CUZ, an emerging rapper previously known as SL Jones, who mentor Killer Mike described as “the now and the future of ATL.” His bars were sharp, his freestyle was seamless and his ability to jump onto a speaker without toppling into the crowd was unparalleled.

The final two openers commanded the crowd in a way convincing enough to make you think they were the headliners. Gangsta Boo, the first and only female member signed to Three 6 Mafia, brought estrogen into the mix of an otherwise male-dominated lineup. Her presence was commanding, empowering and overwhelmingly badass. After she closed, The Gaslamp Killer out of Los Angeles came out with some of his notably funky stuff (he went from Childish Gambino to a classic Turkish tune, which then transitioned into Snoop Dogg) and even funkier dance moves. To call The Gaslamp Killer engagingly inventive is to wildly undermine his genius.

That said, the two giant hands with the RTJ symbol of a fist and gun had been floating above the stage for long enough. After three hours, it was finally time for Run The Jewels to make an appearance. The crowd chanted, the stagehands moved to the side, the lights went red and out they came.

Song after song, it became evident that there is no such thing as a casual Run The Jewels fan. Every verse was accompanied by screams from the crowd. When Killer Mike gave instructions to take a step back so the people at the front could have more room, they obeyed. When EI-P told the crowd to stop gyrating on women trying to have a good time, people listened. It was like a religious experience with the world’s two coolest pastors.

A personal goal of the night was to figure out what makes Run The Jewels such a timeless, respectable duo. Toward the end of the concert, it became clear. In the age of radio play, EI-P and Killer Mike continue to put out consistently clever content (any artist that rhymes things like “jazzercise” with “pumpkin pie” should instantly win a Grammy). The way in which they orchestrate unprecedented creativity within the parameters of traditional rap music routinely emphasizes their appreciation for the timeless art form.

As the doors to Orpheum closed and people said their goodbyes, an oddly familiar feeling washed over State Street. For the first time in what seems like forever, this was a concert that seemingly achieved the impossible. Run The Jewels proved that not only can great art curate a sense of community, it can also grow and transform together—maybe this was a delayed Christmas miracle, maybe it was the block of cheese, or maybe, just maybe, they are really that good.

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