By Carter Shelter, Staff Writer
Run the Jewels have quietly defied all of the odds stacked against them. If you had brought up the notion of two veteran rappers approaching middle age not only achieving their greatest success at such a seemingly late point in their careers, but achieving the kind of success that leads to being one of the premiere hip-hop names currently working — the kind of success that leads to four sold out shows at Terminal 5 in a row and billing near the top of any festival lineup — it would have sounded like a fantasy to everyone, Mike and El included. But that’s what happened. One knockout album after another, culminating with “Run the Jewels 3,” the hard-hitting powerhouse they released on Christmas Day of 2016, has catapulted them higher and higher. It feels like it may not be too long before they’re toppling some serious walls.
They know it, too. Early into the fourth and final night of the duo’s Terminal 5 run last week, they posed a question to the crowd.
“In the next two years will we make it all the way to Madison Square?” Mike asked.
It’s hard to think that the answer could be anything but a resounding “Yes!” Run the Jewels would be more than up to the task. What they brought to the stage at Terminal 5 was a step up from what audiences have seen from them in the past; a hip-hop wrecking ball with enough chemistry, heart and above all substance to win over almost any non-believer.
They opened their show with a series of knockout blows that would put most other rappers to shame. The run of “Talk to Me,” “Legend Has It,” and “Call Ticketron,” all off the new record, set a pummeling tone. The pair traded off verses and rapid-fire lines with an ease that belied the technical skill they were exhibiting. Following those three up with the combo of “RTJ2″ highlights “Blockbuster Night, Part 1” and “”Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” followed by their verses from DJ Shadow’s “Nobody Speak,” sealed the deal. Six songs in, there was no question who was in charge. El-P, a New York native, spoke about how the nature of what they had accomplished was not lost on either of them. He seemed genuinely moved by a chant of his name that quickly filled the venue.
He also made sure to rail against the caste of old white men in charge of our country and Killer Mike responded saying he’d only ever heard five words coming out of their mouths, words which the crowd fiercely roared back, “Lie! Cheat! Steal! Kill! Win,” serving as the intro for a charged performance of “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” during which DJ Trackstar, the duo’s partner in crime, played around with the beat in some interesting ways.
Not only did this show mark the last night of a nearly week-long residency at Terminal 5, but it also marked the last show of the first leg of touring behind the new album. Mike and El promised early on to do everything in their power to make the show special, and they more than held up their end of the bargain. They brought out opener Gangsta Boo, along with BOOTS and Joi to perform their parts on “Love Again,” “Early,” and “Down” respectively and at the start of the encore, Mike, along with all of the tour openers celebrated the fact that it would be El-P’s birthday when the clock struck midnight by bringing him out a cake and leading the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday.”
Before El-P allowed himself to tear-up, he demanded they play some music and they launched into a ferocious “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” during which they brought out the biggest guest of the night, Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha to deliver his blistering verse to a room full of fans going wild. It wouldn’t have been shocking if the energy had brought the walls of Terminal 5 toppling to the ground and while this time they held, it might be time for somewhere a little more fortified. Somewhere like, say, Madison Square Garden?
Email Carter Shelter at firstname.lastname@example.org.