I have long held a deep appreciation for Kanye West, as a musician, artist and general shit-stirrer. In the time Kanye has been Kanye, he’s never been afraid of revealing the private side to his very public persona, the insecurities of a vain man colliding headfirst with the bravado and ego that come with being a rap genius. Kanye is a “warts-and-all” kind of guy (insert Kim Kardashian joke here), and this sort of vulnerability endeared him to many people in the early days of his career.
If Kanye 1.0 was a rapper/producer with an ear for a good beat, who occasionally said a bit too much, the performer on stage at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. on November 21st, 2013 was the Incredible Hulk to 1.0’s Bruce Banner. Many an online article has been filled with long diatribes, both in admiration and condemnation, for Kanye’s latest album Yeezus. While the first part of his career arc, encompassing his College trilogy (College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation) brought Mr. West to the fore of the American public’s consciousness, the latter trilogy has seen him pull out all of the stops and distort the parameters. Kanye can’t sing, but he autotuned his way through a confession on 808s and Heartbreaks. Kanye gets bored of traditional rap, so he made a post-rap album on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, bringing in a stellar supporting cast of wide-ranging talent, from Elton John and John Legend, to Nikki Minaj and Pusha T. Kanye decides to bring real rap back? He makes Yeezus, a decidedly un-rap album by traditional conventions, even if there is a fair amount of rhyming taking place. Kanye West does not care about what you think, but he gets angry if you don’t give him the credit he deserves for being an artist and a genius. Kanye West wants privacy, and hates the paparazzi, but he decides to date Kim Kardashian. Kanye West simultaneously does, and does not, give a fuck. And I love him for it.
Which brings us to Thursday night. From the angry-hornet opening synths of “On Sight” and the illumination of the massive stage, which included an interactive mountain fans have dubbed “Mount Yeezus”, you just knew this would be a show of a lifetime. West, decked out in all black and wearing a black mask with rhinestones of some sort, came out onto the stage like a panther on the prowl. The crowd was feeling every moment and reciprocating the energy towards him. Flanked by 11 dancers in flesh coloured leotards and gimp masks, the theories of identity and anonymity, of salvation and damnation, were prevalent throughout the show. Kanye ran through the entirety of the material off of Yeezus, simultaneously spitting his lyrics at the crowd and reveling in their adoration. There’s a certain degree of cognitive dissonance associated with singing along to anti-commercial lyrics while drinking Bud Lights in a venue sponsored by Verizon, but this isn’t Black Flag – it’s a goddamn Kanye West show. Lights! Fire! Jamaican Dancehall!
After a frenetic first hour going through his latest album, part two of the show brought back some of the older hits, as well as two more wardrobe changes (including a white mask, and a “disco ball” mask for the electronic set). After a cathartic rendition of Runaway, His dancers came through carrying incense and crucifixes, props of traditional Catholic mass, as Mt. Yeezus parted down the middle. Kanye West first, followed by a bro dressed up as Jesus H. Christ himself. After a brief exchange and acknowledgment between our saviours, a rendition of Jesus Walks had the entire crowd buzzing and bouncing, and Kanye finally took off his mask.
The show went on for a total of two hours and twenty minutes, occasionally punctuated with readings of word definitions on the giant screen overhead, accompanied with the musical motif from “Hold My Liquour.” As it went on longer, I realized that I was witnessing something truly spectacular – a performer with a vice-like grip on his audience throughout the duration of his performance, even during his two spoken word/autotuned segues (which some will invariably call rants, even though he was making some very valid points on the perception of Black artists and performers in Western culture).
As the show concluded, the sample of He’ll Give Us What We Really Need began to play, and the lights brightened gradually to reveal Jesus atop of Mt. Yeezus. Mr. West and his 11 dancers (all twelve of them, HMMMM) turned and stood in reverence to that avatar upon the mountain, and an ecstatic crowd gave him a roar of ovation. We all left happy, satisfied, and exhausted, for we had all just basked in the presence of greatness; that is the Kanye West experience.