With Kendrick Lamar
American Airlines Arena, Miami
Friday, November 29, 2013
Better Than: Church, and all that Catholic guilt.
It's been five years since Kanye West's last solo headlining tour. But in that half-decade, he's gone from simple hip-hop prophet to full-on god. Last night's Yeezus tour in Miami was a sure showstopper. Well, he only stopped to talk shit for, like, 20 minutes. But the rest was back-to-back-to-back hits.
Have you ever seen a rapper split a mountain in half, writhe around with nude dancers, or spit through a disco mask? Yep, it sounds crazy. But "this is Yeezus."
Mr. West is the best in the game. So he gets nothing less but the hottest rising star to warm up his crowd: Compton's highly celebrated Kendrick Lamar, who got the party started at the American Airlines Arena, only about 30 minutes after the advertised 8 p.m. showtime.
Kendrick came running out in a gray hoodie and white pants to spit his rhymes backed by a full band. He started off with "Money Trees," running out onto a triangle platform in the middle of the AAA's floor, yelling with anger and excitement into the microphone. Behind him, a montage of his homies lined against fences mixed with old family videos and gritty shots of his neighborhood flickered across the massive LED screens.
He made sure the whole place was jumpin', from front to back, just like a good opener is supposed to, droppin' gems from his massive good kid, m.A.A.d city. He also dropped a few new favorites, like his verse from A$AP Rocky's "Fuckin' Problems," which he did twice, and his remix version of "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe."
He threw down some 2Pac with "Hail Mary," reminding the Miami crowd that he comes from the bloody West Side before giving them his own gun-slinging anthem, "m.A.A.d. City." He got quiet and introspective on "Sing About Me," took us through his hometown on "Compton," and left amid a heavy a cappella of his lyrics from the "I Am" interlude.
"I will be back," he shouted as the band played out. "I love you, Florida."
It was now 9:04 p.m., and it would be about 50 minutes until Kanye was ready to take the stage.
Now, Kanye, always the conceptual artist, does nothing half-assed. So with the Yeezus tour, he took us on an abstract spiritual journey. Throughout the course of the evening, we traveled with Kanye through highs and lows. We watched him languish on the edge of darkness. We saw him rise to victory in the arms of White Jesus. It was pretty insane, and it all kicked off with a strange, ethereal procession of white-gowned women wearing stockings over their heads.
These 12 ladies came out from behind a giant glacial mountain onto the triangle platform, where a single white spotlight shined down in front of them. A woman's voice announced the theme of the first chapter of tonight's journey, Fighting.
A guitar crunched and Kanye spoke: "I am not here right now, leave a message after the life." Suddenly, the massive, angry chords of "On Sight" erupted, and Kanye appeared, taking the spotlight. (Bonus swag factor, he was singing about David Grutman and we were in Miami. Holler, represent.)
West, being a pillar of progressive fashion, spent most of the show rapping from behind a series of face masks. He started with a lavish mask covered in gold and hanging jewels. It might be one of the most bizarre pieces of stage gear we've ever seen.
He worked through all the angry songs, like "New Slaves," "Send It Up," and "Mercy." Then we moved into the next stage of our journey: Rising. "Pride always preludes the crash," the woman's voice told us. "The bigger the ego, the harder the fall."
"Power" chants began as a giant orb, hanging above a mountain, began shining through clouds. And then Kanye reemerged, rapping from behind the rocky peak, glowing in the light of the giant circle. He had changed clothes: no shirt and an an all-black mask covered in black, glittery studs.
Shit got real when West played "Black Skinhead," followed by "I Am A God" and the return of the 12 women, who were now dressed in nude bathing suits, still with stockings over their faces.
Those ladies held Kanye over their heads, carrying him like the holy one while he screamed into the microphone. They let him down and scrambled away, leaving him to stand in the spotlight like Yeezus Christ, telling the story of how he got the news of his mother's death.
He dedicated the next song -- "Coldest Winter," written about his struggle with the loss of the most important person in his life -- to her memory. He hung himself from the edge of the triangle platform, which now had risen to a pointed iceberg, fake snow cascading all around him.
Now we were into the Falling phase of the journey. "Mere mortals can't ruin their own lives. 'Who will give me wings,' I ask."
Kanye had finally become a god. But it was time for him to fall back down to Earth. And as a giant, black monster with glowing red eyes came out to scale the mountain, he followed the beast into despair, singing "Hold My Liquor." His struggle continued with "I'm in It" while the nude dancers tangled themselves into each other's limbs. They left 'Ye to his "Guilt Trip," and the world became "Heartless."
