It's been a big couple of years for El-P, Killer Mike, and the twosome’s recent musical courtship. In 2012, nothing but praise seemed to follow both El-P's Cancer 4 Cure (guest starring Killer Mike) and Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music (produced by El-P).
The momentum gained by those two albums led to this summer's Run the Jewels, a collaborative project and eponymous album that further solidified the hard-edged, spaced-out vibe they've been after together. The pair brought this new material as well as solo sets to the Independent last Tuesday night.
Kool A.D. kicked the night off with a set bolstered by a committed air guitarist furiously playing along to god knows what beside him. Anyone familiar with Kool A.D.’s solo mixtapes or Das Racist’s somewhat polarizing brand of meta-rap probably knew what they were in for — a mix of lackadaisical indifference, sarcastic charm, witty punchlines, and occasional moments of locked-in inspiration — and he pretty much made good on those expectations.
A big Das Racist fan myself, I personally enjoyed the set, particularly a remixed run-through of the hyphy-inspired “Town Business,” though outside of the die-hards going nuts up front, the overall reception was a bit lackluster.
New York-based Despot brought the energy level up a bit with a solid set of fiery raps laid over vaguely old-school, soul sample-infused beats. He earned one of the funnier moments of the night when he brought El-P, Kool A.D., and the rest of the crew out for a brief “aerobics routine” that involved the seven or eight of them on stage clumsily working through synchronized dance moves.
Killer Mike’s set was punctuated by a heart-on-sleeve social conscience and glowing appreciation for his recent resurgence to go along with his lively Southern rap. The setlist was unsurprisingly full primarily of tracks from R.A.P. Music and all of them sounded fantastic. He dropped the beat and supplemental instrumentation out entirely for “Reagan,” leading to a deliberate, a cappela reading of the song and a venue-wide call and response of “FUCK RONALD REAGAN!” afterward.
Between songs, he strengthened his rapport with the crowd via his description of a spiritual connection he’s always felt with San Francisco and multiple references to Oscar Grant and the importance of finding common ground, be it racially, socially or religiously, with one another.
El-P hit the stage next, burning through a set full of Cancer 4 Cure tracks. Highlights included “The Full Retard,” which he jokingly introduced as “the most pussy song he’s ever written.” While I enjoy El-P’s flow, I’ve always loved the dense murkiness of his production even more, so it was great to hear his beats in a live environment, which, strengthened by the Independent’s sound system and a shit-ton of low end, sounded massive.
It was nearly three hours after the show started by the time El-P and Killer Mike hit the stage together for their Run the Jewels set, but most everyone in attendance hardly seemed to care. The addition of a guitarist, keytarist, and multiple percussionists amped up the feel of the set as the two ran through their excellent new album.
Tracks like “36” Chain” and “Banana Clipper” stood out a little extra, as the two enthusiastically stalked around on stage, seamlessly trading off verses. Aside from being a solid and engaging set from start to finish, you couldn’t help also view it as a giddy celebration of the pair’s recent successes and mutual admiration for one another.