Photos by Finn Turnbull
Hip hop duo Run the Jewels have catapulted in both success and popularity in recent years thanks to their music career and activist work. After a stirring set at BUKU Music + Art Project 2017 last March, El-P and Killer Mike returned to New Orleans Friday, October 13. The pair had recently begun their Run the World Tour and headed to the Dirty South to perform in front of a packed, maximum capacity crowd at the Joy Theater.
After a few opening songs, including crowd-pleasers like “Talk to Me” and “Legend Has It,” El-P showed New Orleans some love.
“It’s a fucking honor to be back here,” he said. “We remember when we couldn’t fill up a corner in this room, and it means the world to us that you come out and see us. Thank you so much.” A few moments later, he told the hungry crowd, “We’re gonna do everything we can tonight to make this night tonight a motherfuckin’ blockbuster night,” just before launching into, of course, “Blockbuster Night Part 1.”
Immediately after that track, El-P took the mic again to share some “Run the Jewels show guidelines.” The first concerned personal safety, watching out for fellow attendees, and embracing maniacal dance moves with at least a shred of respect for those nearby.
But the second guideline inspired the most raucous response from supportive fans. Given a slew of current events that have dominated recent news headlines and watercooler chats, the positive, fired-up crowd reaction wasn’t surprising.
“Second rule is this: We’re not here to cast judgment on anybody, but we will say this just for the fucking record,” El-P began. “If you came here, and you’re single, and you’re drunk, and maybe you did a little drugs, you know, and you’re just having a good time at the Run the Jewels show, and if you see someone who you’re attracted to, do me a favor—keep your fucking hands to yourself for once, god dammit. If she wants to hang with you, you can talk to her about it. But if you see people touching females they don’t know and getting bad reactions, but also if we see people beefing with each other, we’re gonna shut the fucking show down, we’re gonna call you out, and we’re gonna have the security escort you the fuck out the door.”
The moment was a true testament to who Run the Jewels are as activists and servants of their fellow humans—beyond the beats and lyrics of their songs. An integral part of any Run the Jewels experience, from concerts and festivals to media interviews, is the sense of community and empowerment that emanates from this duo. From their songs themselves to the messages they share in between, El-P and Killer Mike seem to be driven purely by a desire to leave the world a better place than they found it.
But, as expected by this sold-out crowd, Run the Jewels also delivered a knockout performance that left both new and longtime fans desperate for an encore. Most notable by die-hard, day-one fans was that Run the Jewels’ balanced setlist offered a heavy helping of each of their three albums. This gave attendees a taste of the progression of RTJ’s music over the past few years while playing both popular and more relatively obscure tracks in terms of past live performances. Crowd favorites included “Thursday in the Danger Room” and “A Christmas Fucking Miracle,” which both came at the end of the deliciously long 18-track set.
Stage production featured the familiar multi-colored lights display and the iconic Run the Jewels hand symbol logo hanging above the performers onstage. It was simple enough to allow the crowd to focus on the music and lyrics, but still a stunning backdrop that enhanced the overall experience.
Run the Jewels continues on their Run the World Tour, which includes a few U.S. dates before the pair head overseas. They’ll perform several concerts and festival dates across Europe and Australia before ending the tour back in North America. It’s unclear when RTJ will return to New Orleans again, having just played last year’s BUKU Fest. But we’ll look forward to their next set—and album—either way.