Hip-hop show best value in ages

Run the Jewels, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt

James Cabaret, Wellington, January 28

Reviewed by Simon Sweetman

Wellington was extremely lucky to have three dynamos of hip-hop on the one bill. Following from the Auckland leg of the Laneway Festival we welcomed Run the Jewels, featuring MCs Killer Mike and EL-P, and sets from Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt.

Run The Jewels opened the night and had the crowd charged right away with chant-along new anthems, sometimes subverting gangsta rap cliches, sometimes celebrating them. But the way Killer Mike and EL-P bounced off one another was astounding. They even took the time to take one knucklehead from up front and place him “in time out”, forcing an over eager goon to sit on stage while they performed. It worked. By the end of their set they let the guy go, newly “chilled”.

EL-P cockily announced that we were in for the best hip-hop show of the year, referring to the triple bill. Though it’s early days he’s likely right. Run the Jewels made a huge impact. And Killer Mike promised they’d be back.

Danny Brown’s almost cartoon-like voice feels at times as if the comedian Dave Chappelle has created an American-vernacular version of Dizzee Rascal. Brown flowed over woozy whooshes of dance music. He kept the energy levels up, all but performing an aerobics workout as he – again – played into and off well-known hip-hop tropes. And then the energy fell away somewhat for Earl Sweatshirt.

He’s a phenomenal rapper, perhaps the most gifted of the bunch and certainly on record he sounds the best. But his stop-start attitude and constant references to being “a little drunk” were a slight downer compared with the energy from Jewels and Brown.

Three acts makes for a long night and there was a definite dive to the liveliness, but he still offered some magic. And what a great crowd overall. So into it. And what a great venue – worth celebrating.

For a start there’s no pillar to get in the way, no sound issues – in fact this was the best sounding live hip-hop gig I’ve heard in some time – and there’s no announcement that the venue is to close anytime soon. That makes it, instantly, Wellington’s best chance right now. And this was almost certainly the best hip-hop show we’ll see all year, and one of the best lineups we’ll have in our city in 2014.

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