Run the Jewels, Opium Rooms Dublin

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Run the Jewels self titled debut album gained Killer Mike and El-P plenty of well deserved attention, but it was with the release of Run the Jewels 2 in October that they were finally able to establish themselves as the best act in hip hop right now. They have accepted this position with grace and humility and in the process have gained a massive fan base all over the world in just two years. With support coming from arguably the best Irish hip hop act this year, God Knows, MuRli & MynameisjOhn, this sold out gig in Opium Rooms was exactly what was to be expected, a joyous celebration of some of the best hip hop around right now.

After petitioning online to ensure they got the support act slot God Knows, MuRli & MynameisjOhn knew they couldn’t disappoint and they did far from that. From the get go they create the type of energetic atmosphere that artists crave to get from their gigs. The beats bang out a constant rate, with little to no pauses between tracks. God Knows and MuRli rattle off their verses with ferocious energy while leaping around the stage and causing general ruckus with no hint of aggression, just expression.

With Christmas being 4 days and Killer Mike and El-P wrapping up a massive tour in Dublin, the celebratory nature of the gig comes as no surprise. Both walk on stage to Queen’s ‘We Are the Champions’ and break straight into their self titled track, emitting a huge sound. ‘Blockbuster Night Part 1’ and ‘Oh My Darling Don’t Cry’ initiate a frantic pace that is kept up for the entire set, that clocks in at well over an hour. It seems to be the newer material that spurs the bigger reactions, with ‘Love Again’ sparking a loud and pretty hilarious sing along. ‘36” Chain’ & ‘Sea Legs’ both sound as sharp as they do on record, with the only minor faults being scarce breaks in Mike’s voice which to be honest can be expected at the end of a tour anyway.

Leaking the album early, letting Meow the Jewels happen, having a longer set than most, are just a few of the reasons why the crowd shows such appreciation towards them. They are willing to go the extra mile that most rappers won’t to please their fans and it works both ways. Mike gives someone a bottle of vodka, only under strict instructions that he share it. They even request that the security be removed from the front of the stage, on the grounds that they unnecessary because the crowd is a family. It may sound cliché, but he’s right. It may have gotten a bit rowdy but no one appeared uncomfortable, no one got hurt. It was simply a sold out room of people having a good time, with one of the biggest acts at the moment who were as appreciative, if not more, of their presence.

We gave them album and artist of the year on this site so it may seem almost biased to award this gig of the year. However with such an amazing support act in God Knows, MuRli and MynameisjOhn and a perfected set delivered from Run the Jewels, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the best gig this year.

-Ross Logan

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Simi Crowns Interview

Simi Crowns

Simi Crowns first popped onto my radar during an excellent support set for Pusha T, one in which he blew the main act out of the water. Since then he has gone onto support Kid Ink, Mos Def & play Electric Picnic, as well as countless other gigs. It has been a big year for Simi, but 2015 is shaping up to be a whole lot bigger for him. We caught up with him recently and had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his music, his live show and what he has in the works.

Describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before.

“My music is an expression. An expression of how I and those around me including the general society feels. You know those types of mundane truths that we know exists but fail to acknowledge. I often come across comments such as “for a Dublin guy, you‟re different”. When elaborated, it seems to shock people who‟ve come across my music that, I don‟t match their expectations. Rapping in Dublin/Ireland has never really been viewed as being glamorous like the Americans, so the trend is you either try to make it glamorous by bullshitting (in fake accents, false/unrelatable subject matters, etc.) or you rap “real” but with an emphasis on your Irishness with the strong accent, which never quite seem to get accepted on a mainstream level. Flipping that, I came through as this random guy with a “plain enough” accent that everyone could understand (growing up, I had a very multi-cultural circle of friends) while rapping about these things even Gary, Siobhan, Ahmed, Tin Lin and Kemi could relate to – my not so ghettoish Dublin-tinted struggles, college, race, fantasies, dreams, girls, relationships, hopes, ambitions to succeed, etc.”

How do you feel you differ from other Irish acts?

“Questions like these usually bring out the most favourable biases but I‟ve always seemed to notice that most credible and celebrated Irish artists I know of are of a certain type. Being frank, I feel that black voices are greatly misrepresented and underrepresented. I don‟t mean in a “they don‟t have freedom of speech or expression civil rights type of way”, but when you look at the media, at least 95% of the faces celebrated are white; only black faces we see are the Beyonces, Jay Zs, whatever happened to these black Irish people I know on a personal level contributing to the society and making a killing on multiple varied levels; in college, business, you know. All I seem to notice are headlines in bold letters like “NIGERIAN MAN CONVICTED FOR RAPE”, “NON-NATIONAL CAUGHT SMUGGLING.” What of my childhood friend, Goke killing it in the finance industry, Nubi Kay winning Accenture‟s European Best Innovators Awards, etc. And on the music scene, it seems to always be about the guys with guitars and slick leather jackets, far from being envious, I am friends with many of them and I think they make great music but I always feel like “fuck I have something to contribute too, you know, bring my own meaning and impact to the fucking world” based on my abilities and not what I happen to be. I grew up here and still get people from the media asking for interviews under contexts such as “The New Faces of Ireland” or the “Black Underground Dublin Music Scene”, what the fuck does that even mean? Can we just focus on the primary thing I‟m doing? If you‟re creating something worthy, all these characteristics of yours should be secondary.

