Chicago – When does an underground hip hop group officially become mainstream? For Run The Jewels, perhaps the answer may be as simple as when you need to add a second show because the first instantly sold out. Rappers El-P and Killer Mike played back-to-back shows at The Metro Saturday night. The duo has only been making music together for a year, yet they’ve built a massive fan base, evident by the long lines stretching down Chicago’s Clark Street. Fans left the line to pose for selfies next to El-P and Killer Mike’s bright red tour bus while holding up their hands to make the signature Run The Jewels hand signs. Teenagers excitedly assured each other that they were about to have the time of their lives: “This is gonna be sooooo great!”
Indeed it was! El-P and Killer Mike came out on stage, with drinks in hand, ready to party, joined by Trackstar the DJ. They yelled, “Chicago, how you doing?” Electrified screams shot through the crowd. Then kids began to jump up and down, waving their hands to the beat of “Run The Jewels.” People rapped along, shouting “Oh dear, what the fuck have we here?”
What we have is a group that never expected to get as far as they have. El-P – whose real name is Jaime Meline – expressed his gratitude to fans. The New Yorker told the room that without them, Run the Jewels would not be what it is. When Meline began collaborating with Georgian Michael Render or Killer Mike, they had no idea they’d become a successful rap duo. El-P produced Killer Mike’s 2012 album R.A.P Music (Grand Hustle Records), which led to their collaboration “Tougher Colder Killer” off El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure. The following year, they came together and released Run The Jewels on Fool’s Gold. They began touring and playing festivals, including Pitchfork, MusicFest Northwest, and Lollapalooza. Word got out that the two hilarious rappers put on a show not to miss.
This October El-P and Killer Mike released Run The Jewels 2 through Mass Appeal Records. The guys played plenty songs off the recent release, including the singles “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and “Blockbuster Night Part 1.” Opener Despot came out on stage to join in on “Blockbuster Night Part 2,” which is available on iTunes as a bonus tack. However, most of the songs Run The Jewels played that night were from their debut album, like fan favorites “Banana Clipper,” “36″ Chain,” and “Sea Legs.” They also performed “Tougher Colder Killer” and “Pew Pew Pew,” a bonus track off the deluxe edition of Run The Jewels.
Between their clever lyrics and humorous stage banter, MCs El-P and Killer Mike are incredibly entertaining. El-P shouted to fans up front, “Wave your hands! Make it look like an ocean in this bitch!” He paid plenty of attention to those in the balcony because as he joked, that’s where the real party is, with all the old people like him. Really, there was a party on every floor of The Metro. People went wild for Run The Jewels!
New York underground rapper Despot started the night out, warming up the crowd. Despot – born Alec Reinstein – signed to El-P’s label Definitive Jux in 2004, yet he’s never released a full-length. The Queens native immediately and humorously made mention of this: “I’ve been working on an album for 5,000 years.” However, he promised that the album – which involves fellow New Yorkers Ratatat – is actually being made, despite what people have been saying. For proof, he played most of the album for the audience. He pounded through “House Made Of Bricks,” showing off the ease that comes from performing for over ten years.
Reinstein also performed “Clipped On,” the song he made with Blood Orange. During the early show, he quipped, “ I did a song with Blood Orange, about a year ago, about feelings and stuff. I usually don’t write songs like that. Since y’all are teenagers, you can probably relate ‘cuz you’re experiencing all kinds of feelings!” Laughter spread through the room. One young man yelled, “Hey, I’m twenty-three!” Yes, there were some twenty-somethings and a few older folks there, but for the most part, teenagers filled the ground floor for the all-ages show.
NYC hip hop group Ratking also performed a stellar set Saturday night. Rapper Wiki (Patrick Morales) bounced around stage, with what appeared to be a set list scribbled on his hand, while spitting verses like a pro. Ratking are becoming known for their interesting mix of rap, punk, techno, folk, and found sounds. This year the twenty-somethings released their critically acclaimed debut album So It Goes, with the songs “Canal,” “So Sick Stories (feat. King Krule),” and their latest single “So It Goes.”
Ratking also performed their remix of Phantogram’s “Fall in Love,” which was met by whistles and applause. Based on the night’s performance, Ratking may soon also be joining Run The Jewels in the world of mainstream hip hop!
Photos By Sarah Hess
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.