by Gabriel Klein
Run the Jewels took the stage at the packed PNE Forum to the sounds of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” Had this been any other rap act I would have commenced with the eye-rolling and sarcastic remarks at this point, but El-P and Killer Mike truly have earned their time in the sun. Over the last four years their unlikely rise to fame can only be described as iconoclastic. This is not rap music that lends itself to selling sneakers, headphones or life insurance. It’s angry, defiant, full of violence and dark humour, and yet at the same time deeply heartfelt, empathetic and hopeful. A complex ball of emotional and moral contradictions, flawed but striving for virtue, these are two larger-than-life characters tapping into something universally relatable. The success of their message is a sign of our times, and does it ever translate perfectly into a live setting.
Like many of the fans that had waited early in line on the day of the initial ticket release, I was quite disappointed when the show was moved from the Venue to the PNE Forum. Usually a switch to such a large venue comes at the cost of the quality of the show, diluting the connection between crowd and artist, and making for a less-enjoyable evening. But within the first five minutes of the show starting, I honestly could not have cared less where I was. It’s a credit to RTJ’s incredible charisma that they were able to keep the energy levels of such a giant crowd high for the entirety of their hour-and-a-half-long set. The show lacked any kind of lull or periods of disinterest, which also speaks to the strength of RTJ’s catalogue. The set list was naturally heavily leaning towards their newly released material, but the crowd was clearly already intimately familiar with the newest album, shouting every word back at the two rappers with full force. My favourite moment of the night, though, had to be when Gangsta Boo was invited out to perform her verse on “Love Again.” Absolutely incredible to hear a giant crowd of mostly 20-something-year-old-men shouting, “He’s got my clit in his mouth all day,” at the top of their lungs. I don’t think the importance of a moment like that at a testosterone-fuelled rap show can be overstated. While I was less than happy about the venue bait-and-switch, I can’t think of a single other rap act that deserves to cash in on their hard work. So go ahead, play that Queen loudly; RTJ really is the people’s champ.
PNE Forum, Run the Jewels, Run The Jewels 3, Vancouver