Just to clarify, I am not saying those gatekeepers and the ones responsible for the celebration of the “doers” in Irish society are racist, I‟m saying everyone doing something with an impact should be acknowledged without those labels and boundaries, and the only way for that to happen is for people to grow the balls and put aside their race, background, or style of music or whatever and just let their work speak for them… So I guess how I differ is the fact that I have the balls and more to look beyond these superficial elements; like I said in a recent interview, I don‟t give a shit about anything but what I am creating and by God, anywhere the greats are being mentioned, I will be there. If you‟re talking about great records or killing it at live shows, Croke Park, the 3 Arena, wait „til I get there and I‟ll show you there‟s no fucking way my thinking, actions and glory will ever go denied.”

How important are your band in the essence of your music?

“It is kind of a weird one. My band is not an orthodox type of band, we play together, jam together but we don‟t create/write together like say, the typical music band. I create all the musical aspects but when we get together, whether in rehearsals or on stage, their vision and energy brings out the hidden and subtle energy behind those songs. It‟s like when you get your chips and burger from McDonalds‟, you‟ve gotta get the ketchup to make it a proper meal. D.O.G., Princess and Michaeal (my dj, drummer and bassist), you can say are the ketchup to my chips and burger. I rate and value them highly, and you can see by the reaction of the crowd at every single show that they are doing something really great.”

What artists do you draw inspiration from?

“I listen to a wide variety of music. With my African background, I listen to a lot of King Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti and Asa especially for their contexts. I tend to listen to African artists when I‟m in a radiant mood, there‟s a lot of warmth and sun in their music, maybe it‟s an African thing, you know with the warm climate. Also listen to a lot of American hiphop and soul (Nas, Kanye, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Talib, J. Cole, Common, etc.), but I feel that I can never fully relate, maybe because I didn‟t grow up in that environment but these guys are the pioneers and the ones that are primarily responsible for pushing forward the black music culture and breaking boundaries, meaning they must be doing something right in their storytelling, production, communication and business practices. I‟d be daft not to study and learn from them. My musical view is quite diversed though, I love Bjork, Little Dragon, Gorillaz, MJ, South African House Music, throw in some Jazz and Tito Puente too but no Tiesto please.”

You put a lot of energy into your live show. Do you think we live in an age where a gig has to make as big a statement as an album?

“Shows in my opinion definitely have to be a big statement, probably a bigger statement than the album. The thing about a live show is that it is an opportunity to give life and interpretation to these words and sounds you‟ve strung together in your bedroom or wherever. People at my shows have blessed me with some minutes of their lives to search for my songs on YouTube, SoundCloud and engage with it, so when I get on that stage, it‟s time to show appreciation and gratitude. It‟s like we‟re in this together and fuck the rest of the world, unless they want to join us. My songs are like the training days in the premier league, the shows are my match days and you really ought to know I‟m getting those three points.”

What has been your favourite live show so far?

“Besides the State Faces of 2014 show where everyone went nuts, the recent support show with Mos Def at Vicar St. has to be a serious contender. You know, I had people in the crowd who‟ve come to know me now as a “doer of this music”, they knew my fucking songs and sang along, nearly 2000 people showing so much love for this random chap from Parkwest. It was a real emotional show too, as I told them the story about my deceased friend who once told me that one day he expects me to be on that stage making a difference. Unfortunately, when the time came, he was no longer with us but his presence was felt when the whole crowd cheered and applauded his memory.”

If you could open for one artist who would it be?

“This will sound either confident or arrogant, depending on who‟s reading but I‟ve always held the firm belief that my ultimate purpose is to be the main event at everything I do. So I never really think of artists I‟d like to open for. There are a few artists I‟d love to meet though; but in the most respectful and humbling way, I don‟t see why I couldn‟t play my cards to be on an equal playing field with the best of them.”

When and where is your next gig?

“December 20th at Opium Rooms in Dublin. It‟s been a fantastic year for me and those around me (musically, personal relationships, personal successes, etc.) so I feel it‟s only right we give a show that demonstrates our appreciation for those supporting and those blessing us with the opportunities.

