tue 19/09/2017

Jay-Z & Kanye West Watch The Throne, O2 Arena | reviews, news & interviews

Jay-Z & Kanye West Watch The Throne, O2 Arena

Jay-Z & Kanye West Watch The Throne, O2 Arena

Did hip hop's emperors rest on their laurels?

Kanye West (left) and Jay-Z in Givenchy-designed 'Watch the Throne' outfits

One image remains stuck from Watch the Throne's second of five sold-out nights in London; it’s a song-long vision of Kanye West and Jay-Z – aka J Hova or just Hov – sat side by side for Hov’s “Hard Knock Life”. Hov’s words fell out of his mouth seemingly effortlessly as the track's structure emerged while ‘Ye sat in a silent, contemplative stoop - his dripping sweat and jewellery making him look post-marathon mid-set.

They’re hip hop’s biggest stars, sure, but here we have two very different entities. For their numerous collaborations – aside from the Watch the Throne album, some of Jay-Z's biggest past hits like “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “Run This Town” have been Kanye-produced – their onstage personalities are miles apart. There’s Kanye West, defined by his unicorns-and-high-fashion imagination and occasional emotional incontinence, and Jay-Z, whose rolling rhymes came to fame in part due to the steely sharpness and harsh realities of his street-dealer braggadocio.

Jay-Z and Kanye West’s tag-team effort highlighted how they’ve defined hip hop - and the command they have over their audience

Wealth was the common denominator, but it didn't define them and the night went far deeper. The tiger projections, laser displays, flames and giant American flags may have been an aggressive display, but with little to prove and some glorious music to showcase they know they can get away with it. Two and a half hours passed as the O2 erupted into an atmosphere more like a club than a concert, its 18,000 attendees basking in the presence of their modern-day icons.

But for all the stature of Watch the Throne, the show wasn't without faults - namely, the way Kanye West always seems to default to a precocious strop. He restarted “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” after a security guard impinged on just a few centimetres of the stage, and spent a good three minutes uttering unintelligible, ad-libbed, AutoTuned nonsense later on. This could perhaps have been endearingly comical in another context, but next to the imposing businessman-rapper Hov it looked preposterous.

'Ye's pretension, however, is a small niggle; watching him with Jay-Z playing second fiddle as hypeman on “Gold Digger” was special, an intimate snapshot into the pair’s friendship. Watch the Throne’s “No Church in the Wild” and “Lift Off” were spectacular, while “Runaway” and “Public Service Announcement” felt stronger than ever. But a longer-lasting highlight was “Murder to Excellence”, the night’s defining moment. It’s a powerful statement by ‘Ye on crime’s roots being in poverty, an example of the rapper at his bravest and most human. And the tension between its celebration of black ascension and critique of police brutality is astonishing.

Jay-Z and Kanye West’s tag-team effort highlighted how they’ve defined hip hop - and the command they have over their audience. The tour has travelled the world, each night ending in an encore which sees Watch the Throne’s “Ni**as In Paris” get reloaded – interrupted and played again from the top by public demand, just as a hip-hop DJ would do with a popular track – some seven times. It’s like each arena is at Hov and ‘Ye’s beck and call, straining for their leaders' approval rather than vice versa. But when they’re armed with such reels of hits, it’s hard to argue.  

Wealth was the common denominator, but it didn't define them and the night went far deeper

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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