After "Blood on the Leaves," we embarked on the Searching leg of this odyssey. "When you go looking for a god, you won't be let down. Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find.'"
The opening chords of "Higher" began, women's voices singing hymn-like, as the mountain rumbled and cracked in half, and the white-gowned women returned again, now decked out in full Catholic regalia, swinging incense, and holding giant crosses. Suddenly, we were "Lost in the World."
Kanye appeared in a new white mask, lookin' like the keyboard face guy in the Boys Noize video for "Ich R U." His MPC was brought out as the stage cleared, and he started droppin' one-note teasers of "Runaway," teasing the crowd for a full minute before giving it to them all the way.
When "Runaway" ended, it was West's cue to talk forever. This is how it always happens. He works it into "If You Love Someone Tonight," then he tells you to hug the people you love, then he starts saying, "I don't usually do this, but I thought I'd just not say anything tonight."
Of course, no one wants to not hear Kanye talk. Because no matter what y'all say, you want him to talk his shit again.
In all, Kanye got a full 20 minutes of shit off his chest. The first six minutes or so was just about him going back and forth with himself about "why do people love him, when he talk so much shit." Then he gave a round of high-fives to the fans of the triangle. Then he went on about how people wouldn't let him design clothes because he's black and he's known for music, but he's still stoked on getting his Adidas deal. He started screaming about how "I want in," and if he isn't allowed in, he'd make sure "you never buy nothin' again."
He said it's not fair that rappers aren't allowed to work their way into other industries, but just "lose our relevance before we get a chance." Then he announced that Hype Williams and Pharrell were in the building. (But they didn't come out. Because how can you stand on that stage with the god MC?)
"Why do I get in so much trouble for telling y'all the truth," he started screaming at the 13-minute mark. "If I get in so much trouble all the time for telling y'all the truth, then the rest of the time, what are they tellin' you? Or better yet, what are they sellin' you?"
He was all "be all you can be, set your whole mind free tonight." He bitched about people hatin' on the Internet, but "I ain't seen them open up a motherfuckin' mountain yet." Then he changed his mind and started bitching about how he doesn't care, and any press is good press, and he's going to turn that energy into killing it, and "I live here."
He announced that "I am Steve Jobs. I am Howard Hughes. I am Mandela. I am Malcolm X," and JFK, and Henry Ford, and Michelangelo, and Picasso. "You know why? Because I'm all of you."
Finally, it was the moment when we all began the Finding phase of our trip with Yeezus. "God arrives right on time." And finding God, Kanye became "Stronger." Lights were going off effing everywhere. He wore a disco-ball mask that caught the lights and reflected rainbows around him. Shit was mad techno.
We went "Through the Wire," and what did we find on the other side? That's right, White Jesus. He came walking through the mountain to bless Kanye, because for Yeezus, "Jesus Walks." He did, however, make him take off his face mask and reveal himself to the world. Now we could see what a sweat that West had been working up all night.
Kanye kept yelling, "This is Yeezus," like we were in Sparta. He reminded us that "Diamonds" are forever, then turned the place up with "Flashing Lights," followed by "All of the Lights" and some banter about how "you can see why I get a little bit frustrated." Still, 'Ye is living the "Good Life," and after a few more high fives, the journey was nearly over.
West finished the night with "Bound 2," beneath the blue sky and the giant orb. White Jesus came back out to reign over his flock, as Kanye and the nude dancers bowed before his almighty grace. As the procession walked off the stage, the melodic hook from "On Sight" repeated, reminding us that "Oh, he gives us what we need," though "it may not be what we want."
That works for White Jesus, and it works for Kanye West. He just be spittin' truth, wearing crazy masks, climbing fucking mountains. And whether or not it's what you expected, it is something you'll never forget.
Kendrick Lamar's Setlist
-"The Art of Peer Pressure"
-"Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe"
-"Hail Mary" (2Pac cover)
-"Sing About Me"
-"I Am" (Interlude)
Kanye West's Setlist
-"Send It Up"
-"Cold As Ice" breakdown
-"Don't Like (Remix)"
-"I Am A God"
-"Can't Tell Me Nothing"
-"Hold My Liquor"
-"I'm in It"
-"Blood on the Leaves"
-"Lost in the World"
-"Who Will Survive in America"
-"If You Love Someone Tonight"
-"Through the Wire"
-"All of the Lights"
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Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.