Run The Jewels run it in Calgary [Review]
Calgary, AB – After the launch of their debut album last month, Run The Jewels duo members EL-P and Killer Mike hit up the Republik Nightclub in Calgary on July 25 during their Run The Jewels Tour. The show went down on a Thursday night, which is usually a buzz kill for concert attendence. But Calgary’s hip-hop heads swarmed Republik and had the venue packed shortly after doors opened.
The show began just after 10 p.m. (which is virtually unheard of) as former Das Racist member, Kool A.D., got the crowd warmed up with his twitched out, easy-going rhymes. Shortly afterwards, EL-P’s fellow Definitive Jux label mate, Despot, hit the stage. But the grungy underground Run the Jewels experience didn’t begin until Killer Mike hopped up to the microphone for his solo set.
Much to Mike’s delight, one of the ladies in the audience had come appropriately (or not) dressed as Ronald Reagan. No, she wasn’t rocking an androgynous two-piece suit and toupee. The lady was dressed in panties, a polka-dot bra, and head-to-toe body paint— complete with the phallic-shaped Reagan caricature from Killer Mike’s 2012 “Reagan” video drawn on her stomach. The girl came on stage and danced for the audience while Mike successfully converted all of the show attendees into anti-Reagan aficionados. He just made it seem so cool.
Everyone gets the occasional urge to hate on the system. Killer Mike is all for hating the system. But at the same time. he spreads so much love through his undeniably spiritual relationship with rap. After everyone bonded over flipping the bird at Reagan’s passing, Mike took the time to preach to the Church of “R.A.P.” He played his pastor role well, and his congregation did not disappoint. The set finished with Mike amidst the crowd, his congregation gripping at him, and snapping up photos on their phones as keepsake mementos.
As the crowd calmed down from the high of Killer Mike’s preach, EL-P’s bandmates began setting up on stage, alongside Trackstar the DJ. Rappers are rarely accompanied by live bands. So the presence of keytar player, Wilder Zoby, and guitar-playing multi-intrumentalist, Little Shalier, felt a bit out of place. But the bandmates were wild — almost wilder than EL-P. Zoby and Little Shalier even duelled it out on centre-stage later on in the set during “Cancer 4 Cure.”
EL-P hit the stage with his hype man, Shannon T. Moore (who pulls double-duty as the vocalist for the punk-hardcore group, Activator) and they cranked out all of EL-P’s fan-favourites, including “Drones Over BRKLYN,” “The Full Retard,” and more. Shannon T. Moore should definitely link up with Mike and EL-P more often. They can form a trio and call themselves, “Run the Underground Rap World,” or something. Shannon had non-stop energy and frequently took the liberty of banging Little Shalier’s cymbal, with his bare hands. And before the set finished, EL-P performed a rendition of “Can I Kick It,” by A Tribe Called Quest. Unbenounced to EL-P, ATCQ’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad had been in town the previous evening with De La Soul’s DJ Maseo. So the crowd enjoyed the cameo performance that much more.
Several attendees seemed to think that the show was over after EL-P exited the stage. Disappointed by the lack of duo presence, a few people headed out for the night. But within 10 minutes, Wilder Zoby was up on the microphone and chanting, “Run the Jewels,” along with the crowd. And then the much-anticipated moment of the night came—Killer Mike and EL-P joined each other on stage to perform as Run the Jewels. Though the crowd seemed faded after EL-P’s set, concertgoers were back on their feet— beers raised in the air, stomping to the spits.
“Sea Legs” was one of the crowd favourites. The performance of the track makes a pretty obvious comparison between Run the Jewels and Jay-Z and Kanye’s team-up (circa Watch the Throne), with the lyrics: “N*ggas will perish in Paris, n*ggas is nothing but parrots.” While this line was intended as a diss, it draws a parallel between what Killer Mike and EL-P have done for the underground rap scene, and what Kanye and Jay did for mainstream rap.
Like Jay-Z and Kanye, Mike and EL-P are both, respectively, at the height of their games as solo MCs. Killer Mike carved the niche for himself as an outspoken politically-charged spitter, while EL-P has pushed alternative hip-hop to new levels with his geeked out sci-fi references and technically superior phrasing.
As the Run the Jewels duo, Mike and EL-P conglomerate into this beautiful enmeshment of experimental underground greatness. It’s no wonder the audience so uninhibitedly handed over their blunts and weed-stashes to Mike and EL-P throughout the evening. Music was at an all-time high, and underground rap-enthusiasts had found their people.
Photography by Sarah Sussman for HipHopCanada