Looming over the stage, the massive recreation of Run The Jewel’s iconic dismembered hands logo served as a portent of things to come, keeping fans in excruciating excitement for just under two hours of opening acts. The room was already packed tight by 7:30 p.m. until about quarter past ten when it was finally time to see Killer Mike and EI-P perform.
Such an extensive opening act should have been expected given the fact that there were four artists tasked with warming up the crowd. Nick Hook got things rolling with an amiable stage presence and some memorable beats. Atlanta rapper Cuz stood out in particular as being the best opener by far. He fed off the crowd’s energy to deliver some solid bars and a stand-out spoken word outro. Gangsta Boo rapped about drugs and sex exclusively while The Gas Lamp Killer was able to get the crowd sufficiently amped up. Although I appreciated his sampling of Radiohead’s “National Anthem” and some sporadic Death Grips, he missed the mark for me.
Safe to say by the time ten o’clock came around, I was itching for some RTJ and did they ever deliver. The rap duo exploded onto the stage with “Talk to Me,” the second track off their new LP, which was met by roaring approval from the crowd. All that pent-up excitement unleashed itself in full force. You could see the look of surprise and glee in Killer Mike’s face when he saw the enthusiastic crowd.
Speaking of the crowd, I understand that big rap headliners like RTJ attract a high-octane attendance. The moshing was so extreme for the first quarter of the concert that Killer Mike had to remind the crowd not once, not twice but three times to pick people up if they had fallen. Eventually, the especially intoxicated attendees were either hauled out by security or left of their own accord and the crowd was able to reach a less volatile state.
An underlying message of protest aimed at the government and its current chief executive, Donald Trump, carried the evening. While Nick Hook and The Gaslamp Killer voiced their disapproval a little heavy-handedly, RTJ worked the theme ingeniously into their setlist. All throughout their latest album, “RTJ3,” politically conscious bars abounded and it only made sense that it would translate to their live show. A particular rant delivered by EI-P comes immediately to mind. They seamlessly turned criticism directed explicitly at Trump into one of their more celebrated tracks. “Lie, Cheat, Steal” does this particularly well. Instead of dropping random, albeit well-meaning political statements halfway through a song like The Gaslamp Killer, these worthwhile concerns of EI-P were voiced expertly by an absolute pro in live performance.
RTJ’s stage presence was almost beyond words. The group was confident in delivering intricate back-and-forth rap dialogue without a hitch. I mean without a single observable mistake throughout their entire set. They were passionate about their message and what they do for a living and visibly humbled by their ability to speak to so many people. Killer Mike reiterated his love for their devout following numerous times in a genuine manner. If I had to make the very difficult decision to choose only a few highlights, “Close your Eyes,” “Run the Jewels” and “Call Ticketron” stand out as raucous anthems and crowd favorites.
Like most excellent sets, RTJ’s felt somewhat short-lived, especially given the fact that the duo only performed for just under an hour and a half. With that said, their time on stage was enthralling and memorable. I would have gladly let them run through their entire discography (even “Meow the Jewels”) while singing along to every clever, braggadocios line.