I’m going to be quite honest, when Run The Jewels dropped last year, I couldn’t get into it. It was one of the albums I was looking forward to the most and it underwhelmed me. To make matters worse, it seemed like everyone around me suddenly knew the album, and it was their favorite thing ever. I remember in 2012 when I went to the Into The Wild Tour and when I would tell people I was seeing El-P and Killer Mike, the usual response was “Oh, I don’t know them.” My response was always a recommendation to check them out, because they’re both amazing and their 2012 albums showed them on top of their respective games. Both of those albums, Killer Mikes R.A.P. Music and El-P’s Cancer For Cure, gained a lot of traction, and I was happy, because they both deserve all of the attention they are currently receiving. But when RTJ1 dropped, it just wasn’t clicking for me. Maybe I had an image in my mind of what a full collaboration between these two would be and the real life delivery wasn’t what I had in mind. Even when I saw Run The Jewels at Lollapalooza this summer, I wasn’t as into it as the people I was with, despite still having a good time. The same thing happened the year before at Pitchfork when Killer Mike brought El-P out about halfway through his set to do a mini Run The Jewels set. I enjoyed myself sure, I mean who wouldn’t when two of your favorite artists are on stage in front of you and they seem like they’re having just as much fun as you are if not more?
Then Run The Jewels 2 dropped, and as Drake said, nothing was the same. RTJ2 is everything I wanted and so much more. Everything is harder: the beats, the verses, the guests. Everything. I can go on and on about how amazing this album is. El is still smashing syllables and Mike still uses his drawl to its furthest extent. Hell, even the bonus track, “Blockbuster Night Pt. 2”, is amazing. (It features one of my favorites lines ever. I actually laughed the first time I heard and continue to chuckle every time. Killer Mike: “Shit stain on they brain, that’s right- poo’d on ‘em.”) “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” is one of the most delightfully vulgar songs I have heard in my life, and Gangsta Boo KILLS her verse and makes the entire song completely necessary. The most fun song on the album is easily “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”. With Zack De La Rocha’s hook built into the beat, the whole song keeps pace and paints great pictures of prison riots, with Mike’s call to arms and El’s completely dismissive tone, only to have De La come in at the end and clean up while sounding cool as a cucumber and referencing Phillip K. Dick and Miles Davis. Boots (Yes, of Beyoncé fame) shows up on the hook of “Early” and adds an intoxicatingly blurry touch to “Get out, get out, get oooooouuuuuttttt”. All of the features completely and utterly prove their reason for existing, which is always a breath of fresh air in this day and age of completely vapid features. To add to it all, their live show is even more brutal than you can expect.
I finally saw RTJ properly, in a venue in mid-November up in Madison, Wisconsin, and it blew my mind. Over the summer, they played early, it wasn’t well attended, and on top of it all, it was raining on and off. As I mentioned before, I enjoyed myself at the earlier show, but not nearly as much as my cohorts. That all changed in November. Honestly, I should have been in the sourest of moods. On the way over, I got a flat tire. I had to change it in the bitter cold, and my car just has a donut. We were an hour late arriving in Madison, meaning everyone around us was already smashed (a feeling I am all too familiar with after working at a venue and arriving at parties at midnight or later where everyone seems to be on the verge of toppling over, but I digress…) but it all added up to one of the best shows I saw all year. Maybe it was the fact that I was more into the new material, maybe it was the fact that I was surrounded by sweating mass of like minded individuals, maybe it was the very little amount of liquor I had drank prior to the show, maybe it was the additional friends I was in the pit with, maybe it was even the fact that it was dark. I don’t know if it was one or all of those things together, but the show completely blew me out of the water. Mike and El are still clearly having the time of their lives, but now I suddenly understood. Every syllable they spit hit harder than the last. The crowd exploded with cheers at every opportunity.
I love music festivals dearly, but you just can’t compare a show in a good venue or club to the outdoors. Some music is made for the open air, and some is not. Generally speaking, most hip hop and rap belongs inside, and this was one of those cases. If you still haven’t listened to Run The Jewels 2, do yourself a favor and grab it (I mean its free, you have no excuse not to), and if you still have a chance to see them on this tour, GO!