Playing with my band, we also have really good friends of mine, visionary guys supporting the show. ProFound, a really young bright guy from Blanch with so much to say and give, there‟ll also be a hiphop dance group (All Stars Deuces Company) and several Arts and Graffiti Exhibitions. It‟s long overdue, but we‟re bringing the culture together on this show. Call me a Psychic if you will, but next year is gonna be a great year, a game changer for those who are staying hungry and working smart and for the entire culture in Ireland.”

Do you have an album in the works?

“I have enough materials to put out an album but I‟m a fan of smart work over hard work. Giving the circumstances, being independent, perhaps putting out an album now is not the most effective and efficient way of spreading out this vision. I do have several EPs and mixtapes though, which I plan to release next year with the first being around April/May 2015.”

What hip hop albums have caught your ear this year?

“God Knows My Name is John – Rusangano/Family (Ireland)

Ghetts – Rebel with a Cause (UK)

T.I – Paperwork (USA)

SchoolBoyQ – OxyMoron (USA)

Jessy Jagz – Jagz Nation Volume 2 (Nigeria)

Bas – Last Winter (USA)

Nipsey Hussle – Crenshaw (USA)

M.I – The Chairman (Nigeria)

Looking forward to J.Cole‟s 2014 Forest Hill Drive out this week and still gotta get the new Wu Tang Clan album.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAHR-rKuT2s

Simi Crowns will perform in Opium Rooms Dublin December 20th, tickets €10.

Wu Tang Clan – A Better Tomorrow

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For such a notorious and legendary group, the Wu Tang Clan has been lacking consistency on their most recent releases. It is important to realise that many of these albums were mainly criticised for not having been a replication of their debut 36 Chambers, which is unfair, but it was also hard to deny that they had somewhat lost the magic they once had in 1993. However, artists grow and evolve. They may not be delivering the same message of chopping heads and protecting necks, but what they are preaching in 2014 is far more important and relevant. A Better Tomorrow carries the message that we should all be working towards what the title suggests. With constant protests in America and bubbling turmoil between the police and the public, this is the album that the world needs right now from the group, one that carries a message of not just peace, but hope also.

There may have been plenty of in group aggravation during the lead up to its release, but you would never guess it when listening, aside from RZA telling Raekwon “all those bad times is behind us” on opener Ruckus in B Minor. It is a much more united and positive project than what we are used to from the Wu. ‘40th Street Black/We Will Fight’ perhaps encapsulates this unity best with its chanting hook and each emcee delivering some of the best work on the record over the funky, stomping brass beat.

Each member of the group is present at some stage throughout the 15 tracks, even the late Ol Dirty Bastard pops up a couple times. The best verses come from GZA’s insightful bars, Method Man’s hoarse and bouncy flow and Inspectah Deck, who remains as under rated as ever. Even the incredibly ill fitting harmonies on ‘Miracle’ can’t overshadow Ghostface Killah’s raw emotion and that closes out the song.

The production is some of the best we’ve heard from RZA in a while. The gritty, sampled loops that fans had grown accustomed to have been replaced with more instruments, to create bigger and more slick sound than we have heard before. You are given more of an insight into the musician side of RZA, one that scored Kill Bill for Quentin Tarantino, and it allows for a consistently interesting and evolving sound throughout. However, he has not abandoned his original creation and often samples kung fu movies and older Wu tracks to bring it full circle.

After spending over $500,000 just to get everyone together to record the album, it is clear that RZA had a lot more riding on it than many of the other members. However, he has done a lot more than just create an authentic Wu album. He has managed to adapt the message and sound of a group who have been around for over 20 years, while of course keeping it “rough, rugged, real and raw”. This very well may be the last time we hear them record together so going out on a positively high note was perhaps the best exit route for the group.

4/5

-Ross Logan

Top 5: Run The Jewels

Killer Mike and El-P will make their way to Ireland for their sold out gig in Opium Rooms, Dublin on December 21st, with support from God Knows & mynameisjOhn. In anticipation of the gig, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite Run The Jewels tracks. Let us know if you think we left anything out in the comments.

– Run The Jewels

This self titled track was a mission statement from the two and also set the tone for their debut album.

– A Christmas Fuckin Miracle

Also from their debut album, this track definitely ranks high in my favourite Christmas songs of all time.

-Blockbuster Night Part 1

The first track released from RTJ2 features both emcees trading verses over El-P’s stomping production.

-Close Your Eyes & Count To Fuck

Featuring Zack De La Rocha from Rage Against the Machine, this song sums up the overall political themes explored on RTJ2.

– Early

Both Mike & El-P deliver some their best work with these two verses. A masterclass in songwriting and storytelling & also a song that grows frighteningly more relevant each day.