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Hip Hop Happenings: Laneway Festival: Run the Jewels, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt

Wednesday, 26 February, 2014

Though it may be premature to call the recent Laneway Festival sideshow from Run the Jewels, Danny Brown, and Earl Sweatshirt the ‘best show of the year’, the bar has been set incredibly high for every other hip-hop artist visiting Australian shores this year.

The show opened with duo Run the Jewels, and their entrance onto the stage set the theme for the rest of the night. First Killer Mike arrived on stage brandishing a bottle of champagne, which, after taking a swig, he gladly shared with the crowd. The other half of the duo, El-P, arrived on stage with a bottle of Grey Goose and the pair was ready to wind the crowd up—getting everyone hyped for what was to follow.

Once the crowd was completely geared up, Run the Jewels tore into their setlist which came almost exclusively from their debut album Run the Jewels. The duo was masterfully able to translate the aggression, speed and technical abilities of the album into their live performance. Both rappers never missed a beat, save for a small interlude from Killer Mike claiming that Melbourne had the best marijuana in Australia, which–as expected–got a huge round of applause from the largely under-21 crowd. With the banter somewhat unpredictable, Killer Mike toyed with the crowd, shouting out, “what’s up Sydney”? Meanwhile El-P delivered motivational speeches while he policed the moshpit. By the time their set was done, Run the Jewels had left the crowd buzzing. Their show had been tight and was a perfect introduction to the hard-party anthems of the next act, Danny Brown.

Before his appearance, Danny Brown’s DJ played a small mix of Trap and Drill favourites–Hard in Da Paint by Waka Flocka Flame and Love Sosa by Chief Keef. The intense reaction from the crowd showed that the anticipation was palpable. By the time Danny Brown came out sporting dark shades and an AC/DC t-shirt, the crowd was in rapture. As the intense bass lines from Break It (Go) flowed through the crowd, so started another 50 minutes of ridiculousness from both Danny and his audience. Danny Brown’s repertoire of completely insane party anthems made the set fly with only a slight break for 25 Bucks, a more sombre (though only ever in the catalogue of Danny Brown would it be considered ‘calm’) song from his new album.

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Following Danny Brown’s set, the crowd thinned out somewhat and didn’t really refill–a surprise, considering the popularity of Earl and Odd Future in Australia. Appearing with two other members of Odd Future, Domo Genesis and Taco, Earl Sweatshirt left the monotone mumbling he was famous for far behind and instead brought an infectious energy to the stage as he and his mates played around on stage. The ‘informal’ act didn’t suffer from the clowning around of Earl, Domo and Taco. Even El-P from Run the Jewels joined them at one point to writhe around on stage in an attempt to distract whoever was rapping. Despite his energy, the mood was much more calm during Earl’s performance, no doubt due to his type of music. Because of the strength of his deliveries and quality as a rapper, however, Earl still made his show hold up to the raw force of Run the Jewels and Danny Brown. For all hip-hop acts to follow, it is going to be incredibly difficult for anyone to match the ability, energy and showmanship of Run the Jewels, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt.

Perhaps the only letdown of the night was that Danny Brown seemed particularly sedate. The lanky Detroit native has recently tweeted that at the behest of his cat he has given up drinking ‘lean’ (a concoction made up of cough syrup and typically mixed with soft drink). It is hard to say, however, whether or not this affected his performance. Although he gave a professional performance, he didn’t share the unchained enthusiasm as the other acts on the night. Given that his repertoire also includes darker, less boisterous songs that communicate the difficulties of growing up poor in Detroit and the struggles associated with living a straight-edged life when one is surrounded by crime, he could have chosen tracks more appropriate for how he was feeling on that night. However, this side of Danny Brown is unlikely to be seen in a live performance for the same reason he does not mix his more serious themes with his party tracks–he knows what makes him money. Side A of his recent album release Old was dedicated to the realities of his youth and his experiences as a young man, while Side B was dedicated to party tracks. He has indicated previously that in order to portray his serious messages, he also has to be able to sell records, hence the split personality of his new album. Undoubtedly the same logic applies to his live shows; to get people through the gates Danny Brown must play his popular party tracks. While this provides an awesome show it also deprives his fans of seeing him perform his songs that showcase his best examples of emotional lyricism and technical ability. But hey, his show was still crazy good so I shouldn’t complain.