Taping recap: Run The Jewels

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High intensity. Lyrical smartbombs. Killer beats. Those are the hallmarks of a great Run The Jewels show, and those elements were in abundance at the debut taping by the rap superstars.

“We’re gonna light this shit on fire like Willie Nelson would light a joint,” declared Killer Mike after an intro of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” He wasn’t kidding, as he, rapping partner El-P and DJ Trackstar exploded with “Talk To Me,” as energetic an opener as any rock band could provide. Mike’s rapid-fire delivery contrasted nicely with El-P’s punk rock bluster, with Trackstar throwing in the occasional interjection. “Legend Has It” and “Call Ticketron” kept the energy high, the crowd shouting “RTJ!” during the call-and-response section for the former. After thanking the show and warning the crowd about the profanity to come (“We curse like goddamn sailors, kids!”), the band launched into “Blockbuster Night Pt. 1,” Mike showing off why he’s one of the most acclaimed MCs on earth with a stream of superspeed wordsmithery. The band showed off its sardonic sense of humor with “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and “36” Chain,” the latter previewed by an El-P speech about handing out invisible gold chains to the crowd with each ticket.

As if the room wasn’t vibrant enough, the duo engaged the crowd for the intro of “Stay Gold,” one of the new album’s most indelible tracks. Trackstar provided both an ambient segue and a brief but fiery scratch solo for “Don’t Get Captured,” one of the group’s most political anthems. A sampled sitar earned immediate cheers and led into “Nobody Speak,” a clear audience favorite. But that was nothing compared to what came next. After Killer Mike declared, “I don’t care what anybody says about watching too much TV – I know I’m smarter because of PBS,” RTJ launched into the booming, cheerfully profane “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck),” which drove the audience even further into a frenzy. So they were primed for a titanic “Hey!” to intro “Hey Kids.” More social commentary followed in the blazing “A Report to the Shareholders,” before El-P exposed the raw emotions underneath the group’s bravado for “Thursday in the Danger Room,” an elegy to anyone who should be with us but isn’t.  

“We’re gonna do a song now that we’ve never quite pulled off,” said El-P, as singers Joi and BGV joined RTJ for “2100.” Then, singer Boots also arrived to add his crushed velvet croon, recreating his studio parts. They definitely pulled it off. Joi joined Mike and El-P on the frontline for the empowering “Down,” as perfectly uplifting a song to end a set with as can be. The band left the stage, but the break didn’t last long. The audience cheered wildly as RTJ returned to the stage for the angry, provocative “Angel Duster,” during which Mike and El-P joined the crowd on the floor. It was an explosive performance, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year on your local PBS station as part of our Season 43.