The final night of Killer Mike and El-P’s Run the Jewels tour finished up last nightt in the city 3/4 of its featured acts call home. Kool A.D. (formerly of Das Racist), Despot, Mike and El all looked to finish strong and, for the hometown crowd, added a bonus set from the recently rechristened Mr. MFN eXquire. Indeed, the Jewels were Ran.
The relaxed vibe of Kool A.D.’s set wasn’t as heavy on the active detachment as his Das Racist days, but rather had the already packed Webster Hall hanging on his every word, something he was aware of enough to restart a song when he realized he was about to go into his first verse after telling the audience to tweet at clothing company and cultural curators Mishka to print up more Kool A.D. shirts. As extravagant and excessive as most major hip-hop shows have become, with either a hyper-expensive over-stylized set design or arbitrary full-band, it was a refreshing good omen for the night that Kool’s set comprised of a one-MC one-DJ affair. Afterward host Dallas Penn playfully toyed with live hip-hop concert host cliches, reminding us who was “in the building” and telling the crowd how everyone who would be taking the stage is someone Kendrick Lamar has said “fuck you” to. Funny stuff, followed by a brief set from DJ 6th Sense that set the mood for eXquire.
Mr. eXquire’s style of live performance has evolved over the past two years to the point of being unrecognizable. Being that he was a bunch-of-dudes-on-stage revivalist during “Huzzah’s” initial explosion, eXquire opening his set by rapping while dragging a mic stand around by himself made for quite the contrast. While his set included a touching moment of introducing the crowd to his boy that introduced him to El-P’s music, the energy built-up, culminating with the massive crowd dancing and rapping along with “Huzzah” as if it were a radio hit at Summer Jam.
Following that, while parts of the crowd didn’t initially seem as familiar with his name as Kool or eXquire, Despot’s gleefully sarcastic banter quickly won them over. Opening his set by reminding us that he’s been working on his debut album for millions of years now (it’s really just been nine years since his first single “Homesickness” on Def Jux) Despot assured us the album was almost done and served up a set of all new material as “proof.” While he was amazed, thanks to the power of the internet, that some of the crowd was familiar with the words to these songs that have only been performed live, the longtime Jux loyalists in the crowd all joined in for his trademark closer “Crap Artists.” The highlight of the set was probably, during his on-stage aerobics, one of his staples, being joined by the entire tour’s roster to exercise along with him. It was merely one of the first glimpses as to the camaraderie that this touring outfit shares.
Then it was time for Jewel Runnings, which consisted of two solo sets, followed by the duo sharing the stage together. Killer Mike came out first and, while his first few tours alongside El-P and following the release of the El-P produced R.A.P. Music have seen him dip heavy into his earlier work, such as his beloved verses from Outkast’s “The Whole World” and Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared” and his generally highly regarded solo material, last night featured almost exclusively Mike material from the past two years. Mike smashed through “Big Beast,” “Untitled” (which he admitted was his favorite verse), and got the entire capacity crowd to chant “I’m glad Reagan dead” during “Reagan.” After some well-timed swipes at Bloomberg, he closed with the set’s only throwback Mike cut, 2008’s “God in the Building,” which he finished after stepping out into the crowd and rapping with the people.
An El-P solo set followed. Its energy was also structured differently than usual. While previously–especially in his Def Jux days–El’s sets would start slow and have a calculated build into a pulsating chaos, last night steamrolled right out the gate with a hyper-animated performance of “Drones Over Brooklyn.” El’s set also leaned heavily toward his more recent work, barring one moment in the middle for longtime fans as he went from an a Cappella performance of his verse from his former group Company Flow’s “Patriotism” into “EMG.” El shared the stage with his talented instrumentalists, including Shalymar, whose additions really flushed the vibrancy and crunch of the beats out.
El briefly left the stage and Penn returned to re-introduce the duo together as Run the Jewels. Performing their free album in just about its entirety, taking one break in the middle to perform 2012’s “Tougher Colder Killer” with Despot, it stands a strong argument for how great the album’s sequencing is–it translated perfectly to a live setting. While after five weeks there were a few signs of wear-and-tear in the sound of Mike and El’s voices by the end of the night, this fatigue at no point showed in their energy and effort on-stage. Their set also had the added bonus of surprise guests in the form of Company Flow DJ Mr. Len contributing cuts to “Get It” and Prince Paul reprising his Chest Rockwell character for “Twin Hype Back.”
El-P’s been performing in New York for about two decades now. He loves this city, and by now knows exactly how to get it to love him back. He’s also known how to evolve his own live set over the years and assemble a line-up that, despite the complexities of the music itself, performs at such a high rate that it’s perhaps even more accessible than its recorded output. As a result, Webster Hall collectively lost itself while being whipped into an absolute frenzy. In nine years of attending New York hip-hop shows on a regular basis, crowds like last night’s are rare. But perhaps, that’s because so are the performers.
Critical Bias: It was my birthday.
Overheard: “FUCK HER!” – Immediately after Mr. MFN eXquire tells the crowd “I wrote this about my ex.”
Random Notebook Dump: Despot still takes the stage to the intro from “Sesame Street’s” “Teeny Little Super Guy,” which sounds great through Webster Hall’s system.