Who thought it would actually happen? Jay-Z and Kanye West don’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to huge co-headlining tours. After all, Jay was part of the disastrous Best of Both Worlds tour in 2004, where R. Kelly was barred from performing after only one month. At least they were able to do some shows, unlike West’s over-hyped (and overpriced) Fame Kills tour with Lady Gaga, which was canceled before they even had a chance to start rehearsals.
Jay and ‘Ye defied the odds Wednesday night and found a way to fit both of their egos into one arena with spectacular results.
Visually, the show at Chicago’s United Center was like hip-hop’s ZooTV. In addition to their massive stage, flanked by two giant screens and loaded with all of the lasers and pyrotechnics one could need (and then some), there were a pair of cubes that rose from the floor and acted as B-stages for solo sets. For the first third of the show, nearly every image on the screens and cubes was some sort of dangerous animal. There were great whites, Rottweilers, lions and an unintentionally hilarious animated hawk. “Welcome to the Jungle,” indeed.
Of course, more important than the visuals was the killer set put on by the men on top of those cubes. The marathon of a setlist (44 songs, unbelievably) allowed both artists to run through the hits as well as the new material, for better or worse. While West has done a great job of remaining on top of his game, Jay-Z’s best years are obviously behind him. It’s unreasonable to expect every album to be as great as The Blueprint, but one can’t help but notice the declining lyrical quality on tracks such as “Monster,” where West and Nicki Minaj put him to shame.
Maybe that’s why it felt like Jay-Z had something to prove up there. Stalking around the stage in all black, topped off with his signature Yankees hat, he pummeled the audience with classics such as “Nigga What, Nigga Who” and “Public Service Announcement.” Near the end of the set, he rebutted West’s “Gold Digger” with a vicious “99 Problems” that was easily the highlight of the show.
Even if Jay-Z isn’t the same lyrical genius he once was, his charisma and talent as a performer have stayed perfectly intact.
West was obviously glad to be home, and it felt like most of the audience came specifically to see him. This wasn’t surprising, since the amazing My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy never got its own tour. Despite having limited time in his solo sets, West managed to cover pretty much all of the bases, even if that meant skipping singles such as “Love Lockdown” and “Through the Wire.”
Unfortunately, there were several moments that ran on a little too long, like the auto-tuned rambling at the end of “Runaway,” where he proceeded to remind us over and over again how much of an asshole and scumbag he is. West is great, but sometimes he really needs to take a step back and focus on the music rather than the spectacle. What would West in 2005 think if he saw West in 2011, prancing around the stage in a kilt, talking about how you shouldn’t believe him if he compliments you on your shoes or hair? He would probably just shake his head.
The show’s brilliantly bizarre finale saw the duo blowing through Watch the Throne’s “Niggas in Paris” eight times, a tour record. As soon as they finished, Jay-Z would bark, “Again!” and they would run through the track once more. While they managed to keep their cool most of the night, they couldn’t hide their huge grins during the song’s cheesier lines (“That shit cray/What she order?/Fish filet?”) and Michael Jordan references.
Unsurprisingly, when the house lights came on, nearly half of the arena had already left. Apparently not everyone was interested in being a part of absurd hip-hop history.
With the exception of a few moments that ran a little too long and a few missed hits, the night was a great example of how a co-headlining tour should be done.