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Run the Jewels hits the stage in D.C.

By LOUIS ROSIN | November 13, 2014

This past Saturday night, Run the Jewels, the inspired collaborative duo of hip hop oldheads Killer Mike and El-P, kicked off the nationwide tour for their sophomore effort. Following opening acts by Queens rapper Despot and hip hop group Rat King, the veteran emcee’s took the stage at Washington, D.C’s 9:30 Club and — literally — made the building shake.

The sequel album, Run the Jewels 2, was met with rave reviews when it was released last month. It has been hailed as visceral, insightful and innovative, but most importantly, it bangs. Killer Mike and El-P are two revered artists in the hip hop community; they teamed up after El-P produced Killer Mike’s 2012 album R.A.P Music. The album was a critical success that was praised for its unique sound and candid political rhetoric — it inspired the two to collaborate further.

The duo released their first album, Run the Jewels, via free download online, and this past October they released the highly anticipated follow-up. The album is that rare breed of hip hop that sounds better in front of a mosh pit than in the studio, as if it was made with live performance in mind. These two extremely large men with booming voices rapping rapidly over blaring beats are both aggressive and engaging.

The flannel-donning, skinny jeans-wearing white guys of Washington, D.C. put Reddit aside and turned out in droves for the show. The line extended two blocks beyond the venue down the street as eager fans waited in the bitter cold to see the duo.

Despot, a Queens-native ginger emcee signed to El-P’s label, opened up the event. Despot is a talkative guy; he spent about twenty minutes conversing with the audience and only about twenty minutes actually playing music. The ginger rapper performed sans DJ, even bothering to switch the track list himself. Despot rapped over a few tired beats, shouting swooping adjectives into the mic like a poor man’s Eminem, but his performance was hardly about rap.

Despot spent nearly half his stage time discussing his life in Queens, his disdain for the police, his short stature and his atheism. At one point he even brought out members of his staff and demonstrated Pilates on stage; he even tried to get the audience to join in! The crowd cheered for Despot as he ducked and darted around the stage; however, the pervading sense was that nobody really cared.

The next act was RatKing, a young hip hop group from Harlem that formed in 2011. Ratking’s lead rappers, Wiki and Hak, came out and brought the energy from the moment they stepped onto the stage. They fall into the genre of what is known as indie rap, a brand of music that combines hip hop with other styles of musical influence. The group got the audience up and moving with their raspy cadence and their impressive lyrical ability. Ratking managed to pique the audience’s interest, but, their appeal waned toward the end as their lyrics grew less intelligible. As they exited the stage, the excitement in the crowd was palpable.

The 9:30 club is an open, standing-room venue with a main dance floor and an overlooking balcony on the second floor. When Killer Mike and El-P walked onto the stage with their hands thrown to the sky over the track “We are the champions,” the entire venue erupted.

Right away, without words, the duo took the crowd’s cue and launched into their set. The mosh pit in front of the stage was a free-for-all. People of all sizes — men, women, tall, fat, short, hipster — began bumping into each other with the might of linebackers as they struggled to keep up with the intensity brought by the duo. Killer Mike and El-P gave the crowd about as much as they could handle. The entire venue was banging, and while their profound lyrics often need to be slowed down to be appreciated, the energy and charisma of the hip hop duo’s performance makes theirs one not to be missed.

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