As a rule when shooting shows, especially one of this scale, you actively avoid interrupting the experience of the performance for those who paid to see the show. And while the same applied to Run the Jewels, I have to admit, I took pride in Killer Mike taking time to call me out in between songs. I took more care in the selection of my clothing for this show and Mike noticed. While shooting the photos you see above, Mike pointed out the shirt I had on and shook my hand to tell me he appreciated it.
I've been a fan of Run the Jewels for years, and listening to their records I connected with them because of the political messaging. Killer Mike and El-P follow in a tradition of many other artists I respect who expertly weave politics into incredible song writing. Rage Against the Machine, Kendrick Lamar, and MC5 are just a few artists I've spent hours listening to. For this show, I decided to wear my Soledad Brothers t-shirt who was another band who had a political lean to their music.
The Soledad Brothers, as a band, established themselves in the mid 2000's alongside The White Stripes out of Detroit. Their debut album featured Jack White dressed as Uncle Sam blindfolded with the band holding him hostage at gun point. Musically, they wrote either original blues rock music, or did covers of delta blues songs. The aforementioned t-shirt was a black panther with their name surrounding it.
The ACTUAL Soledad Brothers were three black prisoners at the Soledad prison in California who were assassinated by a prison guard in the exercise yard. While associated with The Black Panthers, they were the only prisoners murdered as a result of a larger fight that took place within the prison walls. They were not trying to escape, but were shot from above.
Not long before the murder of those prisoners, the '67 Detroit riots resulted in nearly 50 dead and 2000 injured. Some due to the National Guard sniper fire. During the most severe unrest in Detroit's history, artist John Sinclair established The White Panther Party as an allied group for The Black Panthers and The MC5 was heavily involved. They stood alongside The Black Panthers and took people into their office to protect them from the snipers positioned on the roofs of the buildings along Woodward Ave during the riots. MC5 were very political as allies of the movement, and included songs like "Motor City is Burning" on their debut album Kick Out the Jams. Recorded live, lead singer Rob Tyner exclaims "Brothers and sisters, I wanna tell you something. I hear a lot of talk from a lot of honkeys, sitting on a lot of money, saying they're the high society. But if you ask me, this is the high society, this is the high society."
This history is what connected me to Run the Jewels. Their music and actions follow the path of artists looking to make a difference. As much as I thought the worst of our history was behind us, I'm seeing there is a long way to go. El-P and Mike understand that, and speak to it. This can be seen through narratives like that heard in the track Early, or the more extreme actions called for in Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck). In both of these, we hear them speaking to the frustrations with police violence and the prison system. It's an echo of the same frustrations 2Pac speaks to on the progressive anger anyone would feel by being locked out from achieving everything they were capable of.
There are few artists today who effectively speak to the current political environment. Run the Jewels do it better than anyone. They're able to craft songs that are insightful, pointed, and sometimes aggressive. All that said, they still put on a damn good show and keep the crowd moving. The ability to mix their messaging with songs people love is tricky, but they pull it off.