Jay-Z and Kanye West
December 11, 2011
From the Givenchy-designed gold cover to lyrics dripping with foreign luxury brand references like “Hublot” and “Margiela” to the video in which they chop up a $350,000 Maybach for giggles, Jay-Z and Kanye West's album Watch The Throne raised plenty of eyebrows when it was released in August. The effort revealed the rappers to be floating in the 1 percent in a year when most of the country finally realized it had sunk to the lower class.
With the cheapest tickets at $100 and some floor seats jacked to $600 on scalper sites, the sold-out Staples Center was full of those who somehow have disposable income right before the holidays. No, The Throne probably didn't unite rich and poor last night, but those grumbles about their being out of touch were premature. Though the duo may be old money at this point, Jay and Kanye haven't forgotten the value of a fan's dollar, nor what those fans pay those dollars to see. At a little over two hours, the show gave 'em their money's worth.
How do you know Jay and 'Ye have reached the upper echelons of wealth? Everything, down to the zinc oxide used to paint on Kanye's tribal forearm tattoos, must be expensive, but nothing screams its pricetag. The show began with grandiose operatic strains while the rappers rose on two cubes designed with light installations and video projections (doves soared, Rottweilers snarled, sharks grinned menacingly) that likely are the work of some newly, hotly celebrated artist.
Both wore all black, presumably by Givenchy: simple t-shirts, with cargo pants for Jay and a leather leggings and kilt combo for Kanye. The silk American flag bandana hanging from Jay-Z's back pocket probably cost more than my entire wardrobe.
Segueing into “H•A•M,” the two rappers were spotlighted by a laser show, again designed with precision and restraint. The music fell away, and Jay finished his verse a cappella. Who invented swag? The definitive answer is Jay-Z, and as the godfather of such, he effortlessly owned the show.
If there's any competition between Jay-Z and Kanye, it's the friendly sort — mostly because Jay seems like the cool older brother to 'Ye's socially awkward, attention-starved middle child. Last night, Jay's clothing ensembles were demure, and he never sweated, literally or figuratively. Kanye's costumes, on the other hand, were curious (again, he was wearing a leather skirt). His determined, almost endearingly inelegant dancing left him drenched.
It's also obvious Jay-Z began as a performer and Kanye, behind the scenes. Jay's interaction with the crowd came naturally, and he threw winning grins to the audience like Lebron does after he sinks an impossible three-pointer. Kanye's seemed a little forced, even during his extended, R. Kelly-inspired pleas in “Runaway.” Tearing my eyes away from Jay was a feat, especially as he chewed gum and bobbed his head while Kanye rapped his verse on “New Day.”
Equal time was given to both rappers' solo hits, much to the delight of their respective fans (it's a bit of a “Are you a Michael Jackson or a Prince person” question, no?). Kanye's highlights included “Touch the Sky” and a funny bit during “All of the Lights” that self-deprecatingly alluded to his perfectionist, prickly public persona. Jay reached all the way back to 1997's In My Lifetime Vol. 1 for “Where I'm From” as well as rapped Pimp C's verse on “Big Pimpin'” a cappella.
The guys ended the show with a seven-play of their hit-gone-gorillas, “Niggas in Paris,” but the moment that most revealed their relationship came right before, during “99 Problems.” As Jay-Z launched into one of the best verses of all time, Kanye jumped in to voice the part of the cop. Jay let him play.
Critical bias: I would agree to repeat my teenage years in order to go back in time and see Jay-Z live in '97.
The crowd: If you still need it, Jay and Ye's show demographic was proof that hip hop's gone pop. Everybody was there, from models to Jimmy Jam to old white guys in Adidas tracksuits to lesbian couples to Brian Grazer and his kids.
A note on fashion: The '90s are all the way back. Spotted a hip girl in acid-washed overalls with one strap hanging loose.
Random notebook dump: Shout out to the asshole recording the show on his iPad. Hope you enjoy watching Jay-Z and Kanye West later as opposed to the time you bought $300 tickets to see them LIVE.
Set list below.
Who Gon Stop Me
Welcome to the Jungle
Gotta Have It
Where I'm From
Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)
Can't Tell Me Nothing
All Falls Down
Diamonds from Sierra Leone
Public Service Announcement
U Don't Know
Run This Town
Made in America
Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)
Empire State of Mind
On to the Next One
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
That's My Bitch
Touch the Sky
All of the Lights
No Church in the Wild
Niggas in Paris (seven times)