Hip hop’s power duo, Run The Jewels brought the fire to the Royal Oak Music Theater Saturday night October 24th.
Run The Jewels is made up of the talented fellows, EL-P and Killer Mike. EL-P has been a notable force in New York’s hip hop scene for more than 20 years having produced, released solo work, as well as been a part of groups such as the former Company Flow and Aesop Rock. Separately, Killer Mike has had a stellar solo career based out of Atlanta.
Growing up at the same time in different parts of the country and immersing themselves in the same musical influences, their paths crossed in 2011 when the duo were introduced by a mutual friend who thought they’d make superb music together. A friendship formed, and collaborations began. EL-P even produced Killer Mike’s fifth studio album, “R.A.P. Music”, released in 2012.
Looking to pay homage to something very much lacking in music today – a real rap group, the duo began work on their debut album. Not seeking to be labeled or defined, EL-P and Killer Mike were simply aiming to make great music that resonates and feels right.
In June 2013, the two MCs released their first LP “Run The Jewels” through Fool’s Gold Records as a free digital download. The combination of Killer Mike’s southern flow with EL-P’s sharp poetic nature and heavy yet unique throwback beats proceeded to receive high praise critical acclaim. The album featured appearances by the likes of Outkast’s Big Boi, Until The Ribbon Breaks, and Prince Paul nodding to Handsome Boy Modeling School’s character creation, Chest Rockwell. While presenting no nonsense music with clever, comedic videos, it became apparent that RTJ had both the attention and support of the music world, all while not taking themselves too seriously. Based on the overwhelmingly positive response and a thirst for more music by fans, RTJ began work on a sequel to “Run The Jewels”.
Feeding off each other’s talents, and emerging even more prominently as a collective force to be reckoned with, the microphone fiends continued to take the hip hop world by storm with the release of “Run The Jewels 2” in October of 2014. “RTJ2” is more personal, more bold, and entirely fearless. Like their debut, “RTJ2” expanded on themes of getting high, cultural manipulation, racism, inferior faux rappers, police brutality and love to name a few.
Through the medium of forceful lyricism and brilliant metaphors, RTJ has furthered their relentless run with thought-provoking songs delivered through well-deserved your face confidence. The album is packed with all-star collaborations including blink-182’s Travis Barker, BOOTS, and Rage Against The Machine frontman, Zack de la Rocha.
For the fun “Love Again”, Mike and EL team up with Gangsta Boo to present a sexy, wonderfully crass narrative for the ages. Gangsta Boo contrasts the male dominating lyrics with feminine ones of her own. The memorable track, “Early” features stand out vocals by BOOTS and fervent lyrics depicting police brutality. “Witness with the camera phone on saw the copper pull a gun and put it on my gorgeous queen. As I peered out the window I could see my other kinfolk and hear my little boy as he screamed”.
In “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)”, de la Rocha’s looped voice repeats, “Run them jewels fast”. He also throws down a classic ending verse that does not disappoint. To create a video for “Close Your Eyes”, Run The Jewels enlisted the help of director A.G. Rojas. What resulted was a non-chromatic four minute battle between a black man and a white police officer, while keeping the human aspect of each man harshly intact. Proving that they have the courage to walk the walk, and intelligence to talk the talk, Killer Mike and EL-P have not only been raising awareness about important issues through music and videos such as this, but also in outspoken interviews.
“Run The Jewels 2” debuted at number 50 on Billboard’s 200 album chart, and sold 12,000 copies during its first week in the US (despite also being released for free). “RTJ2” has garnished them cross-over appeal, landing them on Rolling Stone’s “Best Rap Album of 2014”, and topping the list of 50 on Pitchfork’s top albums of 2014.
In addition to selling out most shows and traveling abroad, the album’s cover art has taken on a life of its own. An initiative called Tag The Jewels invited artists from all over the world to create their own street art interpretations of the album cover, featuring facing hands: one in the shape of a gun and the other holding a chain.
