KOKO – December 12th
Run The Jewels are the finest Hip Hop import the UK has seen this year, and don’t they just know it. Strutting on-stage to Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’ at Camden’s KOKO, everything about their show is defiantly triumphant.
2014 LP Run The Jewels 2 has featured pretty unanimously in top albums of the year lists: ruthlessly hyped and championed in the UK press, it feels like nigh on every snapback wearing hipster in London is wedged in here to see “El-P” Meline and Mike “Killer Mike” Render. Their presence is rewarded, with the pair administering a subversive adrenaline-charged set.
Tonight the sell-out crowd raise their hands to form the band’s salute, a clenched fist and a finger-pistol. The pair parade the stage like prizefighters before dropping the anthemic ‘Run The Jewels’. The raised arms of the fevered crowd loosen and writhe, leaving Koko resembling some great snake pit, twisting and thrashing in the semi-darkness.
‘Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)’ proves an early, pulsating set highlight. Huge bass reverberates throughout the venue, shaking the chandeliers in the upper circle. The crowd are whipped up, bouncing frenziedly, drinks flying everywhere. The energy in the room is infectious, and proves too much for some; shortly afterwards people stagger out of the pit saturated with sweat.
It’s been said that the pair, long-time troupers of New York and Atlanta scenes, vehemently distance themselves from the glitzy end of the Hip Hop spectrum, not least by releasing both Run The Jewels albums for free online. Tonight during the bombastic rendition of ‘Sea Legs’, the line “Ni**as will perish in Paris/Ni**as is nothing but parrots” is a clear rebuke to Jay Z and Kanye West.
Run The Jewel’s often ironic take on Hip Hop tropes tips over into parody at times. They take a swipe at posers on ‘36” chain’ (“And I walk around like I got a 36” chain”), mockingly adorning themselves with string necklaces. On ‘Lie, Cheat, Steal’ they treat the genre’s clichés with equal distain. El-P caricatures all those terrible ‘badass’ rappers, gleefully declaring himself “a wild one who’ll swim like directly after he’s eaten”. Initially the pair relay the refrain a cappella and the crowd scream it back at them. When it drops, the track, with its playful, slinking synth undertow proves a set highpoint.
As the set draws on, real rage cuts through the night’s frivolity. Footage emerged last month of an emotional Rendal speaking passionately against the ruling not to prosecute the officer who shot Michael Brown. With arms raised in surrender Rendal, who dedicates the show to Brown, tells his own story of being dragged away into the back of a police van, his wife and his son’s face pushed into the ground on the poignant ‘Early’. Anger boils over into violent themes on set closer ‘A Christmas F***ing Miracle’, where they threaten to “Keep your canines embedded in my knuckles as a keepsake”.
Wrought with anger and injustice, it’s a biting end to one of the shows of the year. The audience spills out into Camden having just borne witness to a triumphant performance, irreverent and incandescent in equal measure.