Kanye West & Jay-Z
Watch The Throne Tour
Palace at Auburn Hills
Two days after Thanksgiving, Austin and I strapped on our gold watches and chains and headed up to Motown to see the two biggest acts (egos) in hip hop today, Kanye West and Jay-Z, join together to put on one massive show. As the marquee would suggest, the show was quite simply two and a half hours of unadulterated Jay and Ye, meaning no opening act, no guests, and an almost non-existent backing band, though there was plenty of flash and flair in the duo’s stage show.
The pyrotechnics of the show included two 20 feet rising pedestal stages with viewmongous LCD screens on every side, laser lights swarming all around the arena, strobe lights galore, and enough fire to make Lil’ Wayne proud.
The show started in the only way a show of this magnitude can start: they went “H.A.M.” Kanye and Jay started the song on the pedestal stages that stood across the arena, spouting off at each other from across the room, before the stages rose up with the two rising up above the white doves on the pedestal screens. Sure it’s a bit over the top, but that’s also sort of the point: the rapper’s tremendous bravado and ego serve as part of the entertainment. After rattling off four Watch The Throne tracks including highlights in “Otis” and “Who Gon’ Stop Me”, the two broke out much of the rest of the show in 2-4 song mini-sets for each rapper’s solo material, giving one of the superstars the spotlight while the other took a breather, contribute a verse, or act as the hype man.
^I bet Mark Cuban wishes he had this idea
So the real question with two huge entertainers like this performing together is “who came out on top? “ A fair question, and one Austin and I will try our best to answer. I will let Austin give his take on the better of the two and I will give my scorecard on the heavyweight bout as well.
For two of the largest personalities in hip-hop, Jay-Z and Kanye could not be much more different. On stage, Kanye is all arms waving and running around like an excited child on Christmas Morning. Jay, on the other hand, is much more controlled, though don’t take that to mean he isn’t charismatic in his own way. Kanye is the unbridled emotion, while Jay-Z is the controlled maestro. There is really no saying which one is a definitively better performer, just a matter of where your taste lies.
Technically, Jay-Z is much more sound as a performer than Kanye, which I attribute more than anything to the fact that 1.) Jay has been rapping into a microphone for a much longer period of time, which believe it or not is a skill, and 2.) with all of Kanye’s hyperactivity, his windedness was more apparent throughout the performance than Jay.
I will say that the format of the show not including any guests seemed to hurt Kanye a little bit more than Jay. I think this is more a fact of Kanye’s music being a lot more orchestrated and having a beginning, middle, and end did not suit truncated versions of certain songs. “Monster” just didn’t hit as hard without Nicki’s verse for instance. The crowd, surprisingly, responded much stronger to Jay-Z’s older solo material than they did to Kanye’s as well. I can’t place exactly why, except that maybe some of Jay’s hits are so old, they are considered hip-hop classics and bring on a bit more nostalgia. Five or so more years, and Kanye’s older tracks will merit similar nostalgia I believe. Notwithstanding the nostalgia factor, “On to the Next One”, “99 Problems”, and “Public Service Announcement” brought on the effect of the entire arena shaking, which I’m not sure I can say about any of Kanye’s tracks. Another small part of this may just be that Jay-Z is not often very controversial, and some people just think Kanye is a straight-up dick, and may be a little less apt to support his music.
Overall, any complaints about the show are minor, and therefore just looking for something to pick on. I am thrilled because I got to attend this show: Kanye wore a kilt, The Palace served malt liquor, and they ran through “N***as in Paris” SEVEN FULL TIMES.
Verdict: Jay-Z (11) def. Kanye West (10.5)
Yes you heard Austin: That’s “N**as in Paris” SEVEN FULL TIMES! The same song, literally, seven times in a row (2 before the encore, 5 as the encore) but somehow Kanye and Jay-Z made the crowd hunger for it more and more, with each new take having a few more Jay-Z dance moves and token Kanye grunts.
Austin put it well in saying Jay-Z vs. Kanye is really control vs. charisma. Jay-Z struts around stage knowing he’s the King of Rap whereas Kanye wants to earn your favor. While Kanye is a better live rapper than I think many would expect, he does rely much more on the bells and whistles of a huge robust show, whereas Jay-Z feels no need to mask his abilities and lets them for the most part stand on their own. Kanye does have a more lavish effects accompanying his songs, making them no doubt fun to watch.
Most notable part of Kanye’s performance was his mini autotune set done on the mid-stage, where he ran through “Runaway”, “Heartless”, and “Stronger” with probably his strongest crowd reaction all night. It can definitely be argued that Kanye abuses the auto-tune, but what I find interesting in his incessant use of the tool, is how much he wants to be all things: singer, rapper, artist, icon. While it doesn’t always sound great, his ambition and raw emotion is definitely something to be admired.
I also lost my bet to Austin on Kanye costume changes (set at 4.5, I took the over), as Kanye only made a paltry 3 outfit changes, though one was definitely a Roman Centurion Kilt.
Overall, I felt Jay-Z’s highlights (“99 Problems”, “On To The Next One”, “Jigga What”) stood among the best of the show, though the finest material definitely was when the two bounced off each other on the best Throne tracks like as well as the songs they collaborate on like “Diamonds from Sierra Leone (remix)” and “Monster”.
Jay-Z (9.5) def. Kanye West (8.5)
While Watch The Throne may have been a disappointment for many, if nothing else, it brought forth the opportunity to see the two showcase why they are the biggest and best in the business, even if they like talking about that fact a bit too often.
Aggregate Rating: 10/11
Can’t Miss Live: “Diamonds”, “H.A.M.”, “99 Problems”, “On To The Next One”, “All of the Lights” “N***as in Paris” x 7
Can’t Hit Live: “Made In America”, “Welcome to the Jungle”
Who Gon’ Stop Me
Welcome To The Jungle
Gotta Have It
Where I’m From
Can’t Tell Me Nothing
All Falls Down
Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix)
Public Service Announcement
U Don’t Know
Run This Town
Made in America
Hard Knock Life
Empire State of Mind
On to the Next One
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
Give it to Me
That’s My Bitch
The Good Life
Touch the Sky
All of the Lights
No Church in the Wild
N***as in Paris x2
N***as in Paris x 5