Photo: Clayton Hauck

There was a lot of chatter about whether Killer Mike and El-P would join forces to perform as Run the Jewels, an ace collaboration that produced the best rap album of the year so far: A true marriage of each artist’s exceptional ability that is available for free download on Fool’s Gold.

The pair worked with Goose Island on a signature Run the Jewels brew for the VIPs of the Pitchfork fest—and that was a strong positive indicator—but as of Sunday afternoon we were still left to wonder.

At an inspiring 2:30 solo set on the Green stage by Killer Mike, the hulking Atlanta rapper played equal parts activist orator and sinister MC. Then, after that, his Run the Jewels counterpart El-P took to the adjacent Red stage and launched into solo cuts such as “The Full Retard,” a track he described—tongue planted firmly in cheek—as “a really sensitive song” that “I wrote while I was crying.” Right.

But then something magical happened. “I hope it’s OK, but I want to start this all over again with some theme music,” proclaimed the Brooklyn-based half of Jewels. And then, the two MCs reappeared, adorned with their signature 36-inch gold chains, to steer the rest of timeslot as Run the Jewels. Onlookers went nuts.  

A live bongo player joined them for opening song “Run the Jewels,” the duo’s theme, which in part draws from the sonic touchpoints of 70s blaxploitation films. Then they deftly spit the rest of self-titled release, eliciting much fanfare during standouts such as “Banana Clipper,” “Get It,” and “Sea Legs,” which takes a dig at Jay and Kanye’s “Niggas in Paris.”

Killer Mike even snuck in a few more calls to action. “Take care of each other,” he pleaded. “Make a new friend.” “Get to know your neighbor.” Whether Mike’s personal mission hit home remains to be seen. “I just went to church and a killer rapper show,” the guy next to me said. But there’s no doubt the Jewels set left a lasting impression.