Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar
Better Than: Every ill-conceived “I’ma let you finish, but…” joke ever told, shouted down a well in the Hamptons; popping a wheelie on the Zeitgeist.
One wonders: who’s the billionaire that called Kanye West on the phone recently to tell him he didn’t like the way he’s going about things, that he didn’t like how he’s conducting himself in interviews? Kanye told the packed stadium at Barclays last night about the call just after the midway point of his sprawling, spectacular, and engaging two-plus hour behemoth of a Yeezus Tour show. “He wanted to give me some advice,” he told us from his knees, exasperated, masked (more on that in a sec) but nowhere near anonymous. If you’ve followed Ye’s career at all–college dropout, can’t be told nothin’, unapologetic even while being apologetic, a self-proclaimed God–you know how the call ended.
Not well. No one gives Kanye West advice he hasn’t asked for. Because no one, at just 36 years of age, has made it this far, has been this good for this long. (As it turns out, it truly is hard to be humble when you’re stuntin’ on a jumbotron.) Besides, none of the people who clamor to give Kanye advice “can rock the 15,000 motherfuckers in here tonight!” like he can.
This anecdote-turned-self-help-speech (please stop calling them rants) was one of a few during the night, most with the overarching theme that the assembled mass should, on some Rap Game Tony Robbins shit, always believe in themselves, even when told they shouldn’t. At other times, Kanye admonished the crowd for not knowing the various names of inventors he was dropping or who directed The Holy Mountain (which clearly inspired the Yeezus Tour aesthetic). He also told us his creative genius is a curse, not a blessing, because “ALL THESE IDEAS KEEP ME UP AT NIGHT!” (x15)
These jaunts down the unrehearsed avenues of Kanye’s mind were everything we’ve come to expect–brash, egotistical, not fully formed, melodramatic, easily-mockable. Also: fascinating. And not just because they came from a man dressed like this:
With a night this rigidly choreographed, going in, there wasn’t much we didn’t know about it. For the most part, if you’d read anything about it, seen any tour photos or Instagrams of previous shows, you knew what you were going to see. Yet, Yeezus still had the capacity to surprise. At its best, it overwhelms. There are no spoiler alerts, because it cannot be spoiled–two hours of swirling metaphors and religious symbolism that are every bit as grand as the man who conceived it all thinks it/he is.
The elaborate stage set looks a bit like 1/8th of Kid A‘s album cover come to life. Kanye, as you’ve no doubt seen, had a mountain on stage. And a red-eyed Yak-like creature that was representative of who knows what. There was smoke. And fire. Fireworks. Snow. There are a team of women in nude onesies that form a human throne for Kanye to sit on. Kanye wore three different blinged-out lucha libre-type masks most of the night, which took us on trips to (in this order) Hell, a snow-covered cliff of despair, church, and Heaven.
Yeezus wept. Jesus walked.
It started with face-obscured women in robes walking to the center of Barclays. (Well, technically it started with a set by Kendrick Lamar, but that was quickly forgotten and comparatively lackluster given the scope of the main event.) Kanye appeared, and stalked the stage between the women to the opening cacophony of “On Sight” the lead track on Kanye’s vacation in Industrial Summer, Yeezus. The song breaks, and the night is off, a trip through Kanye’s career in reverse, from dark (“New Slaves,” “Black Skinhead,” “I Am a God,” “I’m in It,” “Coldest Winter,” “Blood on the Leaves”), and into light (sometimes literally, “Flashing Lights,” “All of the Lights,” “Stronger,” “Good Life”).
Along the way Kanye turns his back on sin (or something–his demons?), runs away with “Runaway,” to a stage bathed in white light, Yeezus meets Jesus and his mask finally comes off. Kanye is free to be himself. Heavy handed? Maybe. Clunky? A tad, sure. But it has all the flare and production value of a Broadway show that just happens to be soundtracked by a mixtape of touchstones from Kanye’s inarguably top-notch discography.
And part of that discography clearly still makes Kanye happy. For the last quarter of the show, after the final mask came off, you couldn’t have wiped the gigantic smile off Kanye’s face if you’d reminded him he’ll likely spend Thanksgiving with Kris Jenner. Before the industry and billionaires offering unsolicited advice, before he hit the much talked-about ceiling that put him face to face with the classism he so loathes, Kanye was a different man. The story of Yeezus may just be Kanye’s attempt to project his own future, which is a reflection on his past. Back to the “Good Life” he goes, “Bound 2” fall in love.
As is usually the case with Kanye, you can only posit a guess, and watch “all these ideas” that torture him at night unfold.
In the trailer for The Holy Mountain, a voice-over warns “nothing in your education or experience can prepare you for this film,” for it is, “completely outside the tradition of motion picture art. It is outside the tradition of modern theater, outside the tradition of criticism and review.” It’s easy to see why Ye feels a kinship with the movie. He clearly feels the same way about his tour, his career, his ideas. The Yeezus Tour is Exhibit A in the case that proves him right.
Critical Bias: I too am a college dropout.
Overheard: After women in robes, carrying crucifixes and wafting incense from censers, walk slowly onto stage, a guy behind me says, “I feel like we’re about to witness a sacrifice.”
Random Notebook Dump: Having Kendrick open this tour is the ultimate back-handed compliment.