Pull ‘n’ Tug


The low point was “Bring Me Down,” Kanye’s rhythm&blah struggle against post-fame haters. Soundtrack strings and neo-mopey croons behind him, West rapped his piece head in hands: “They gon’ have to take my life ‘fore they take my drive.” Nasty press quotes scrolled down the projection screen—”Kanye can’t rap,” then “If West’s ego gets any bigger his head will explode.” As I scribbled a few down, the guy next to me pulled my pen. “Yo what you writing?” I told him I was reviewing the show. “Why?”

Forget the press—nothing, nobody can touch West right now. He knows this. And as on Late Registration, live West basked in the contradictions his genius affords him. Bright-light, hands-up weed advocacy in “Get Em High” turned one song later into the night’s coldest, most vicious snipe: “Bitch, is you smokin’ reefer?” The Just Blaze–produced “Touch the Sky” moved on up the Mayfield horns it samples into the show’s most triumphant and hope-giving moment—but that was only the first song. Soon after, for “Crack Music,” West turned angry, ranting incurably on the ghetto epidemic as the stage was doused in deep-red police floods. “God, how could you let this happen?”

The pull ‘n’ tug of West’s repertoire kept the show from building momentum, but the loose song-to-song narrative kept it moving: Before West could work the grave shift in “Spaceship,” he had to “drive slow,” and so on. Expected anymore to stop by for these things, Jay-Z gave a “surprise” encore performance of “Encore” and “P.S.A.,” which counted for the night’s Big Moments. But more tellingly, people were bummed “we only got Jay-Z”—no Cam’ron for “Gone.” Maybe—maybe—Jay should stop reintroducing himself.

Afterward the exiting mess of age and race and sex buzzed in awe that Nine Inch Nails played the MSG stadium while West just did the theater—especially since West clearly appeals to so many more and different people. Who knows why, and it was still the MSG theater, but check this: “White people,” West had quipped during the chorus of “Crack Music,” “this is your only chance to say ‘nigga’—take advantage of it!” It’s possible that, even at this height of cockiness and popularity, he’s impossible to overflatter.