Thanks to Cole Halpern for sharing this review of what may just have been the blockbuster concert event of 2011.
On the eve of his 42nd birthday, legendary rapper and hip hop mogul Jay-Z joined Kanye West to perform as Watch The Throne at New Orleans Arena for nearly three straight hours of downright mesmerizing excitement.
It’s tough to classify a mere duo as a super group, but there’s little dissent over whether these two are befitting of the title and, after Saturday night, such a moniker may even fall short of describing this powerhouse.
Jay and Kanye initially appeared simultaneously, but on two separate stages, with one at the back of the main floor of the arena and the other on the main stage. As the music kicked in, the stages elevated, providing an illusion of floating megastars above their adoring fans. The LED screens at the sides of the platforms portrayed images of sharks, cheetahs attacking their prey and various wildlife. Throughout the night, suggestive social images overtook the screens, complimented by substantial laser effects that filled the room and further added to the show’s bravado and big ticket mystique.
As for the music, the lengthy set kicked off with H*A*M” and the hard-hitting, techno-infused beats of “I Can’t Stop,” a version executed to sheer perfection. HOVA performed the song’s final verse a capella, in keeping with past tendencies. Eventually the two hip-hop juggernauts joined forces on the main stage and performed “Otis,” the latest single off of their new album Watch the Throne.
Jay commanded the audience with his laid-back demeanor, while Kanye revved up the floor with his sense for the dramatic and seemingly bottomless pit of energy. While onstage together they ran through most of their new songs and a few oldies but goodies, such as “Monster,” “Run this Town” and “Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix)” and a soulful and rare performance of Kanye’s hit “All Falls Down.”
As for crowd response, “Gotta Have it” notably made the audience implode into wild celebration. This duet rides on a complex, quasi-tribal beat, and working together in concert definitely brought out the best in each other. Kanye’s light voice and Jigga Man’s deep flow complimented each other nicely as the two went to work, and at times they’d take a chance to assist each other and ad lib a verse.
It was an incredible dynamic that even the casual hip-hop fan could appreciate, watching these two generational talents work together.
Eventually Kanye headed backstage before elevating himself for a five- or six-song segment that included slower hits like “Heartless” and “Runaway.” This portion stood in sharp contrast from the loud and bumpin’ opening set of the show, but didn’t disappoint without his royal counterpart. The high stage was draped in solid red lights and more of the slick, glitzy lasers that accented the show’s early going.
Next, Jay took the stage solo, knocking out hits like “Empire State Of Mind” and an intriguing, enigmatic and notably dark version of “On to the Next One,” performed in the dark with the exception of a green laser display behind him. The soon-to-be 42-year-old’s flow and cadence remains as crisp and forceful as it has ever been. There were no slip-ups and Jay’s delivery remains is as good as ever.
“Dirt off Your Shoulders” closed out Jay-Z’s mini-set before Kanye joined him once again for the final portion of the show. When he came back out, Jay donned the classic all-black look in a hoody with black jeans and original red Air Jordans. He also had on a trio gold rope necklaces, a staple of urban New York style from the early hip-hop era.
This was the real climax of the show, as it afforded the opportunity to see just how well these close friends and lyrical geniuses feed off of each other. As they sat on the foot of the stage and the music for a “New Day” came on, Kanye proclaimed that this “was the realest sh*t [he had] ever written.” The large screens that kept close-ups on Jay and Kanye’s faces throughout the concert showed a visibly emotional expression on the controversial rapper when he spit the line, “I’ll never let his mom move to L.A. / knowing that she can’t take the pressure now lets all pray,” before Jay remarked in his verse “it took me 26 years for me to find my path.”
The line reminds that Jay has been a consistent force in the music industry since 1996, an unprecedented longevity while maintaining relevance in the hip-hop world. The song was followed by Kanye’s insistence on listening to Jay do the timeless classic “Hard Knock Life,” a move that showed his admiration for his long time mentor. The set continued with “Big Pimpin’,” hard hitting version of the Rick Rubin produced “99 Problems” with Ye helping on the track, “H to the Hizzo,” Jay’s “Public Service Announcement” and “Good Life.”
The show initially ended when Kanye threw down his mic and signaled to Jay with a huge smile that he had had enough. This, however, was not before they decided to play their song “Ni***s in Paris” as an encore, seven times in a row. After the fourth rendition, Jay asked audience members in the front row, “you promise you won’t be mad?” Then they went on for the fifth, sixth and seventh performances of the song.
Their energy and enthusiasm never regressed and, despite the repetition, the crowd responded ever louder and more enthusiastically. The reception, the excitement and the passion of the artists during this show demonstrated that no matter how old they get, they’ve still got it. They also proved that after all of these years and all of these hits they remain unparalleled in the rap game, a supposedly young man’s industry. It is unbelievable that they can be so good, for so long.
Well into the first version of his encore, Mr. West he remarked to the audience that “you are now watching the throne,” and he was correct. Long live the kings.
Cole Halpern, a third-year student at Loyola University Law School, wrote this review for Live Music Blog: NOLA, a content partner of NolaVie.