Saturday night I attended my first concert of 2017 — Run the Jewels at Tabernacle Atlanta.
RTJ3 is gold on its own. In fact, it’s the number one hip-hop album on Billboard this week. But the RTJ3 Live Music Experience is a must. So far, the Run the World Tour, which kicked off just after the new year in Philly, is eleven-for-eleven. Killer Mike and El-P have sold out every show. But a sell-out show at the historic Tabernacle is different. It’s Atlanta — Killer Mike’s hometown. And he, as well as El-P, were absolutely overwhelmed and humbled by the crowd’s contagious energy. The Tabernacle’s three levels were full. Fans were on their feet throwing up the pistol-fist every chance they could. They even chanted “RTJ” repeatedly in between songs. I can only imagine what the view was from where the guys stood.
You never know who might show up to an RTJ show in a city like Atlanta. For example, wearing a red Atlanta Falcons fitted cap, Big Boi added to the encore with a performance of “Banana Clipper.” It only increased the bonus love from the hometown crowd on the eve of the Falcons winning the NFC Championship, heading to the Super Bowl after damn near 20 years. Senator Vincent Fort was also in attendance. Mike thanked him for his service.
Take the brotherhood and chemistry of Outkast, add it to the Rubin-influenced rock-hip-hop sensibilities of a group like The Beastie Boyz and divide it all by the sociopolitical acuity of Public Enemy. That’s Run the Jewels. The back-and-forth chemistry between these two is an example of what it means when the wise say, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Or perhaps the other one: “Stay low but keep firing.” The Atlanta show shifted the paradigm.
I was able to get a really cool spot near the sound table, which gave me a 360˚ view of the venue’s main floor and the side view of levels two and three. The middle of the stage was straight ahead. A balloon canvas of the band’s signature bandaged pistol-fist hovered over DJ Trackstar, a complement to the raw energy of the music’s high and lows.
For the last two RTJ installments, Run the Jewels has opened each show with the resilience anthem from Queen’s classic “We Are the Champions,” and their performance of this has evolved as the group has grown in notoriety over the last four years. Appropriately afterward, they opened with “Talk To Me,” a politically charged song about breakdowns in American democracy; it was initially performed at the 2016 Coachella Music Festival after a video introduction from Senator Bernie Sanders.
I’ve seen Mike and El perform RTJ and RTJ2 for sold out crowds before — but not with beams of color lighting up the room like a laser show. It appeared as though songs like “Stay Gold,” “Oh My Darling” and “Run the Jewels” knocked even harder with the changing hues of the lights. And after, while they were thanking the crowd, I hopped on my whosampled.com app to find out the sample El-P uses on “Legend Has It.” His beats are so tribal. The Tabernacle floor was vibrating. And the call-and-response blended in with the drums and drops on “Call Ticketron” would make Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock proud.
In total, Mike and El were onstage for 75, divine minutes. (I hope to see a full-on band behind them sooner than later.)
They threw in RTJ classics like “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” “Early” and “Love Again,” for which they brought out Gangsta Boo, who is also touring with them. She killed it as always. They also performed “Panther Like A Panther.” I was hoping Trina would walk out and rap the song’s hook, but the crowd compensated for her absence. At the right moment, they shouted: “I’m the shit, bitch” and then “. . . everybody down throw the pistol and fist.” Run the Jewels ended with an encore performance of “Kill Your Masters” and “Close Your Eyes.”
Whoever routed the RTJ tour months before must’ve also taken into account what the people would need on the day after the presidential inauguration: an RTJ seance in the home of the modern-day Civil Rights movement and hub for all things cool right now. We are all grateful for their foresight. Think about it: no matter what the election results would have been, by the time the swearing-in of a new president on January 20 would come around, jewel runners would be eager to sort out with Michael Render and Jamie Meline the politics of what’s happening in the world.
And eager we were. Twenty-six hundred jewel runners.
Maybe the tour schedule wasn’t that calculated. Maybe it was a coincidence. I’m not sure, and I really don’t care. Besides that time in college when ATCQ’s Q-Tip bopped me in the mouth with the microphone during their performance of “Check The Rhime” because we both got a little too crunk on stage, Run the Jewels in Atlanta at the Tabernacle on the day after Donald Trump became the Chief Commander is one of my all-time favorite live music experiences. I got to dance to El’s beats. I got to see Mike full from the love of his hometown. And I left encouraged to keep practicing this hip-hop lifestyle, teaching and learning from my students and writing about it as much as I can. Hip-hop got us through the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. With live music experiences like RTJ3, we will get through the next four years too.