This Friday the Majestic stage will host the tag-team champion of the underground rap world, Run The Jewels. Returning to Madison following the release of their free LP, RTJ2 (download it here), the super-duo of El-P and Killer Mike is set to unleash their sonic body-blows and one-up their free show last year at the Memorial Union Terrace.
For the uninitiated, Run The Jewels is one of the most exciting music groups to emerge in the last couple years. On their own, the two men making up RTJ have had untouchable careers in their own right.
Starting in the late 90s, El-P gained notoriety as a rapper/producer in the legendary NYC underground group Company Flow (their debut album Funcrusher Plus is a must-listen for any hip-hop head). Following the dissolution of that group, he formed Definitve Jux records (Def Jux to fans) and began to shape the sound of the 2000s underground. The label helped jumpstart the careers of Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock, Cage, and RJD2 (among others) as well as a platform to unleash his sci-fi dystopian hip-hop on the world (Def Jux releases Fantastic Damage and I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead are classics).
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, a rapper known as Killer Mike began to make a name for himself laying down verses for artists such as OutKast (“Snappin’ and Trappin’” and “The Whole World”) and Jay-Z (“Poppin’ Tags”) before launching his solo career with 2003’s Monster. Always a powerhouse rapper, Mike’s solo efforts are marked by his thoughtful and powerful takes on American politics, which set him apart from many of his Atlanta-based peers.
But it was after El-P decided to take a step back from running Def Jux and focus on music in 2010 that the two crossed paths and started working together, culminating in a three of 2013’s best releases, R.A.P. Music, Cancer 4 Cure, and Run The Jewels. While Mike only intended to have El-P provide a couple tracks for the new album, the collaboration resulted in El-P producing the entirety of Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, the two men trading guest verses on each other’s albums, and the free release (download it!) Run The Jewels.
The two men have said that their collaboration has made them better musicians and the results seem to agree. All three of their 2013 albums (see above) wound up on various “Best of 2013” lists and this year’s collaboration, RTJ2 continues that trend, having already taken the number 8 spot on AOTY’s year end list. Like its predecessor, 2 is a swift kick to the gut of hip-hop. A run through the highlights would be silly as you can simply listen to it yourself (seriously, it’s free! Go get it!), and an honest review would list all the tracks as highlights. Just know that it has some of the best, most intense beats you’ll ever here and some of the most clever battle rap lyrics that have been committed to record. If you need a couple highlights, check out “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”, which features Zack De La Rocha from Rage Against the Machine and “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry”.
While the album is great in its own right, it also means that the performance Friday is going to be awesome, because their last performance here was awesome even without it.
The last RTJ performance in Madison happened July 20, 2013 at the Memorial Union Terrace. Set against the backdrop of boats gently rocking on Lake Mendota, Kool A.D., Despot, and RTJ unleashed some of the best rap Madison has ever heard (apologies to Atmosphere) and may have put on one of the best shows ever at the Terrace. While all the performances that night deserve a review, Kool A.D. is, unfortunately, not performing this Friday. Despot, despite not having much in the way of released material, commanded the stage and will be a welcome return as an opener (check out “Get Rich Or Try Dying”, “House of Bricks”, or his spot on Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s “The Last Huzzah!”). Joining Despot in the opener slots are Ratking and the David Ruffin Theory. Ratking is a NYC-based underground rap trio whose beats take elements from trap and chopped up samples. The David Ruffin Theory is a collaboration between St. Louis rappers Rockwell Knuckles and Tef Poe, whose sound is much more indebted to the Southern hip-hop club scene than any of the other artists.
What will remain to be seen is how El-P and Killer Mike will handle the headliner spot. Hopefully they will reprise the split set format that they employed the last time out and perform selections from their personal discographies before exploring RTJ territory. Even if they don’t, an all-Run The Jewels set should still leave the crowd more than satisfied, as it can only be hoped that the improved acoustics of the Majestic will do the best RTJ material justice and absolutely level the crowd.
The show on Friday is SOLD OUT, but you may still be able to find tickets for sale or up for grabs, so be on the lookout. If at all possible, try not to miss out on what is sure to be a punishing and great show.
Ratking, Despot, the David Ruffin Theory, and Run The Jewels will be performing at the Majestic Theater on Friday, November 21st with doors at 8 PM and show at 9 PM.
– Matt Cortner