Last weekend, Kanye West and Jay-Z threw down more than two-hours’ worth of stellar material in a pairing that had each of them dropping solo hits as well as impressive, stadium-filling tracks off this year’s “Watch the Throne.”
I won’t ramble on and on about the album title “Watch the Throne” coming from a basis of insecurity when its real message is to warn away the competition, but suffice it to say I don’t think the title works.
Back to the live event: Obviously it was the perfect occasion to wear gold. So I got all metaled up, headed to my friend’s place in Gastown where I ate delicious vegetarian stew and drank tasty Prosecco. It was lovely, golden and sparkling to match my bling! Yes.
To begin the show, the New Yorker (Jay-Z) and the Chicagoan (Kanye) faced off on opposing platforms, trading verses from H.A.M. and Who Gon Stop Me, both new tracks from their latest offering. It was a face-off of sorts, as intimidating images of rottweilers, sharks, bears and cheetahs — all with teeth bared — were splashed across several giant screens. It was an obvious warning to all opponents: do not mess with these dudes. For their hit single Otis, the pair joined forces on the main stage with a gargantuan American flag in the background and fireballs bursting out from either side. Epic.
Then it was ‘Ye’s turn. He threw down some solo hits: Flashing Lights, All Falls Down, Homecoming, and later on, Stronger and All of the Lights. Kanye’s live sound was larger-than-life. And all his tracks were paired with some of the most incredible laser-work I’ve ever seen. Take a look at my laser photos below, though they don’t really do it justice.
Pretty wow-factor, hey?
During Runaway, Kanye rose up on a cube-shaped stage, completely illuminated in red. He crooned into the mic while throwing down some fancy R&B dance moves, which were impressive, though his auto-tuned voice was a little distracting.
Before the tender beats of the duo’s inspirational new track Made in America rang out, Kanye spoke to the crowd about the importance of putting aside your ego and collaborating with your fellow man to achieve your dreams. Jus’ like ‘Ye and Jay! Hundreds of phone screens lit up in appreciation. Though this may have irked any truly “hard” members of the audience, it was really uplifting to see this track performed live. It’s not often a rap/hip-hop star will wax emotional, so this felt pretty special. Also, the song was paired with visuals of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X on the jumbo screens, which really hammered home the song’s themes.
The dudes carried the warm and fuzzy approach forward with a touching rendition of New Day, during which they sat down side-by-side and traded personal verses about fatherhood. This was made even more sentimental by the fact that Jay is expecting. I looked around and saw nothing but grins.
Then, it was Jay’s turn: Dirt off Your Shoulder, Big Pimpin’, 99 Problems… all were delivered with incredible precision, dedication and style. Hova did not miss a single beat. When the first few beats of Empire State of Mind dripped from the speakers, I think I may have gone completely insane. Blissfit! I LOVE this track! As the unofficial anthem for NYC, it was absolutely brilliant to see this performed live. I’m planning to hit NYC for my 30th b-day, so I was extra stoked on this — particularly since Kanye *just* encouraged me to follow my dreams! Anyway, after seeing Jay-Z live tonight for the first time, I can whole-heartedly attest that this guy is at the top of his game.
Moving the set along smoothly, Hova and Yeezy threw down No Church in the Wild. Set against a macabre backdrop of vintage KKK video clips and featuring a slow, ominous bass-line, this track came across with amazing live energy.
Next came Lift Off, though with no surprise appearance by Beyonce (darn!). Unfortunately, the song was cut short to make way for Niggas in Paris. I say “unfortunately” because the bossa nova bit at the end of Lift Off is the best.
As one of the more serious hip-hop-head tracks on “Watch the Throne,” I was definitely expecting to hear Niggas in Paris. I was also expecting to see everyone around me drop it pretty damn low — which they did.
The dudes wrapped up the song and left the stage. When the roar of the crowd brought them back out for the encore, they looked at each other, looked at the audience, and then shouted “AGAIN!”
So we got down to Niggaz in Paris for the second time. Sweet.
And when it ended, ‘Ye and Jay shouted, “AGAIN!”
Ok… yes… still droppin’ it! Yeah.
And then, four times (“again!”), five times (“again!”), six times (“again!”), seven times (“again!”), eight times (“again!”)… I should note that there was nothing different about the song each time, it was the exact same beat, same lyrics — over and over again.
Then Kanye started yelling a bunch of crap about setting a “world record for Niggas in Paris,” as though ‘setting a world record for the number of times an artist can play their own song without the audience going berzerk’ is a feat worth bragging about.
Then Jay-Z says, “We set the record at ten times in LA,” and they both shouted, “TEN TIMESSS…!!!… AGAIN!” My friend and I look at each other desperately. “But they’re only at eight!” I cried. “This is ri-DIC-ulous!” So we were subjected to three more renditions of Niggaz in Paris.
Same song, same lyrics — 11 times.
“Well, I’ve certainly never seen an artist do that before,” I said to my friend as a way to justify the last, wasted 35 minutes of our lives. But the more I thought about it, the more pissed I became.
I thought and thought, and I just couldn’t come up with a way for ‘Ye and Jay to justify playing the same song 11 times. Between them, they have a catalogue of several hundred songs. Do you think the audience wanted to hear 11 of those songs? Or Niggas in Paris 11 times in a row?
If you want my honest opinion, (and why else would you be here?) it was the most self-indulgent thing I have ever witnessed at a live performance — ever.
And I hope I never hear that song again — ever.
You know, it’s too bad, because this really overshadowed the rest of an otherwise-great performance. The silverbacks of hip-hop definitely owned tha house on Sunday night. But I wish they’d remembered that their fans were also in the building.