RTJ recently appeared on “The Tonight Show” with TV On The Radio, and also released a remix album sampling cat sounds (yes, this is for real and it’s the cat’s meow). “Meow The Jewels” features titles such as “Meowrly” and “Close Your Eyes and Meow to Fluff”. In addition to being released as a free download, proceeds from the sale of tangible copies will go to charities benefiting the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Taking the stage at 9 PM sharp was rapper Cuz Lightyear from Little Rock, Arkansas. Dressed in a “Local Trap Star” tee and a spiked black ski mask, Cuz threw down jams from his recently released reflective mixtape “CUZ” over a rhythmic beat (check it out on Soundcloud).
Cuz encouraged the crowd to repeat after him – “Say what up Cuz! ‘What up Cuz!’ Say RTJ! ‘RTJ!'”, which followed diligently.
Toward the end of his set, Cuz took off his mask, and elaborated to the crowd. “This represents the mask that we wear every day when you go out into the world. The people that you remove the mask for are the people that deserve to see the real you.” Cuz concluded with a captivating acapella freestyle.
Next up was California’s own cap-clad Fashawn. Representing his recent impressive release of “The Ecology”, the LP houses collaborations with Aloe Blacc, Nas, and Busta Rhymes to name a few. The long time in the making album carries through the concept of one’s own personal ecology, and everything being ultimately intertwined. “The Ecology” highlights Fashawn’s own journey to the top, with an uplifting message of hope that’s connected with countless fans since its release. With impressive flow and narrative lyrics, Fashawn definitely did not fail to deliver some California love and warmth, while putting his hand high for the west side. Fashawn was also joined on stage by DJ Fresh who remixed beats, and Boldy James.
Third to the stage was the impeccably talented BOOTS, who has been touring with Run The Jewels for the duration of their “RTJ2” spotlight. Under the dim lights, BOOTS swayed with fluid motion, presenting songs filled with deep, catchy synth sounds and clever, sharp lyrical prose. Themes touched on everything from lone survivors and spiders from Mars, to excessive surveillance.
BOOTS is well known for his work as a producer, but has been making waves with his own sound as of late. He also directed and released a fascinating dystopian 30 minute short film this past February, which featured five original songs.
His debut album, “Aquaria” is set for a November 13th release.
At 11 PM, the main event’s DJ, Trackstar the DJ asked the crowd, “Detroit, are you ready to run these jewels? Let me see that fist and that pistol if you’re ready!”
Taking the stage to the soundtrack of “We Are The Champions”, Killer Mike and EL-P emerged to an overwhelming wave of cheers. Killer Mike told the crowd, “Security just said to behave, Mike. We already had to kick about 20 people out. I said, you ain’t seen shit yet! We’re gonna burn this shit to the fucking ground!” Jumping and screaming ensued as the duo launched into “Run The Jewels”.
RTJ kicked out an even mix of songs from both of their LPs.
Around the middle of the set, RTJ stopped everything and issued a crowd disclaimer, warning the security guards that they were about to do their jobs for the next song. Mike told the crowd, if someone is crowd surfing, make sure to put them down feet first. EL-P advised anyone with glasses and brand new sneakers to put those away, in addition to selfie sticks to avoid getting impaled.
“We’re about the fuck your shit up, let’s go!” EL-P exclaimed. Trackstar the DJ started into the Zack de le Rocha loop – “Run them – run them – run them jewels fast”. “Close Your Eyes” began full force into the crowd of its own creation, soaked with sweat in a passionate mosh pit. Tongues shouted back the forceful words like a Chuck Palahniuk basement, with Trackstar scratching all the while.
Further on, EL-P explained that these war mongering rulers, they only car about 5 things. “Lie -” The crowd shouted back the title with a fervor. “Cheat, steal, kill, win, come on, everybody’s doing it!”
Next up, BOOTS joined the pair on stage for “Early”. He jumped into the crowd and surfed many-a-hand during his chorus.
Toward the end of the set, the duo elaborated that a year ago, they were in Birmingham, Alabama arguing with their label to release “RTJ2”. They believed in it, as did the fans, but it took Mass Appeal some convincing.
Mike and EL wrapped up with “A Christmas Fucking Miracle”. The insatiable crowd summoned them to return, closing the night with “Angel Duster”, featuring every artist on the tour back on stage. A sea of fists and pistols were raised high in the air to show support.
With “Run The Jewels 3” in the works, the top tag team for two summers are very clearly at the top of their game and certainly don’t show any signs of stopping.
Words and photos by: Tiffany Cuthrell