Words co-authored by Matthew Segal (RTJ) and Joey Rootman (GLK)
Despite Vancouverites’ deep-seated desire to spend snowy evenings at home whipping up snappy tweets about TransLink, Run The Jewels had no problem amassing thousands of guests into the PNE forum for their Run the World tour. Warming up the stage for RTJ was Low End Theory founder and bossman: The Gaslamp Killer. With a beard and hair combination so majestic it deserved a set time of its own, GLK’s dishevelled aesthetic and animated dance moves perfectly juxtaposed the sharp look of his danceless audience. Playing a DJ set to a gaggle of restless Hip-Hopsters is no easy feat, but nonetheless, GLK quickly dropped jaws with his mesmerising turntable skills.
Gaslamp moved fiercely through an eclectic mix of genres and sounds collected from across the globe, at times stopping to inform the crowd of his Turkish-Syrian heritage amidst authentic songs, originating from and, aptly representing those very regions. Syrian sitar turned to Nintendo theme songs which turned to anything bassy and loud. All the while, Hip-Hop fans were able to venture fearlessly along GLKs idiosyncratic collection of beats by following his breadcrumb trail of familiar rap samples. GLK’s set was a timely note of what diversity brings to the table. That is, the best DJ sets are always a sundry of genres and sounds, and likewise, the best countries always overflow with cultural variety. Before making his exit, Gaslamp reminded the crowd that “…times of turmoil are when the best fucking music and art is made” and, Indeed, the truths in GLK’s words were made incredibly evident by the quality of his remarkable performance. With these powerful words held close in the audience’s collective mind the energy was palpable. RTJ, bring it on.
Run The Jewels, the hip-hop super-duo comprised of rapper “Killer Mike” Michael Render and rapper/producer Jaime “El-P” Meline, continue to reveal themselves as both a product and symptom of the times. RTJ’s music has developed with their audience in a rather atypical way. RTJ’s popularity has come not from a simplification or mainstream influence on their music; in fact, the farther outside of the box their sounds and concepts have strayed, the larger and more loyal their fanbase has grown. The boys walked out to Queen’s “We Are The Champions,” and you could tell that they, and we, really believed what old Freddie crooned. Jamie and Mike whetted the crowd with a proverbial ocean spray of the Jewel Runners cannon, traversing back and forth between tracks pulled almost exclusively from RTJ2 and RTJ3. Finally, at the very end of the night, they played one song – the titular song – from their debut album Run The Jewels, and while the tune has always been a staple in RTJ setlists (it is their most frequently played song) it’s most demonstrative quality has become the incredible and rapid progression of the duo’s sound in regards to production, lyricism, and raw, intangible chemistry.
The duo punched in high-energy verse after high-energy verse, lauded the crowd for braving it out to the PNE despite the characteristically un-Vancouver weather, considered cannibalism, chastised the security guards for their joint effort to extinguish the “joint efforts” of the dope-smoking crowd and even waxed political once, twice or thrice. And, as much as fans were delighted by the neo-anarchistic, machine gun raps of Killer Mike and the tongue-in-cheek hubris of El-P, the atmosphere that developed throughout the night outstripped mere musical delight. There was a synthesis between audience and performer, and from that synthesis emerged a stadium filled with people who were struggling with an underlying, disheartening anger, caused by “the man behind the throne”, as Killer Mike aptly rapped, while simultaneously brimming with the feeling of euphoric oneness that can only come from being in a room full of people with whom you truly and fundamentally relate.
When RTJ last played Vancouver, in 2014, they drew a crowd of about 500 people. This time around, there were close to that many present by the time Gangsta Boo – RTJ feature-esse, underground rap legend, and opener for the main show – took the stage. By the time Gangsta Boo came back out to perform the final verse of RTJ’s “Love Again” with the RTJ boys, there were thousands more cheering them all on. Killer Mike and El-P truly love one another and they fell in love with us – the humble crowd – as the night crept on. L’amour that reverberates between them ricocheted off into the crowd, and we were all too happy to put a stamp on it and return to sender. There we were: celebrating an ideology of inclusiveness, rebellion and the RTJ brand of populism just as much as we were mindlessly moshing to our favourites. Indeed, in a world that has seemingly come to place hatred and distrust en vogue, many of us in the crowd felt the joy of falling in love again.