“UK! We are here to Fuck. Shit. Up!” If there was any doubt over how excited Run The Jewels are to be making their first non-festival UK appearance in almost five years, there isn’t now. From the second Killer Mike and El-P coming bounding out onto the stage and DJ Trackstar drops Rage Against The Machine frontman Zack De La Rocha’s looped opening line from Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck), Brixton Academy becomes a swarming mass of bopping, dancing and moshing bodies.
It is almost two years to the day since modern hip hop’s most consistent duo dropped their incendiary fourth LP, RTJ4, released just over a week after the murder of George Floyd had poured petrol over the exploding Black Lives Matter movement and sparked furious protests around the world. Back then, it was a particularly timely and pertinent release: a career-high collection of incisive diatribes against racism, police brutality and corrupted power structures, backed by cutting edge beats and the kind of propulsive energy that Run The Jewels have made their calling card.
As El-P later points out, tonight is the band’s first “club show” since the release of the album, and full advantage is taken in giving the LP a proper airing. No fewer than nine tracks from RTJ4 get a UK debut, and every single one of them land like a nail bomb, drawing thousands of people present into yelling along to lyrics that hit as keenly now as they did in 2020 – never more so than Mike’s “I can’t breathe” line on Walking In The Snow. Musically, the newer songs sound massive, too, the Prodigy-aping Goonies Vs. ET and off-kilter wooziness of Ooh La La, drawing the biggest shout-a-longs of the night, particular highlights.
It’s all delivered with such an earnest sense of fun and alacrity that even when the twosome get serious – such as Mike’s pause to remind everyone that we should all be united against those who abuse power, or El-P’s proclamation that the men in the crowd should keep their hands to themselves – it’s done in a way that emboldens, rather than undermines, the positivity running through the set. It’s why Run The Jewels are such a surefire hit at festivals; they could just as easily play a rock-oriented fest like Download as an all-comers event like Glasto.
Whether it’s the emotional gravitas of the lyrics, the irresistible pull of the music or the sheer, joyous energy running through the venue, there’s a real sense of release to this show. Both Mike and El-P’s individual statuses in hip hop were secured before they came together for their most famous collaboration, but with RTJ4, they confirmed themselves as one of rap’s most vital voices. At Brixton Academy tonight, they’ve reminded everyone why they remain one of music’s most essential live bands.