Killer Mike Kills It At First Avenue


There for a while, I felt like I was seeing Run The Jewels every couple of months. That’s not at all a complaint but I absolutely took it for granted. I started missing their sets at festivals and not going out of my way to catch them when they came close to Minneapolis. That was my bad and then, out of nowhere, their shows seemed to run out. I stopped seeing them pop up on my calendar and it broke my heart. That’s why I was so excited to see Killer Mike from the group perform at First Avenue on Monday night. Well, that’s one of the many reasons.

Kicking the night off was local rapper Dwynell Roland. Much like Run The Jewels, I feel like there was a time when I was seeing Dwynell’s name everywhere and then, out of nowhere, it just stopped. I don’t know if he took a break or he just wasn’t playing shows that came across my radar but, regardless, I was thrilled when he got added to this line-up and knew that I wasn’t going to miss this comeback performance of sorts. Born and raised in Minneapolis, Dwynell has become a huge bright spot in an already shining Twin Cities hip-hop/rap scene and he proved on Monday night that, although he took a short break in my book, he’s not going anywhere. He took the stage with a sense of power and intensity while staying true to his Minnesota-bred style of rap.

Dwynell seemed to acknowledge his recent absence from the local scene with the way he interacted with the crowd and vice versa. He spent his last two songs from both the barricade and audience which definitely got people excited and added something special to his set but, the most touching moment of his set was as he ended a brand new track. I didn’t take enough notes to tell you what song it was or anything like that but I can tell you that even after Dwynell stopped rapping and the DJ had cut the beat, the audience was left repeating the final line over and over again. Whether it was Dwynell or I who took the break here, I underestimated how much power he would come back with and I am beyond stoked to have him back.

Between Dwynell’s opening set and the headlining set from Killer Mike was a DJ set from Trackstar the DJ. This man has done it all but, for me, the highlight is that he is the DJ from Run The Jewels and his come-up story is one that sounds completely fabricated in all the right ways. Long story short, this DJ from Wisconsin saw Killer Mike’s phone number, gave it a call, and, after some conversations, became the DJ (okay, there’s a lot more to that story but that’s the quick and dirty version). Trackstar spent his time spinning a little bit of everything from nostalgic favorites to iconic hits of today. He did a great job of both giving the audience a little bit of energy while showing off his undeniable skills. Unfortunately, I was also covering the show downstairs at the more intimate 7th Street Entry so I wasn’t able to stick around for his entire time spent on stage but, what I did catch was unique, dynamic, and perfect.

The air was ripe with anticipation as Trackstar the DJ left the stage and made room for the one and only Killer Mike. The stage was turned over to look a bit like a church complete with pews, white flowers, and a choir. That’s right. In one of the coolest moves I’ve ever seen, Killer Mike brought a couple of choral singers with him on this tour and it was one of the best value adds I’ve seen at a concert in a real long time. The man of many names (but was going by Michael on Monday according to the introducer) took the stage for a roar of applause I honestly don’t know if my hearing will ever recover from it.

First, let’s lay out a bit about who Killer Mike is. As I’ve mentioned, he’s a member of Run The Jewels who took the scene and world over by storm just a couple of years ago. Michael is also so much more than just that one project. Born Michael Santiago Render, Killer Mike has rapped with some of the greatest greats including his debut on Outkast’s 2000 album, ‘Stankonia’. He went on to do tracks with Dr. Dre, CeeLo Green, 2 Chainz– I mean, I could literally sit here and list name after name but I think you get the point. Beyond that, Michael has also done some acting, voice acting, and even started an online bank for underserved communities. Hang on– still not done. Michael is also a truly inspirational human with all of his activist work. Feel free to go on a deep dive yourself as I don’t want to sit here all day telling you all of the nitty-gritty details but let me just say that Michael is one of those humans we all strive to be and he does it with a sense of passion and fire that we could all use a little bit more of.

That fire and passion came through loud and clear throughout his twenty-one-song set. Whether he was performing a song or addressing the packed audience between songs, there was something undeniably genuine about everything this man said and did. There was one moment where I think I saw him tearing up which was such a small moment of a huge show but was something that will stick with me for years. Towards the beginning of his set, Michael talked about men’s mental health which is something that is constantly overlooked. Seeing those words turn into actions with that raw emotion he showed on stage was something that was more powerful than my words could ever explain to you so I won’t even try.

Michael’s set was full of all kinds of music but every song that he performed was clearly that of Killer Mike. From songs that really leaned into the gospel choir behind him to tracks that focused more on the rap side of things with a harsh tongue and an endless amount of attitude. Regardless of the style of the song, Michael had the entire audience in the palm of his hand throughout the lengthy set and left with the audience both begging for more and satisfied.

Seeing Killer Mike at First Avenue was one of those truly special moments that will be engraved in my memory for years to come.