Supposedly, this is finished. Supposedly, Daft Punk helped out with a couple of tracks. Supposedly, when it was played for the label, the bigwigs flipped out. But what are they going to do? Criticize Kayne to his face? We only ask for two things: no Auto-Tune, no songs dedicated to Kim. Yes, we are deeply naive.
Jay-Z and Kanye West- Watch The Throne Tour, United Center 11/30/2011
Photo: Erica Gannett
A few hours before Wednesday night’s visit from the Kanye West/Jay-Z Watch the Throne tour at the United Center I told a friend I’d heard the hip-hop megastars weren’t planning to take the stage until 9pm, despite the show’s stated 7:30pm start. He scoffed and said no crowd would stand for that without an opening act. Who did these guys think they were?
And yet, there I was at 8pm, 8:30, 9, 9:15, watching the crowd drink cocktails and laugh under the bright lights of the UC. No DJ to entertain them. No opening act. And no complaints. It was if everyone got together and decided we should be honored bytheir lateness. Clearly, these two could get away with just about anything, and when they finally took the stage at 9:20pm, it was immediately evident why.
Appropriately, the Watch the Throne tour begins each show with the two self-proclaimed kings rising up above the crowd on large cubes placed on opposite sides of the arena. Images of rabid dogs and peaceful doves flash across the cubes, and as the duo launches into “Throne Music,” it’s hard not to be just a little honored by their lateness. They are, after all, the biggest stars in hip-hop, and arguably the music industry today. That’ll buy you a late start any day of the week, but even kings need to work for their loyalty now and then, and Kanye and Jay-Z worked their asses off Wednesday, on the first night of their two-show stop in Chicago. They’ll do it again at 7:30ish Thursday.
Over the course of three hours, they ran through 46 monster hits and covers before ending the night with even more proof that this team is writing its own rules and everyone else is just following along. At every stop on the tour, they’ve performed the song “Niggas in Paris” multiple times in a row. They started with three, then five, then seven. This Chicago crowd was clearly in on the bit and milked it for all it was worth when the duo left the stage and said goodnight after only singing the song twice. They came back, of course, chanting “That shit’s cray!” for a third time, as Jay-Z told security to back off so the crowd could swarm the floor, fill the aisles and turn the arena into a giant club.
At the end of each song, Kanye or Jay-Z said, simply, “Again.” And, “Again.” And, “Again.” By the record-tying seventh time, it was obvious Kanye wanted to bring the prestigious record for most consecutive performances of “Niggas in Paris” home to Chicago.
“Again,” they ordered the DJ.
It was a “cray” display of excess in a night that was otherwise somewhat understated.
Aside from the hydraulic platforms and a stunning laser light show, there were no gimmicks or elaborate sets—just two amazing rappers busting out rhymes that everyone in the house knew by heart.
Kanye largely stuck to the script, but was obviously happy to be home again. Standing under the six Chicago Bulls championship banners and wearing a huge grin across his face, he gave shout outs to Scottie Pippen and Derrick Rose. “Scottie, I know you are up in the booth. I told you to sit in the V.I.P. area,” he said while perched above the V.I.P. area for a spectacular solo set of some of his biggest hits, including “Runaway,” “Heartless” and “Stronger.”
Though Kanye clearly had more stage time on Wednesday, Jay-Z wasn’t about to forfeit the throne, bringing the crowd to its feet for hits like “Empire State of Mind” and “On to the Next One,” among others.
There were touching moments as well. After heart-thumping renditions of “Power” and “Made in America,” Kanye and Jay-Z sat down next to one another on the stage and delivered an emotional “New Day.” Kanye West, arguably the most arrogant man on the planet, rhymed about how he would never let a child of his own have an ego, while expectant father Jay-Z seemed to be speaking directly to his unborn child with lyrics like, “My dad left me and I promise I’ll never leave ya.”
It was a night filled with powerful words and performances, but perhaps the most thought-provoking moment came when the two rappers let Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” speak volumes against a series of less-than-wonderful images such as Vietnam, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the bombing of Hiroshima and a video of a small boy and a woman who appears to be his proud mother dressed head to toe in Klu Klux Klan attire. Two men who have so much to say ironically delivered their strongest message by not saying a word.